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The Home Guru: How Much to De-Personalize When Selling Your Home

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Bill Primavera
Bill Primavera

By Bill Primavera

Am I terminally weird or is everybody like me in wanting to surround ourselves in our homes with highly personal things that remind, motivate and inspire us to achieve certain goals?

As a realtor, I know well that when a home is on the market and prospective buyers are invited in, sellers are advised to “neutralize” or de-personalize the décor with blah colors and to “hide” personal items so that the buyer can project their own lives into the space. Personal effects such as family photographs on the refrigerator, it is advised, can sabotage that objective.

But here’s a realtor who did not take his own advice when I sold my home a few years ago. I tried it in just one room of my house at that time. I found that I was not at all comfortable being set adrift in a world of sterility without all the reminders that comfort and inspire me, collected over a lifetime. I wanted to experience them every single day, despite the fact that my home was on the market.

I became aware of this issue about revealing too much of ourselves to prospective buyers during my first week in the real estate business. My office received a call from a client who complained that a visiting agent had left her business card on the seller’s “home altar,” certainly a very private matter. When the agent was advised of the complaint, she responded, “Gee, to me it just looked like an end table. I thought the statue of the Buddha was just for decoration.”

While I do have evidence of calling upon the Divine in my own home, my main focus for motivation and inspiration – and this is highly confessional – is my daily quest for maintaining a decent body weight. Having been involved for many years in the food and restaurant field as a promoter, I was literally the kid in the candy shop, coping daily with all the products I represented. I didn’t have Medifast as a client. As a consequence, I surrounded myself in my home with motivational tools for health and fitness. Any visitor to my home clearly knew that.

In my dressing room, for instance, was a weight bench, although it was mostly used during periods of slacking off as a pants rack. Directly over my barbell rack was a framed watercolor, painted by my daughter when she was eight, depicting me as a barbell-pumping muscleman with a photograph of my face pasted on the neck. It was just too charming and motivational for me to hide.

Then there were the nutrition and diet books in the kitchen bookshelf, including the first book published by Weight Watchers, signed by the group’s founder, Jean Nidetch, whom I once met.

Also, I devote myself to achieving mental calm and relaxation through meditation and have tools to encourage that, including a tubular tuning chime and an extensive collection of crystals that all but made my man cave, pardon the expression, vibrate.

And I hid nothing when there was a showing.

I have found some real estate bloggers who share my point of view that there is some confusion between de-cluttering and de-personalizing. I think the former is what should be sought, rather than removing the history, love and taste bestowed on a home by its sellers. Creating clean and open spaces is a good thing. But removing distinctive colors with boring beige is not something I recommend as professional stagers sometimes do.

As for items that project our personal lives, I suspect that buyers have more than a little curiosity about them. Perhaps that lifestyle can be an attraction rather than a turn-off. Many times, I observe buyer clients looking at family photographs and, in particular, reading the titles of books on the shelf. In my case, my books may be somewhat deceiving if I were to be judged by them.

Just when my wife and I were buying our last home, a dear friend, a generation older than we, passed away. An avid reader and book collector, she left us her extensive collection of old and interesting books, a broad representation of the world’s literary classics.

To accommodate that collection, we built an entire wall of shelves in a room off our central hall and designated it “The Library” as though we lived in a mansion.  That room may suggest that we are great literati. In fact, while my wife reads practically every new novel that comes along, I confess that I’ve barely cracked any of the books in that collection.

Any visitor would have had a much better idea of my reading pursuits if they visited my special room where the walls were lined with my motivational books for business and physical fitness.

So, I welcome prospective buyers to my highly personalized home with all its revealing evidence of a life well lived and enjoyed.

A writer and publicist, Bill Primavera is first and foremost a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate. His talents and work in communications support his endeavors in real estate. To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.


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