celebratory image with words "some good news!"UPDATE ON APRIL 29: We just learned that the Shelter in Place order for Santa Clara County and San Mateo County will now permit showings of occupied homes as long as the residents are not present during the showing.

This new permission will kick in beginning on May 4th.




It is a challenging task for those selling an occupied home right now. Only vacant properties may be shown to buyers in person. If you are living in the home you want to sell,  what can you do to improve your odds of getting the property sold and closed? Here are some tips.

# 1 – Selling an occupied home? Help it to be knowable & virtually shown!

First, buyers cannot purchase it, as in close escrow, if they and their agent cannot see it. Or at least they shouldn’t since many things cannot be known until you go there in person, such as whether or not there are any odors, if the floors are level, if the rooms have enough natural light, and so on. The buyer’s agent has a legal obligation to perform a reasonably diligent visual inspection, which is pretty close to impossible if he or she cannot be on the property.

The best thing you could do would be to move out to sell, but for many that isn’t practical. The second best thing is to provide photos, video, and a floor plan so that buyers have a much clearer sense of the home, yard, view of the street, neighbors, etc.


Selling an occupied home - photo of a street view - show the street view, side yards, and areas often skipped - photo of street view in The Villages


Photos to help get your home under contract

Whether you take the photos or a professional photographer does, tidy the home as if it were going to be shown in person. Make the beds. Windows need to be clean. Virtually everything should be off of the kitchen and bathroom counters. The toilet lids should be closed. The fireplace should be neat and emptied of ashes. Floors ought to be clear of toys, shoes, and so on.  Garden hoses and outdoor items need to be away. Cars should not be seen. (You can find a really good list of preparing your home for real estate photos here.)

Photograph all of the rooms in the home, and include the hallways, laundry area, any pantry, etc. The exterior of the home and the yard(s) are to be included too. De-clutter and organize them just as  you would the more interesting parts of the home or yard.  Please make sure to snap these non-intuitive elements:

  • street view
  • the garage (any storage? are utilities there? any cracks in the floor? any windows?)
  • the side yards
  • water heater, furnace, air conditioner
  • if the bathroom has a shower curtain, open the curtain so the shower / tub can be viewed
  • show the front and back yards from inside the home
  • display fruit trees, roses,  planting beds as many buyers look forward to gardening
Example of a side yard that should be tidied so that those selling an occupied home can give a better idea of the whole parcel to prospective buyers

When photographing the less exciting areas, do de-clutter and clean them up. This is true for all areas of the home and yard.

It’s important to understand that anything not shown is suspect! If you skip a bathroom, home buyers will presume it looks terrible. If the photo of the back  yard is cut off at the top of the fence, viewers will presume that a large house is looming but intentionally omitted. Better to show the side yard, which may not look very inspiring, than to not show it and have buyers presume the worst.

If you can do a video walk through, that is really helpful also. The idea is that when it’s possible for a buyer to see your home in person, there should be few or no surprises.

If you cannot get someone to make a professional floor plan, see if you have a simple layout from a past refinance appraisal. Even that will help buyers to understand the layout better. Working with a professional photographer? Look into programs that mix flood plans and photos, such as Matterport.


# 2 – Selling an occupied home means moving out  during the escrow so buyers can see it

Normally, when selling an occupied home (owner occupied), there’s no move out until all contingencies have been removed and it’s just a few days to the close of escrow. Not now, though. As a home owner trying to sell your primary residence, you  have two choices:

  1. Move out / vacate the property during the buyer’s contingency period soon so that the buyer can view the property during the quarantine and you can close escrow in a more normal time frame OR
  2. Try to wait out the home isolation orders so that buyers will be permitted to view the property while you’re still living there. GOOD NEWS  – We just got word that this will happen May 4th!

Waiting it out to see when selling an occupied home may be viable without vacating early, but we really don’t know how fast we’ll move through the necessary stages for a property to be seen in person during the current Shelter in Place quarantine. If you do move out before the buyer has removed all contingencies, it would be wise to make sure that every other contingency has been released other than the buyer’s personal inspection – talk with your Realtor about that.

Related reading:

Photos of your furniture or wall will not make buyers want to purchase your home!

What do you need to know when selling your Silicon Valley home?