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10 Tips for Handling a Hoarder’s Home



By John Egan

If you find yourself handling the buying or selling of a hoarder’s home, you might feel like you’ve landed in an episode of the reality TV show “Hoarders: Family Secrets.” Chances are, you’ll encounter many of the same issues that pop up on the program. To cope with those issues, here are 10 tips from the experts.


1. Recognize that hoarding is a disorder.

Hoarding isn’t a way of life. It’s a mental condition that affects anywhere from 2 to 5 percent of the U.S. population; in a recent survey commissioned by SpareFoot, seven percent of American adults identified themselves as hoarders.

Everything in a hoarder’s home carries emotional attachments, whether it’s a stack of old newspapers or a collection of hats, experts say.

“Something that looks like trash to the average eye may be a very important item—emotionally or financially—to the hoarder,” says Matt Paxton, one of the cleanup professionals on “Hoarders.”

2. Be compassionate.

Speak to hoarders as equals, Paxton says, and work with them closely to come up with a fair deal for both sides.

“Hoarders are good people who have experienced bad things. Do not treat someone with a hoarding disorder as a lesser person,” he says.

If you’re a real estate agent whose client is a hoarder, be honest while also being respectful and nonjudgmental, Paxton says. Here’s what you shouldn’t say to a hoarder who’s selling a home: “Do you see how messy this house is? I can’t list it.”

Here’s what you should say to a hoarder who’s selling a home: “My expert opinion tells me that we’ll need to clean up this space in order to maximize the sale price.”

3. Create a sense of optimism.

If you’re representing a hoarder who’s selling a home, assure the client that the home can be sold, says Paxton, the hoarding and extreme-cleaning expert for ServiceMaster Restore.

“If you don’t believe it, they won’t,” he says. “Treat them just like any other client.”

4. Team up with “extreme cleaning” professionals.

When dealing with a hoarder’s home, it’s best to clear out everything before it’s put on the market, says Dave Baxter, owner and CEO of Baxter Restoration, which provides restoration and remediation services in Orlando, Fla. Experts suggest tapping professionals who are well versed in “extreme cleaning.”

“You can’t know what you are really dealing with until you get all the crap out and have a look at the structure of the building to see what kind of damage has been done,” says Baxter.

Working with a team of professionals who are familiar with hoarders’ homes, rather than a typical cleaning crew, ensures there’s a high level of “compassion and understanding,” says Paxton.

“People with a true hoarding disorder cannot be pushed, threatened or cajoled into making decisions, so ideally, a professional organizer or therapist would be good to add to the team,” says Regina Lark, a Los Angeles-based professional organizer with expertise in hoarding disorder and chronic disorganization.

5. Consider storage.

Lark suggests renting a mobile storage unit or a nearby self-storage unit to temporarily store stuff if a hoarder is grappling with weeding out belongings.

6. Be realistic.

If you must list a hoarder’s home while all of the seller’s belongings are still inside, feature only a floor plan in the listing and include photos of what does look nice or can easily be fixed to look nicer, says Brad Chandler, co-founder and CEO of a real estate investment company in Springfield, Va.

“Encourage buyers to visualize what can be done with the ‘bones’ of the property and how it could look once it is renovated,” says Chandler.

Depending on the market and the property’s value, consider paying an architect or remodeler to draw up a plan showing renovation ideas and costs, he says. Such a plan can cost between $3,000 and $5,000.

7. Brace for extensive damage.

Hoarding often evolves over the course of many years, resulting in mold, animal infestation and other structural problems. Therefore, both visible and hidden damage may be lurking inside a hoarder’s home.

“Buyers and sellers need to fully understand that they may not be able to determine the full extent of structural damage to a house or residence until after the items are removed. This is where professional companies experienced in construction and repair work, as well as cleaning and decluttering, can be particularly helpful,” Paxton says.

If a house is being sold “as is,” you might not fully understand why the price tag was so low till after the house is empty, Paxton warns.

8. Recruit home flippers.

An investor might be willing to buy a hoarder’s home “as is,” with the owner’s possessions still inside, Chandler says. An agent can host an open house for potential investors without the hoarder needing to be there. “This shields the seller from embarrassment and eliminates the need for parading buyers through, as is necessary when listing the traditional way,” he says.

9. Establish ownership.

Make sure the person living in the home actually owns the home. A hoarder’s house actually might be tied up in a trust, or a hoarder might be living there for free. “Understand the legal landscape of ownership before getting too far into a contractual relationship,” says Paxton.

10. Be time-sensitive.

When arranging appointments with a hoarder client, set specific times and call ahead a few times before those appointments. “Understand that timing is not a hoarder’s strength,” says Paxton.

As for establishing goals for cleanup, set several reachable deadlines instead of one massive deadline, Paxton advises. In other words, don’t tell the hoarder: “This house must be clean by end of week.” Rather, approach it like this: “By Friday, I need you to clean up this hallway. Then by Monday, I need to be able to see this 2-foot-by-2-foot area.”

John Egan is editor in chief at SpareFoot, which operates a marketplace that helps people find and book self-storage.

This post was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. Check the blog daily for real estate tips and tricks for you and your clients.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2015. All rights reserved.

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  1. Really awesome advise. As someone who has many times experienced this phenomena within my own family, the suggestions on what to say here are very positive and understanding. I’ve always said the having a background in psychology has never hurt my realtor duties.

  2. Thank you for this great advice! I will keep this article for reference in my practice. With hoarders and all clients, kindness is key.

  3. In the midst of a client like this…..thanks so much for helpful hints in dealing with them. Makes so much sense …and I had forgotten about how to deal with their timelines.

    It took a long time to get that way….will take some time to undo it!!

  4. Thank you for the information. I never understood the situation why my clients have such a sentimental value to old items. Thank you for making a delicate situation a little easier.

  5. Please read.

  6. This has given me a great insight on how to handle a difficult situation. I am a compassionate person but you have given me tools on some options on how to handle the situation. Thank you.

  7. Great advice, and I will put those thoughts in my file to use when I have occasion to do so.

  8. This article is great advice and as a Realtor, I will remember to use it when dealing with this situation.

  9. Very good advice.

  10. I agree that this is excellent information. As a daughter of a hoarder I would also encourage you to find out if there are family members who can help. Without my assistance the sale and moving out of my mother’s house would of never been accomplished. Our realtor had known our family for years, she was extremely supportive and compassionate. I am still amazed we accomplished the feat of selling my mother’s house!!!!

  11. No way
    A hoarder who can’t give up empty yoghurt cups is never going to freely give up their home. A request for home sale will always come from an “interested party”. So if that “interested party” has cajoled the hoarder into signing the listing, then that is going to end badly.
    Has anyone ever gotten a call from a hoarder? Or, is it from the “interested party”?

  12. Excellent I feel as sellers age this will become more problematic

  13. Do you have any suggestions as to what companies we can use to
    help clean out for horders.

  14. This was a great article! The suggestions given in dealing with hoarders will definitely be put to good use in any future situations like this. Thanks for posting this article.

  15. Who pays for the cleaning company. Many clients may not be able to afford.

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