Tips for Sellers: How to Prepare Your Home for Open Houses and Showings if You Have Cats
All of us in The Davis Group are cat parents and cat lovers, so we understand the important place your furry family members hold in your heart and in your home. We also know that sharing your home with cats can present particular challenges when preparing your home to sell.
We have seen the reactions when potential buyers are greeted with litter box odors as they tour a home and have done our fair share of herding cats to keep them from getting outside during a showing. While we are certainly happy to do all that we can to keep your cats safe and comfortable during showings and open houses, this can be a stressful experience for your furry friends and can scare off some buyers.
Unfortunately, not all potential buyers are cat lovers -- and even those who are often do not respond favorably when they see evidence of cats in a home for sale. Some people are afraid of cats, some are allergic to cats, some think pets should be kept outside, and some immediately start to wonder what kind of damage they are going to find under rugs and behind furniture.
There is also the issue of wanting potential buyers to see themselves living in your house. Part of preparing your home to put on the market is depersonalizing it enough for buyers to imagine it as their future home. When these buyers see pets or evidence of pets, it is a constant reminder that this is your home and makes it more difficult for them to see it as their potential home.
So, to keep you sane, keep your cats safe and keep buyers from being distracted, let’s go over some tips for sellers to help you prepare your home for open houses and showings.
How to Keep Your Cats Safe During Open Houses
Most folks don’t mind keeping doors closed to keep cats inside while they are looking at a house. If it is a private showing with just a realtor and one or two people, this might work out just fine. However, there is always the chance that they will forget or that your cat will slip outside unnoticed.
This is even more of a possibility with open houses, since your real estate agent may not be able to keep their eyes on all of the visitors and all of the doors to make sure someone does not let your cats out.
Plus, even if the doors are successfully kept closed and your cats remain safely inside, having strangers wandering around the house may be stressful for them.
It doesn’t really work to lock your cats in a particular room, since people looking at your house are going to want to see every bedroom, bathroom, walk-in closet, laundry room, and anywhere else that might be big enough to comfortably house your cats during showings.
The best option is to arrange for your cats to be away from home during showings or open houses. If you are able to leave them with a friend or family member, take them to work with you, hire a pet sitter, or take them to a pet day care, that is usually best. This allows your cats to be comfortable and keeps them safe.
If this is not an option and your cats need to stay at home, you might consider keeping them in a carrier during showings or open houses to make sure they do not get outside or that children do not chase them under the bed.
How to Handle Cat Litter Boxes When Your Home Is On the Market
Litter boxes are an unavoidable necessity for folks who share their homes with cats. Unfortunately, they are usually unsightly additions to your décor and often give off unpleasant odors.
The first tip for sellers while their home is on the market is to clean your cat box multiple times a day. This will help keep odors to a minimum and help you be more prepared for surprise showings.
Next, you need to decide if it is feasible for you to hide your cat litter box during open houses and showings. If you have a typical, plastic litter box with no cover, there really is no choice here. Potential buyers are not going to want to see an uncovered cat box while they are touring your home. It doesn’t matter how clean it is; this is not a good look.
So, if this is the type of litter box you have, find a spot where you can hide it completely out of sight before potential buyers arrive. This might be in a cabinet in the garage, a backyard storage shed or some other spot where buyers likely will not look. Closets are not a good option, since potential buyers will likely look inside closets to check out the storage situation.
Covered cat boxes are better options when selling your home. While you should still hide a covered litter box before open houses, this option is at least a little more acceptable if you do not have time to run home and move your cat box before an impromptu showing. Keep it in an out-of-the-way area that is accessible for your cats but is inconspicuous enough to avoid distracting home buyers looking at your house. And, of course, if at all possible, hide it before showings.
The best option for convenience and visual appeal is to invest in a litter box that masquerades as furniture. Options include side tables, console tables, benches, potted plants, and more. Cat boxes that look like furniture still need to be cleaned regularly to keep odors at bay, but they do not need to be moved every time someone wants to see your house. This keeps your cats happy, makes your life easier and helps keep your house ready to show on short notice.
Now, let’s talk about cat litter box odors.
How to Keep Your Litter Box from Smelling
This can be a huge issue when preparing to sell your home. In the realm of unpleasant odors in homes we have toured, nothing beats cat urine and litter boxes. It is a distinct smell that permeates the air and can have buyers turning on their heels to get out of your home as quickly as possible. This, of course, is not conducive to selling your home, so let’s go over some options to reduce litter box smells.
As mentioned above, the first and most important step is to clean it regularly. This removes solid and liquid waste before the odor takes hold.
The next step is adding washing the cat box and changing out the litter to your weekly to-do list. This means discarding the old litter, washing the box with dish soap or vinegar and baking soda, drying the box completely, and refilling it with a few inches of fresh litter. For added odor control, sprinkle the bottom of your cat box with baking soda before adding litter.
If your cat box is old and scratched up, it might be time to replace it, since those scratches can be difficult to clean and allow the box to hold odors.
Once you have made these daily and weekly tasks part of your routine, it is time to find the best cat litter to reduce litter box smells, make scooping easy and keep your cats happy. Just like people, cats have different preferences. This means that some cats will immediately take to recycled newspaper cat litters and others refuse to use anything but clay. So, it might take a bit of trial and error to find the right cat litter that works for both you and your cats.
You will see plenty of advertisements for cat litters that promise to reduce litter box smells. Some of these litters have strong perfumes to mask the odor. This can be effective in some cases, but cats tend to not like these strong fragrances, which could worsen the problem if your cats avoid their box and relieve themselves elsewhere.
Some of these fragranced litters have smells that are so strong you will want to hold your breath while cleaning them, which clearly shows that these are not good options when selling your home, since potential buyers may be sensitive to strong smells or, at minimum, may recognize these distinct aromas as a coverup for litter box odors.
You are better off choosing an unscented litter and keeping up on your cleaning routine.
You will also need to choose between clumping litters and non-clumping litters. Clumping litters make scooping liquid and solid waste much easier. Since keeping your litter box clean is an ongoing task when preparing to sell your home, you will likely find that clumping litters are a more convenient option.
Clumping clay litters are the most common, the least expensive and the easiest to find; however, there are environmental and social justice implications that make clay litters a less-than-ideal choice. For example, the bentonite clay used in cat litter is often strip mined on Native American land. Some veterinarians have also expressed concern that using clay litters can cause intestinal blockages, particularly in kittens.
For these reasons, you might instead consider clumping litters made from corn, walnut or wheat.
If possible, place your cat box in a well-ventilated area to avoid concentrating odors in the spot surrounding the box.
Overall Odor Control for Homes with Cats
Using a combination of the right litter, baking soda and regular cleaning forms the foundation of odor control when selling a home with cats. Of course, even sticking to this regimen religiously may not be enough to completely remove litter box smells and related odors.
So, here are a few more tips that may help:
What to Do with Cat Bowls, Beds, Scratching Posts & Toys
When preparing for a showing or an open house, you need to balance the needs of your cats with your need to prepare your home to sell. They will, of course, need access to their food and water bowls, scratching posts, beds, and toys whenever they are home. This means that you need a plan that will allow you to quickly and easily remove or hide these items when a showing is scheduled or when your real estate agent is hosting an open house.
If you have a storage ottoman or bench that is currently filled with throw blankets or magazines, this might be your best solution. Relocate the throw blankets to a closet so that you can use this conveniently located storage space to quickly stow beds and toys before showings.
If this is not an option, grab a laundry basket and make a trip around the house gathering cat beds and toys to stow in a cabinet, storage shed or garage. The garage is also a good spot for larger items, like scratching posts and cat trees.
Food and water bowls can be placed inside a cabinet to quickly hide them when potential buyers are on their way.
Preparing Your Home To Sell: Tips for Sellers with Cats
If you share your home with cats, preparing your home to put on the market might come with a few additional tasks. You might also have to add a few chores to your to-do list when prepping for open houses and showings.
If it is in your budget, you will want to start by repairing any damage. This might include scratch marks on walls or trim, stains on rugs or carpets, scratched or stained furniture, warped baseboards or laminate flooring damaged from urine, or scratch marks on windowsills that happen to be your cat’s favorite spot to lounge in the sun.
The next step is giving your home a thorough cleaning to seek out urine spots, remove cat hair from furnishings, and clean stains on rugs, carpet and furniture. Thoroughly vacuum, sweep and mop all floors to remove as much cat hair and dander as possible.
Once you have accomplished this, it is time to move on to your maintenance plan to help keep your home ready to show to potential buyers on short notice.
Here’s a handy checklist to keep on hand when prepping your home for a showing or open house:
1. Use a lint brush, damp towel or rubber glove to remove cat hair from furniture, curtains and other textiles.
2. Dust all surfaces to remove cat hair and dander.
3. Vacuum carpets and rugs and sweep and mop hard-surface floors to remove hair, dander and tracked litter.
4. Check for fur balls under beds and sofas and in corners and closets.
5. Hide cat bowls, beds, toys, and scratching posts.
6. Clean corners of walls and door jambs where your cats rub.
7. Check for hairballs and vomit hidden around the house.
8. Make sure your cats are safe and comfortable before the buyers arrive.
Side note: If you have heavy shedders, you might want to brush them more often to reduce the amount of hair you have to clean up before showing your home to buyers.
The more accessible your home is for potential buyers to see at a moment’s notice, the better chance you have of selling your home. But you must balance this with the time you need to make sure that your cats are safe and comfortable and that your home is ready to show. Therefore, you may need to let your realtor know that you need time to prepare and cannot accommodate last-minute showings.
To limit prep time and accommodate potential buyers as much as possible, stay on top of your cleaning routine, have a plan in place for your cat’s comfort, and create a convenient storage spot where you can quickly stow your cat’s belongings.
AimeeJo Davis-Varela is a member of The Davis Group and a freelance writer specializing in real estate, sustainable home improvement, eco-friendly landscaping, green living and travel writing. She is also the owner of Mind Your Manors, which provides second home management services.
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