Credit: Jonatan /

Q: Marsha, as a fellow realtor, I enjoy your articles. Now, I have a question for you. I received a referral to a seller from a divorce attorney. I visited the home, and the husband is a hoarder. It’s a great neighborhood, but the home looks like a disaster. The front and the back yard are full of discarded and broken junk. You can barely walk through the home because of all the stuff. This is a divorce sale. I’m at a loss on how to market or even show the house. Do you have any advice?

A: In my long real estate career, I have only worked with one seller who had hoarding disorder. Hoarding is a mental disorder, and hoarders and their spouses rarely put their homes on the market. The idea of selling their home and discarding or moving their possessions is overwhelming. A divorce sale is a must-sell situation, so you will need to work on a plan with this seller.

First, I suggest that you market the home by appointment only. It’s a divorce sale and already a tough situation for the sellers. Public open houses and realtor caravans will increase their stress. When I appraised homes, I could anticipate when the property needing an appraisal had a hoarding issue. The owners would make and break appointments several times. They dreaded welcoming a stranger into their home.

Second, price the home to sell quickly. Explain the situation to agents who want to show the home. Potential buyers will need to move through the cluttered home and try to look past all the stuff. Realistically, the only way to clean up the home is to get into a contract and give the seller a specific deadline. Another solution is to suggest to the divorcing couple to take what they need, and the new owners will deal with the rest. They can just walk away from the mess if they choose.

When I worked with a seller with hoarding disorder, I dreaded the physical inspection. I assumed by the cluttered condition that the home would be in serious disrepair. This was not true at all. The seller had maintained the house’s infrastructure. They had kept up with pest repairs, a new sewer lateral, put in copper plumbing and upgraded the electrical systems. The truth was the house was fine. Never assume anything. It took a weekend of clearing the home, cleaning, and painting, and it became a wonderful home for the new owners. 

Hoarding disorder affects all levels of society. There is a story about a wealthy local man who kept buying houses for the sole purpose of putting more and more of his stuff in them. He never lived in these homes; he just filled them with his ever-growing belongings. 

According to the American Psychiatric Association, hoarding disorder afflicts two to five percent of our population and can affect all types of people. Working with your seller will require sensitivity to their disorder. I suggest reading more about the problem.

I hope my suggestions help. Your listing will sell, the couple will move out, and the refreshed home will welcome new owners.  

Marsha Gray has worked in Santa Barbara real estate for over 25 years. She works at Allyn & Associates, where she helps her clients buy and sell homes and with lending services. To read more of Marsha’s Q&A articles, visit Contact Marsha at (805) 252-7093 or DRE# 012102130; NMLS #1982164.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.