How To

How to Sell a House Full of Books

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Melody Schreiber

Staff Writer

Melody Schreiber is at work on a nonfiction anthology of premature birth. As a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C., she has reported from nearly every continent. Her articles, essays, and reviews have been published by The Washington Post, Wired, The Guardian, The Atlantic, Pacific Standard, NPR, The Toast, Catapult, and others. She received her bachelor’s in English and linguistics at Georgetown University and her master’s in writing at the Johns Hopkins University. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @m_scribe.

I moved recently, which involved selling a house and buying a new one.

In anticipation, I’d spent all my time worrying about packing and moving all of our books; though I’d never sold a house before, I had moved, and I anticipated many backaches and the inevitable suggestions from my husband, growing in strength and frequency, that perhaps I give some of these books away to someone who will actually read them. Okay, Marie Kondo, like that would actually work!

Anyway! I thought I knew all about moving and books, but then the real estate agent came to our house to give us a few tips on staging.

Reader Problems: how do you sell a house full of books? We can help you out! selling a house | how to sell a house | staging a house

Staging, for the uninitiated, is when you try to make your home look like a hotel. Our real estate agent said the goal is three pieces of furniture per room and as few personal reminders as possible.

But books don’t count as personal reminders, right? Everyone loves books! Maybe the buyers would see the house full of books and want it even more!

“Yeah…maybe?” our agent said, no doubt wondering if this experience would be worth the commission.

Great! I’d pack up everything else but leave the books out. Everyone knows the best part of home shopping is browsing the shelves and judging the previous homeowner’s tastes. I thought of the house we’d gone to see a few weeks earlier with an extensive collection of books about libertarianism, and how I’d gone from excitement over the house to dread over entering a business deal with an Ayn Rand fan. Suddenly I saw the realtor’s point.

Besides, he added, you’ll have to pack them anyway when you move; why not spread out the work a little?

Okay! So, let’s pack up this house! No problem, right? Previously, it held only the entirety of my worldly belongings plus a baby, and let me tell you babies do not pack light.

I’m not going to lie to you, it was a lot of work. But this story has a happy ending—so read on for my tips to making your house look as presentable as possible when you have a massive number of books.

1. Give away or sell some books.

First, I culled ruthlessly. I filled nine boxes with books to sell or give away to libraries. It was tough, and invariably I’ll want those books back at some point, but that was nine fewer boxes for my husband and our team of volunteer movers to complain about. And it was a good time to go through every shelf to remove books I was never going to read.

2. Pack up as many books as possible.

Then, I packed up the books I did not plan on reading or referencing in the next six months. Lots of paperback fiction and books from my childhood; into storage they went. Then I went through the shelf of books I’ve read recently that I keep around to give to friends. Those books either landed in their new homes or went into storage as well.

3. Make the place look presentable.

I did leave several shelves of books in one room of the house, our home office. That was partly because we only had so much storage space and partly because I couldn’t bear to part with ALL of my books for the weeks or months it might take to sell the house.

So I tried to make the shelves that did stay as neat as possible. No double-lining the shelves two books deep; no precarious stacks of new releases teetering on top of the bookcases. And, of course, the books that remained were alphabetized within genre; I’m not an animal.

4. Hide the rest of the evidence.

Okay, okay, so not *all* of the books stayed in the office. I like keeping my TBR books and a few reference books in the living room with me. So I packed several cloth boxes full of books and put them on the shelves instead—that way, they looked orderly and presentable, and I could access them anytime I wanted.

5. Put a few books out on showcase.

I am also very aware of the subtle power of books (and I can’t resist making book jokes when the rare opportunity arises). So I left two titles on the shelves to entice potential buyers: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and Welcome Home edited by Eric Smith. (I thought about Home Is Burning by Dan Marshall, but I didn’t want to jinx myself.)

And it worked! After a few weeks, our house sold. It was probably the book jokes.