Q&A: Caroline Carter on how to save money during a home transition

Jun 06, 2019

Caroline Carter is an expert on transitioning your home and your life, whether you are a downsizing baby boomer or a millennial who wants to right size. As CEO of Done In A Day, a Washington, D.C.-based move management company, she knows the emotional, physical and financial roller coaster that moving can be. Her new book "Smart Moves: How to Save Time and Money While Transitioning Your Home and Life" has lots of practical advice and staging and organizing hacks.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, Marie Kondo, the Property Brothers or Nate Berkus, answer your decorating, design and decluttering questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and organizing. For more than 20 years, our Thursday Q&A has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share your own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small.

Good morning to all and especially to Caroline Carter whose new book will make you want to start throwing things out immediately. Caroline, founder and CEO of Done in a Day, is an expert at moving and how to save time and money in that complicated process. Her new book "Smart Moves" has all of her seasoned tips on how to transition your home and life without flipping out. She built her business from scratch and she has helped more than 2,000 families move. Let's chat.

Good morning everyone. My name is Caroline Carter CEO of Done in a Day and author of SMART MOVES - How to Save Time and Money While Transitioning Your Home and Life. I'm thrilled to be here and happy to answer all your questions about how to package your home to sell and orchestrate The Perfect Move. Don't feel overwhelmed, when you make the decision to sell and move, it's critical to understand the decisions you'll be expected to make and the impact of those decisions over the course of the process. By being prepared you are able to address any issues that come up and take control of this life changing event. Thank you for having me.

Hubby and I downsized three years ago to eliminate home maintenance issues. It was such a good idea! However, when washing my windows this Spring, I noticed a greenish algae-like coating between the double pane windows and the storm windows on the shady side of the house. What would be the best way to remove it and discourage future growth? The space is about two inches wide, and only on the bottom part of the window frame. There is none creeping up the side as far as I can tell. Water does not sit in the is space at any time, so I am kind of perplexed where it came from.

So happy that you have successfully downsized and are enjoying it! Downsizing as you know does not mean NO home maintenance-it just means LESS home maintenance. It sounds to me as if you have a failed seal between the window panes allowing moisture to collect and the gas to escape between the panes. Best to call a window repair/replacement company to replace the seal. Do your homework-replacement seals average about $300 depending on the window. While I know that you are not selling your home, you will have to address this issue if you do, so you might as well get this done now and enjoy the clear windows!

Planning cross-country move from Washington to Denver. Should I move all my furniture, or just the things I love and buy new when I get there?

Congratulations on your move! I strongly suggest that you look at each of the items you own and assign a dollar value to them based on both replacement cost and moving cost. This will help you to decide if it is "worth it" to move it. Moving is an opportunity to start over in many ways, especially with design. If you intend to use anchor pieces (sofas, chairs, tables, area rugs, lamps, etc.) in the new design scheme-move them-it will save you the time and money to replace. Think this one out based on cost. It goes without saying that you will pack and move the things that you love and don't want to replace at ANY cost! Good Luck.

We have lived in our house for 15 years, with 2 kids and like most families, we have too much "stuff" and I'm feeling overwhelmed. We have made the decision to downsize and sell and I just don't know where to start. This will most likely fall on my shoulders and need some direction. What do you recommend?

Breathe! This is a knowable process and needs to be approached with a timeline, strategic plan and clear, non-emotional head. You can do this! There are 2 phases to the home transition process: the visual and cosmetic packaging of the house to sell and the orchestration and supervision of the move. In order to succeed without losing your mind, begin with the sale of the house. Decide on a list date and work backwards on your calendar to where you are today.  Arrange a buyer based assessment of the structure and property. What needs to be done to appeal to the largest cross section on potential target buyers? Will you need to paint the interior or exterior to neutralize and unify the space? Re carpet? Check out the Pre Home Inspection Check List in my book SMART MOVES (https://amzn.to/2WpTs3L) to guide you through each step of this critical assessment and create a  list of exactly what you will need to address to sell at top dollar. Reach out to trades for estimates and timeline's required to complete the work. Review non-emotionally and make decisions based on the value of the impact to the buyer.

Next step is to create areas of storage on site to avoid the cost of short term storage. Begin with sorting, organizing, purging and dumping the attic, basement storage and garage to create room to store boxed items and furniture that will move with you but do not need when you are selling. Also, focus on areas that only YOU can make decisions about-home offices, command centers, personal and financial files, photo albums, picture frames and pack them to move. Store them. Continue to remove your "personal footprint" by packing china, crystal, silver and stylized design choices that you have made to create a "home" for your family. Chunk this portion of the process by doing one category or room at a time. Once you complete this process, you will begin to reveal the value to the buyer of the 'bricks and mortar' that you are selling and be 60% packed to move. Once the packing is completed you will begin the actual work to be done to sell and the hard part is over!

A ratified contract and closing date will trigger the need to source and engage the moving company. This date is unknowable at this time and can wait.

Good luck! you CAN do this strategically and economically and emerge successfully on the other side grateful that you had a plan and stuck to it.

Hi Caroline, My wife and I have tons of books and many art pieces and furniture items but we feel it's time to reduce our footprint. We are thinking of selling our large home and moving into a much smaller apartment. Purging will be difficult. Naturally, we will retain the things with the greatest daily application and emotional meaning. We welcome any suggestions you have for purging. Regards, J

Hey Downsizing! You have brought up the most difficult question for sellers and downsizers to answer-how and what to purge. Let's break this down:

Books require space to display. At this point you may not know how much space you will have in a new home. Be ruthless with what you keep and donate the rest! You will only be sorry if you keep more books than you can possibly display.

Art and Sculpture-Once you have separated the artwork and sculpture you intend to keep-engage the services of a certified appraiser in your area to find out if there is commercial value in the pieces that you currently own and wish to sell. Remember that there are costs associated with the disposition, however, you may wish to sell and use that money to defray the cost of the move.

Furniture-There is always a market for a valuable antique, however, not so for reproductions in many areas of the country. Again, reach out to a local auction house to have an appraiser come to your home to advise you on whether it makes sense to try to sell (weekly auctions or on line auctions, specialty auctions) and what the net amount is to you. Many clients wish they would have donated the pieces to local charity and taken the write off on their taxes. 

The last thing that I will tell you is that out of the 2000+ families I have transitioned, not one has ever said they wished that they kept more THINGS! It's always the exact opposite!

Good Luck and let me know if I can be of further service.

Life in the DC area is very expensive, so for years I have lived with roommates and thus haven't needed much furniture or that many kitchen items because we shared everything. This summer I am finally moving into my own apartment, and the amount of practical 'stuff' I need is overwhelming. Everything from a couch to dishes and silverware, from a kitchen trash can to more lamps, etc. I am trying to prioritize the most important things for daily life (such as the trash can and plates and silverware), but I am *so* overwhelmed with all of the decisions to be made and money to be spent. I am trolling Craigslist and other such sites to try to find things, but after so many years with roommates, I also want to be a bit choosy and only buy things I actually really like. Any advice would be helpful.

The first thing that I would do is to log onto Target or Bed, Bath and Beyond and print out a wedding registry. This registry will allow you to view common categories in each of the areas you will need when setting up a new home. You can rank them in order of importance.


Good Luck!

Caroline, I just purchased your book and am loving all the tips! I'm planning to retire in September then move out-of-state next summer. Any tips, specifically, related to retirement downsizing and moving that might be a little different than moving due to other reasons? TIA

Good Morning! Good for you-I love those who plan ahead! My best advice is to think with your HEAD and not with your HEART in terms of what you will need when you move out of state. You will then cut that in half. We all over estimate what we actually need to live.

With each item you plan to move-assign a dollar value to it-replacement cost vs. move cost. This way you will look non-emotionally at everything that you own and make educated choices based on the cost.

Love SMART MOVERS!!! Good Luck!

My kitchen is up to date but I do have all black appliances that are only a few years old and go with the look of my place. In your book you say you have to go stainless. Do I?

Great Question. Not necessarily. It depends on many factors including overall kitchen design, color, age of appliances. I would consider reaching out to a local sheet metal company to see if you can get panels cut in stainless to cover the fronts of the appliances.

Good Luck!

Do you believe that a home should not have a lot of bright colors in it if you want to sell it?

I think that there is a place for color when selling! I would use it sparingly-pops of color with throw pillows, throws, artwork etc. Walls that are neutral allow the potential buyer to see the width and depth of the rooms, flow of the floor plan and the value of the space that you are selling. Personally, I believe that the money spent on fresh, neutral paint is the best money you will ever spend when packaging your house to sell. Good Luck!

If my house is super clean and freshly painted in neutral colors...should flooring be replaced?.. and can the house be empty to sell?

Great Question. You have dealt with the first two areas of presentation critical to potential buyers: paint and cleaning. Flooring is absolutely #3! If the flooring does not present as almost "new" I would strongly suggest that you address it. Hardwood floors can be cleaned and polished with many floor products like Rejuvenate purchased at Home Depot. Vinyl tile is cheap and easy to replace. Wall to wall carpet replacement is almost always necessary.

I think that a vacant house that has been painted, with excellent light and flooring can be left vacant. I would caution you to remember that Buyers will look at whatever you give them to look at-if the house is vacant-they will be looking more closely at the walls, trim, flooring, light etc. This is why we typically stage a property as it highlights the unique assets of the property.

Why is that today's buyers are seeking "perfection" once they visit a home? It seems to me that buyers used to be able to see the value in properties without having to clear practically everything out of a house and painting all of the walls a linen color or a light gray hue?

You are so right! Today's buyers are visually over-stimulated and are able to access one-click perfection on their phones. They recognize exactly what they want and are determined to find at the beginning of their home search. Unfortunately, the buyer is in control and not the seller. My advice is to go with what will sell and not fight city hall. Give them the neutral palette, great light and perfect flooring. They are willing to pay for the ability to move in and do nothing for one year!

Good morning. My parents downsized six years ago from a large suburban house to a 2 BR, 2 1/2 bath condo. I am the local adult child and all of it fell on me. It was horrible - created a lot of stress and tension for us all. Now, my father passed away recently and my mother is nearing 90. She is facing a second move, this time to a tiered living community. Having spent a lot of time and effort (counseling helped a lot) recovering from the last move, I've advised my sibling that this one is on him. I will help but I won't orchestrate. He is pursuing options with her and all seems well while we are in the 'some day' phase. How do I stick to my guns and help without being drawn into the drama and becoming the bad guy again? It was horrible. Thank you for your help.

Oh PTSD! I truly feel your pain. I hear this all the time. Order him a copy of SMART MOVES and tell him you will be there if he has a question!!!

This one is on him!

Wait, why would you have to go stainless? I'm confused. Does this only apply if you're trying to sell?

Stainless is still the preferred option when packaging your home to sell. It is not the only option and certainly not REQUIRED in every instance-the key is to present a kitchen that is clean, bright and fully functioning so that a buyer can move in and do nothing for an entire year. Then they have the option of renovating and you don't have to.

Post Point Code


I'd like to give a shout-out to thrift stores and consignment shops, both for the people who are downsizing (donate your stuff) and the people who need to furnish a new home (shopping). I have Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Habitat Restore in my area. I see complete sets of dishes and glasses, nice dressers and dining room tables, etc. And don't forget The Book Thing in Baltimore if you have a lot of books to donate.

Dear Thrift-I, too, am a huge believer in the positive power of donation. There are so many local organizations that need our help. Thanks for the shout out!

We recently downsized from a large 3600 sq ft home in the country to a condo in the city. We were able to rent our home and have a year lease that expires in July, which has resulted in a budget-neutral living situation for us since the rent is covering the mortgage and taxes on that home. In March (hoping to leverage the spring market), we worked with our realtor to put the home up for sale, and we've had lots of showings, but ultimately no interest in the property. Being tenant-occupied, the home doesn't show well, nor can the realtor have an open house, plus there are other things like the kitchen is too small and the house needs a some updates to it. (Frankly, I'm a bit jaded by the 'HGTV effect' where I suspect that both realtors and buyers have an expectation that all homes on the market should be completely renovated and remodeled for potential buyers.) Our dilemma: We really cannot afford any extended time where we are juggling both mortgages, but it seems that to sell the house we need to get it empty and staged and then re-list it. This could take months and carry into the fall / winter months based on the 'time on market' averages I'm seeing for town our home is in. If we try and re-rent, then the cycle continues where the home will always be tenant-occupied and thus difficult to show and sell. Any words of wisdom or advice on how to best navigate this situation? From a financial perspective, renting may be our only option, and it could be that I just have to reconcile my thinking that we won't be able to unload the house and that will be long-term landlords. Side note: we purchased in 2006 at an inflated price of $295K; we've put in a ton of work and updates to the house over the years and listed it at $279K; we were not getting any showings, so I told the realtor to lower the price to $249K. Lot's of showings, but "too much work" for people whose top budget is $250K. https://www.washingtonpost.com/privacy-policy/2011/11/18/gIQASIiaiN_story.htmll.

Dear Juggling! The issue for you is a common one. The current list price of the home does not match the value to the potential buyer in presentation. My advice is to take it off the market, address the visual and cosmetic changes necessary to reflect the current price point and relist. Alternatively, you may have to continue to reduce the price until you find your buyer. Not a good position to be in. Check out the Pre Home Inspection Check List in SMART MOVES to isolate the top areas of value todays buyers are looking for as a guide. Good Luck!

In my area (upstate NY) it is common for the buyer to refinish the hardwood floors before they move in. That's when it's easiest to do it, and it's kind of expected. I learned the hard way, and had them refinished while living in the house. If selling I would make sure the floors are clean, but would not waste the effort to refinish them. Besides, buyers like to pick the stain, just like they like to pick wall colors.

Oh, I completely understand your choice not to refinish the floors. The issue really is that the selling process is not about YOU, but about the BUYER. They will look at your list price as a starting point and deduct from it the cost of refinishing the floors themselves. What I have found is that buyers will always over estimate the cost to do this. Be prepared to accept an offer lower than the list price.

I could turn that around and ask why today's sellers think they can command a premium for homes that haven't been updated in 35 years.

Great Point! Sellers too have to be realistic about the value of the 'bricks and mortar' that they are selling. What I do know is that "perfection" does sell faster and for more money. This means that the potential buyer can move in and make no meaningful changes for one year!

We moved 8 times in 16 years, including 3 international moves. I thought I was a pro until the 9th move which included clearing my parent's house. It stopped me cold. The house is empty and there are storage units. One storage unit was emptied after it flooded. Now I'm facing move number 10 to a smaller space. I'm working to make sure we use our local hazardous materials disposal days, the AAUW book fair for books and DVDs, and other stuff. The children want some of it (luckily not the same items!!) and I'm overwhelmed.

Dear Multiple! you are a super star in my book! Remove the emotion from the process and make decisions on auto pilot. You can do this-Create your timeline, scope of work and budget-complete each action and cross it off the list. See the end of the project completed in your mind and go there in a straight line-do not stop until you are finished. Good Luck!

House is ~18 years old. At the time we built, I wanted ivory trim throughout (not white) so all bath fixtures (toilets / tubs / shower units) are "bisque", bath floor tiles are almond. I regret this! Wish I could re-do all the trim and fixtures in a bright white. Since I can't, any tips to freshen this look? We plan to move in a year or two. THANKS!!

No problem. Make sure that everything else that can be white-is white. Look to neutralize all walls, trim and ceilings with Benjamin Moore Simply White to take the focus from the fixtures. Use fresh, new white towels in the bathrooms and a new white shower curtain when you are staging the house to sell.

Good Luck!

Help! I will be retiring in the next couple of years and want to downsize from townhouse to apartment but my husband and I have way too much stuff and he is a pack rat. How do I begin to get rid of things and move him to do the same? We have been donating things to charity but it's a small dent in the mountain.

Dear Soon-

Sounds like you and hubby need to read SMART MOVES, the book that I have recently written that details the steps to take once you have decided to sell and move. You can do this with a timeline, structure and budget. The book will tell you exactly what to do and in which order.

BTW-it's better to have an expert tell Hubby to get his "can" in gear-he will not listen to you, but, he will to others who advise him of the importance of dealing with a lifetime of things-you may also want to point out the COST of storing things he does not sort!


My tiny (but very nice) ranch has three small bedrooms. I live alone, and have made on room an exercise room and another an office. So have only one room as a bedroom. I have been told I need to remove all the office furniture and exercise equipment, so buyers will see them as bedrooms. I have no idea where I will put these things. Can't a buyer see they are bedrooms as they are?

The age old question! NO, a buyer cannot see the room as a bedroom in thier mind. Please, understand that it is critical that you return these rooms to present as bedrooms. The buyer needs to see the value of the rooms as bedrooms and not for alternative uses. Spend the money for a local short term storage unit while the house is on the market. You will make up the difference in the list and/or ultimate sales price.

Thinking about adding wood floors to the first level of our home (including kitchen). This might be a dumb question (!) but can wood flooring be added even tho' the cabinets will remain in place? The samples I've picked up are about 3/4 inch thick- will that shorten the baseboard height?

No, Great question. The addition of hardwood floors will add value to the house. It will shorten the baseboard height but the visual and physical impact will be worth it-not to mention the ultimate sales price.

Good Luck!

I'm wondering if there is any value (when selling your home) to having efficient lighting schemes. For instance, LED bulbs in all the fixtures, lighting controls such as motion detectors that turn lights on/off automatically, etc. SInce the price of LED bulbs has fallen significantly in the past couple of years, I wonder if this would be a good selling point. Not referring to table and floor lamps, just the overheads. Thanks.

Yes, I think that there is some value in replacing the bulbs, however, this not something that most buyers are focused on and will not sell your home unless the rest of the house works for them. This falls into the category of a "value add".

Not a very exciting topic of, but have you ever heard that furnace filters with a high filtration level are bad for your furnace? We are having our air conditioner and furnace replaced and one of the estimators who came out said that you should never use the 2200 level filter because it makes the furnace work too hard and could be part of the reason our furnace failed so “young”. Thoughts on this? Much appreciated! I don’t want to start off a new furnace with the wrong filters.

My suggestion is to reach out to an HVAC expert to provide the answer to this question. While I have not come across this issue before, it does not mean that it does not exist. I have to stay in my lane of expertise and suggest that you contact an expert!

The OP said the algae was "between the double pane windows and the storm windows ", not between the double panes. Presumably the storm windows are removable for cleaning?

If it's just in between the storm and the panes you should be able to remove the storm and clean. If algae continues to grow I would still contact a window expert to diagnose.

Thank you to everyone who submitted questions and thank you Jura for the opportunity. I love being a resource for sellers and real estate agents. For more advice, visit my website and Be a Smart Mover!

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Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily Twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering and organizing.

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Caroline Carter
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