How to invest—yes, invest—your emergency fund

Even if the Federal Reserve raises interest rates this month, it still stinks to be a saver.

The average rate on a savings account is 0.1 percent and the average one-year certificate of deposit rate is just 0.28 percent, according to That’s less than the rate of inflation. In the 12 months through August, the core Consumer Price Index, which strips out volatile food and energy costs, increased 1.8 percent.

Low interest rates make it particularly tough to build an emergency fund. That’s an account that financial advisors recommend hold savings to cover three to six months of essential expenses in the event of an unexpected event, such as a job loss, car accident or health problem.

So should you stash your safety net fund in something other than savings accounts? Even with low interest rates, most financial advisors say no.

Many are concerned that if you invest your emergency fund it may decline in value when you need it the most because of market volatility and believe cash is the only true liquid option for such a fund to ensure you can cover sudden, unexpected expenses.

“It is not the job of an emergency fund to earn a high return or even a nominal return. It is the job of an emergency fund to be there in an emergency,” said David Mendels, ‎director of planning at Creative Financial Concepts in New York City. “If it could be down when you need it then you can’t count on it to be be there when you need it. If you can’t count on it to be there when you need it, it is useless as an emergency fund.”

Yet there is an opportunity cost to having an emergency fund that’s earning less than the rate of inflation, said Dan Egan, director of behavioral finance and investments at Betterment, an automated investing service. Over time, people who put their emergency fund in low-yield investments will have to “top it off” to make sure the fund maintains its value because of inflation, he said.

Betterment actually recommends investors put their emergency fundsin a portfolio with between 30 percent and 50 percent in stocks and the rest in a diversified allocation of bonds. Most Betterment clients have a 40 percent allocation to stocks in their emergency funds and the robo-advisor uses low-cost stock and bond exchange-traded funds to create those portfolios.

If you go this route, consider investing at least 130 percent of your emergency fund goal in the moderate-risk portfolio of stocks and bonds to hedge against stock market turmoil, Egan said.

By increasing the targeted savings amount by 30 percent, it would allow the emergency fund to absorb a 23 percent decline while maintaining the level of expenses you want the fund to cover, Egan said. He used the 23 percent because it represents the largest peak-to-trough percentage drop a Betterment emergency fund with 40 percent stock allocation would have experienced since 2004 by his calculations.

If your monthly expenses were $2,000, for example, and you wanted to save four months’ worth of expenses for your emergency fund, you would need to invest $8,000 plus 30 percent more — another $2,400 — under Betterment’s advice.

Egan understands Betterment’s approach goes against the grain of traditional financial planning, but he said he believes it’s the right one.

Some other financial advisors do recommend similar approaches to emergency funds, such as investing in bond funds or using a Roth IRA, which allows you to withdraw contributions without tax penalties. All strategies involve taking more investment risk to earn better returns than liquid cash holdings. Depending on how an emergency fund is invested, you may also have to pay capital gains taxes when your fund’s investments are liquidated to cover unforeseen expenses.

To be sure, such investments aren’t as easy to convert to cash as a traditional savings account at a bank. At Betterment, it can take three to four days to liquidate a portfolio.

But how many emergencies require cash instantly? Egan said he used a credit card to cover the cost of a car accident a year ago and then paid off the balance with his emergency fund before interest could accrue.

Of course, that strategy only works if you have enough in your fund to cover such expenses.

Building an emergency fund is the No. 1 priority among the 5,500 U.S. households annually surveyed by Hearts & Wallets, said Laura Varas, principal of the retirement market research firm. Yet many Americans still aren’t setting enough aside. Six in 10 Americans said they don’t have enough in an emergency fund to deal with even minor expenses.

While advisors may disagree on whether to invest the money in the fund or leave it in a bank account, they do agree on this: The most important thing is to have an emergency fund, and one with enough money to cover your needs.

Manhattan developer Zeckendorf confident $130M penthouse will sell

The address 520 Park Ave. is still mostly a hole in the ground, but the sales office is now open for business and redefining the luxury price point in New York City. Luxury condominium prices already hit a record this year, according to several reports released Thursday on the Manhattan market. This as more units go up, but global financial markets fall.

“Everything concerns me, but, very funny, we think we’ve seen more Chinese buyers in the last 60 days than ever before,” said William Lie Zeckendorf, the developer behind 520 Park. “I think, frankly, what’s unsettled China has made the U.S. that much more appealing.”

A rendering of 520 Park Avenue, New York.

The 54-story tower is another team effort by Zeckendorf and architect Robert A.M. Stern; they collaborated on 15 Central Park West, which opened in 2008. A now legendary celebrity magnet, its units originally sold for a collective $2 billion, but some owners have already sold for three times their original investment.

The tower at 520 Park, which is on track to be completed in 2018, will house 33 full-floor units with five duplex penthouses. The basic units will be 5,100 square feet with 360 degree views, some better than others depending on the floor. They will start at $30 million.

The crown jewel will be a 12,400-square-foot penthouse with an additional 1,700 square feet of outdoor space. It is listed at $130 million, which Zeckendorf revealed last year but said is still the right price.

“Probably more likely now than ever. We are seeing more and more interest in New York City from across the world, we’re also seeing record-breaking prices being paid by New Yorkers,” said Zeckendorf, who claims that the majority of his buyers are still from the tri-state area.

Manhattan’s luxury market, which is defined as the upper 10 percent of all co-op and condos, saw a median sale price of $5,499,365 in the third quarter of this year, up 10 percent from a year ago, according to Jonathan Miller of real estate appraisal firm Miller Samuel, in a report for Douglas Elliman, a real estate firm. Meanwhile, listing inventory was down 9 percent, putting more pressure on prices.

In the new development market, the price per square foot reached a record, up nearly 17 percent from a year ago, and sales surged 61 percent.

“The sky is the limit. I was once asked could we exceed a hundred million and I think we can keep on going up,” said Wendy Sarasohn, a real estate agent with Brown Harris Stevens in Manhattan, adding, “My prime buyers are from the metropolitan tri-state area, California and then international buyers.”

Kitchen display at the newly opened sales center for 520 Park Avenue, New York.

Kitchen display at the newly opened sales center for 520 Park Avenue, New York.

The tower at 520 Park, which is actually on East 60th St. between Madison and Park avenues (Zeckendorf paid tens of millions of dollars to Christ Church on the corner of Park and 60th for air rights and its address), is one of several luxury condominium towers now under construction in midtown Manhattan. While prices have softened somewhat for less expensive, older Manhattan apartments, the high end, at least, according to Zeckendorf, is not faltering.

“Supply is low, demand is high, and the question becomes, on the new development side, what will that do to the overall market? Given the size of our market, I’m not convinced one, two, three, four, five thousand more units is going to impact the overall market, it might impact the submarkets,” said Zeckendorf.

He also said his building is unique in being the only new luxury addition to the Upper East Side, which has seen some of its historic appeal bow to trendier downtown neighborhoods.

mortgage applications drop 6.7% on interest rate swings

What goes up must come down, especially when it comes to today’s highly rate-sensitive mortgage borrowers.

Total mortgage application volume fell 6.7 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis for the week ending September 25 versus one week earlier, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA). This, after volume had jumped by double digits the previous week.

Why the volatility?

Because interest rates are swinging relatively widely day-to-day, due to volatility in the U.S. stock market and overseas financial markets.

A Bank of America branch in New York City.

This, however, does not show up in the weekly averages: The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) decreased to 4.08 percent from 4.09 percent, with points remaining unchanged from 0.45 (including the origination fee) for 80 percent loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans.

“Once again, the weekly average mortgage rate is not telling the story regarding mortgage application volume,” said Michael Fratantoni, chief economist for the MBA. “The prior week included days with much lower rates due to volatility around the Fed’s announcement that drove refinance volume up. Last week, a more stable rate produced less volume, as rates at this level just do not provide an incentive for most homeowners to refinance.”

Refinance application volume decreased 8 percent from the previous week, on a seasonally adjusted basis. Applications to purchase a home, which are less rate-sensitive, fell 6 percent from one week earlier but are 20 percent higher than the same week one year ago, according to the MBA.

Lower purchase volume seems to indicate that the slowdown in home buying will continue. Both signed contracts to buy homes and closed home sales fell more than expected in August, according to the National Association of Realtors. Fall is traditionally the start of the slower housing season, but this year the signs point to a bigger slowdown than usual.

“While September and October look steady, there are early signs that point to a softening market in the final two months of the year,” according to a new report from Redfin, a real estate brokerage. “The number of Redfin customers touring homes held steady from July to August, but fewer people actually made offers.”

Next Monday lenders will face new regulations for disclosing loan information. While they have had considerable time to adapt their systems, some expect that could stall closings on some home purchases and even deter certain borrowers from applying for a mortgage refinance.

Wooing millennials to buy condos Really tiny condos

As more millennials graduate into better paying jobs, marriage and parenthood, real estate developers are doing all they can to entice this renter-nation generation in home ownership.

That means making urban homes more affordable, which means making them smaller. The tiny house movement may still be something of a novelty on home-remodeling TV shows, but in downtown Washington, D.C., as in other major cities, the tiny condo movement is moving quickly into the mainstream.

Workers put the finishing touches on the Adams Morgan condo project in Washington, D.C.

Workers put the finishing touches on the Adams Morgan condo project in Washington, D.C.

“They definitely notice it’s smaller, so it is an explanation; it takes a little bit of an adjustment,” said Chris Ballard, principal at McWilliams/Ballard, a marketing firm. Ballard works with the Peterson Cos., the developer of Ontario 17, a new condominium building in D.C.’s young and vibrant Adams Morgan neighborhood.

The condominium building, whose exterior is still getting finishing touches, is about 70 percent sold. While its penthouse units went the fastest, its tiny studios, barely bigger than 300 square feet, are getting serious millennial attention — especially with a price point of just $275,000, about half the neighborhood’s median price, according to Long and Foster Real Estate.

“Things are getting smaller, and people are starting to understand,” said Laina Lee, one of the sales managers at Ontario 17. “About 80 percent of all our buyers, including our studios and our one-bedrooms, have all been first-time homebuyers.”

First-time homebuyers have been very slow to come back to the housing market post recession. They are still barely about a third of home buyers, when historically they make up more than 40 percent.

Studio model unit has Murphy-style bed wall unit to show how to maximize 372 square feet, furnishing unit not included in $280,00 price.

Studio model unit has Murphy-style bed wall unit to show how to maximize 372 square feet, furnishing unit not included in $280,00 price.

Rising faster than inflation, home prices shot up by 4.7 percent nationally in July from a year ago, according to a report released Tuesday from S&P/Case-Shiller.

“A slower rate of price gains is needed in order to make buying a home a more competitive option to renting,” wrote Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst with the Lindsey Group, in response to the price report.

Young buyers have been forced to rent, but historically high rents prevent them from saving for a large enough down payment.

“We’re definitely getting a consumer that’s priced out of the market,” said Ballard. “They look at older resales, and now they get to come and look at something that is brand new, and so that’s a great difference, when you’re comparing a 1970s build, older-type condominium with something that’s brand new with all new fit and finish.”

The building has a rooftop sundeck and modern lobby, and most units have a small terrace, but it’s the add-on amenities in the teeny studio models that attract the most attention. Of course, the bed pulls out of the wall, but a dining table pulls down from a hanging picture frame as well. A sofa is built in to the bottom of the bed and stores the bedding. Kitchen appliances are all high-end, but they are slightly smaller than normal. The refrigerator is by Blomberg, a German company that is making a mint off the new trend in slimmer appliances.

Ballard claims that it is cheaper to buy at the Ontario than rent in D.C.’s red-hot apartment market. The vast majority of new development in the past five years in the multifamily sector has been on the rental side. Very few condominiums are going up, but the popularity of the tiny trend could change that.

Shared rooftop terrace overlooks the Washington Monument, which is "great for Fourth of July fireworks," says sales manager Laina Lee.

Shared rooftop terrace overlooks the Washington Monument, which is “great for Fourth of July fireworks,” says sales manager Laina Lee.

“We spent a lot of time trying to plan it, it was actually harder to sell that product on paper than it is now,” noted Ballard. “There was a lot of concern, people say 380 square feet, that’s so small and then you get in there and a lot of times people say, this is bigger than I thought. We built out the closet so it’s doubling hanging, we use every single square foot, there’s not a lot of wasted space.”

The building also doesn’t have as many amenities as some of the more expensive buildings downtown. No pool. No fitness center. But no sky-high condo fee, either. It is all about keeping the price down and the sales up. The larger units at the penthouse level are still less than a million dollars, and they sold the fastest, mostly to downsizing baby boomers.

Pending home sales fell 1.4% in August

Rising home prices and a tight supply of homes for sale are keeping buyers at bay.

A monthly index measuring signed contracts to buy existing homes, so-called pending home sales, fell 1.4 percent in August compared to July, according to the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Expectations had been for a slight increase.

While sales are still 6.1 percent higher than one year ago, the annual gains are shrinking.

Sale Pending real estate home prices

“Pending sales have leveled off since mid-summer, with buyers being bounded by rising prices and few available and affordable properties within their budget,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the NAR. “Even with existing-housing supply barely budging all summer and no relief coming from new construction, contract activity is still higher than earlier this year and a year ago.”

Home prices in July were 5.3 percent higher than July of 2014 and are now just 5.5 percent below their peak from June of 2006, according to a new report from Black Knight Financial Services. After rising through most of the spring, mortgage rates came down slightly in August, but not enough to entice more buyers into the competitive market. The potential for higher rates is just one of several concerns Realtors now cite.

“The possibility of a government shutdown and any ongoing instability in the equity markets could cause some households to put off buying for the time being,” wrote Yun in a release. “Furthermore, adapting to the changes being implemented next month in the mortgage closing process could delay some sales.”

Starting October 3, new government regulations will require lenders to disclose more documents to borrowers regarding new loan applications. While the regulations have already been delayed in order to give lenders more time to comply, there is still concern that the new rules will delay or even scuttle some sales. Some lenders are counseling potential buyers to extend their rate locks, even if it costs extra money, to protect themselves against possible delays.

Buyers, however, are more likely to be thwarted by the higher prices, which are supported by such tight inventory. Closed sales of existing homes in August fell a sharper-than-expected 4.8 percent in August from July, with Realtors again blaming a lack of homes for sale.

Realtors predict the national median existing-home to increase 5.8 percent in 2015 to $220,300. Yun forecasts total existing-home sales this year to increase 7 percent to around 5.28 million, about 25 percent below the prior peak set in 2005 (7.08 million).

Regionally, pending home sales in the Northeast fell 5.6 percent for the month but are 8.9 percent above a year ago. In the Midwest sales fell 0.4 percent monthly and are up 6.5 percent from a year ago. In the South sales 2.2 percent monthly and are 4.1 percent above last August. In the West sales rose 1.8 percent monthly and are 7.6 percent higher than one year ago.

Homes as ATMs It’s starting again

As home values rise, homeowners are gaining more equity on paper — and they’re taking it out in paper. Cash-out refinances jumped 68 percent in the second quarter from a year ago, according to Black Knight Financial Services. This is the highest volume of this type of refinance in five years.

“People realize that refinancing these funds is extremely inexpensive and that rates will eventually rise, so they’re capitalizing on the strength of home price appreciation,” said Ben Graboske, senior vice president at Black Knight Data & Analytics.

House and money

Mortgage holders have gained about $1 trillion in home equity collectively over the past year. On an individual basis, borrowers doing cash-out refinances are taking an average $65,000, which is comparable to what borrowers did in 2006, the height of the last housing boom. While the jump is significant, the volume is still nowhere near where it was back then. In fact, volume is still 80 percent below where it was at the peak in 2005.

That is not the only difference. Today’s refinancer is in a far more solid equity position in his or her home, compared with borrowers then, who used their homes like ATMs, pulling out every available dollar. Even after tapping equity, the average resulting loan-to-value ratio for today’s borrowers is 68 percent, meaning the borrower has only leveraged 68 percent of the home’s current value. That is the lowest level in a decade.

“That reflects real strength of price appreciation and consumer sentiment,” said Graboske.

The jump in cash-out refinances could be behind the strength in auto sales and home remodeling. The lack of homes for sale has caused many potential buyers to stay where they are, even though they have the equity to move up. In turn, they are using that equity to not only enhance their home but to add to its value.

“This is because more homeowners will choose to stay in place and remodel rather than abandon their current low rate mortgage by moving,” according to researchers in the study.

Cash-out refinances were most popular in California, accounting for 30 percent of all volume, according to Black Knight. The next closest was Texas, accounting for 7 percent. These states have seen the most home value appreciation. Should home value appreciation slow or even flatten, those hearty loan-to-value ratios will shrink, but it is unlikely today’s highly cautious, litigation-leery lenders will allow borrowers to take out more cash than is prudent.

Choosing to crowdfund the real estate market

While high-technology and community ventures have dominated the headlines when it comes to crowdfunding, more challenging areas of investment, such as real estate, are also finding success, according to one industry executive.

More people are being drawn into this increasingly crowded space, with platforms like Realty Mogul, Property Moose and Fundrise leading a sector which globally raised over $1 billion in real estate during 2014. By the end of this year, that figure is expected to almost triple, up $2.57 billion worldwide, according to a Massolution report released this year.

“I always wanted to provide access to more investors and crowdfunding is a perfect way to do that. You can give access to tens of thousands of investors online, and make it as easy to buy stocks or bonds online.”

In the aftermath of 2007/2008’s global financial meltdown, people’s faith in traditional institutions became unsteady, so the rise of crowdfunding, pop-ups and unique ideas became increasingly attractive.

Consequently, investors have become more conscious with how they spend their money, and crowdfunding should provides opportunities suitable even during recession periods, which is a key focus of Helman’s company.

“Investors need a place to live in both good times and bad times.”

On Realty Mogul, investors are invited to pool together their money with other users to invest in a real-estate project, putting in as little a $5,000. The average return for the investments put out on Realty Mogul varies on risk level, however, Helman estimated it can range from 7 percent to as high as 20 percent.

As the latest S&P/Case-Shiller index showed U.S. house prices continued to rise this July, up 5 percent more affordable places to live are becoming more attractive, so Realty Mogul has got investors interested in the mobile home park space, where more than 20 million U.S. citizens currently reside.

Already over 17,000 active institutional investors have joined Realty Mogul’s community, having invested more than $80 million in over 250 estates, since the platform went live in 2013.

Defining itself as the “e-trade of real estate investing,” iFunding, a New York based investment platform, has fully funded multiple property developments worth over $1 million.

Across the Atlantic on Wednesday, residential property platform, Property Partner, listed a mortgaged investment for sale on its site – a European first– made up of three individual flats in Greater London, all of which were fully crowdfunded within 62 minutes of its launch.

Bulls Guard Jimmy Butler Nails Chicago Townhouse for $4.3M

Jimmy Butler #21 of the Chicago Bulls

Long after the heyday of Michael Jordan, Chicago Bulls superstars are still treated like royalty in the Windy City. Latest proof: Bulls’ elite guard Jimmy Butler, who just purchased this stylish townhouse in city’s hot River North area for $4.3 million.

Butler has become an impact player with the Bulls ever since being drafted from Marquette University in 2011. Last year, he was selected for the NBA All-Star team and named the league’s most improved player.

Butler comes a long way from his teenage years, some of which he spent homeless in his native Texas. He signed a five-year, $95 million contract with the Bulls in July, according to Crain’s Chicago Business, which also broke the story of his townhouse deal.

Butler’s new living room

Butler's new living room

Butler’s new place, built in 2008, has 10,000 square feet of living space over four floors, three outdoor terraces, an elevator, and a 750-bottle wine cellar.

The home was listed for $4.6 million on Sept. 8, and the sale closed Sept. 15. The seller, reports Crain’s, was Greg Mutz, CEO of apartment development company AMLI Residential. Mutz had paid roughly $3.4 million for the home when it was built in 2008, Crain’s says. Randy McGhee was the listing agent for the property.

Home Buyers Don’t Wait Forever for ‘The One’


When you’re dating, you can spend years searching for the perfect relationship only to—possibly—wait too long and miss out on something great. Suddenly, over your sad microwave meal and bottle of cheap red, you’re looking back on your life choices, wondering what could have been if you hadn’t been so darned picky.

Well, the same goes for house hunting. You can drive yourself crazy searching for your dream home. You’ve found houses that have come close, after all. So the perfect one is bound to appear soon, right?

Not necessarily. We know the hunt can be emotionally draining, but at some point you have to go from house hunter to home owner.

We’re not encouraging you to make a choice that will fill you with buyer’s remorse. But to borrow a line from the Rolling Stones: You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes … you get what you need.

We can’t give you love advice (and trust us, you would not want us to), but we do happen to know a few things about real estate. Here are three questions to ask yourself; the answers will help you determine whether it’s time to settle on a home that might notbe what your dreams are made of.

1. Are my expectations realistic?

Everyone has a dream home. Mine is a Craftsman with Victorian high ceilings, art deco details, and a Mid-Century Modern feel. But here’s the thing. That Frankenstein of architectural styles doesn’t exist—and your dream home probably doesn’t either.

“There is no such thing as a ‘perfect home,’” says Ryan Fitzgerald, Realtor® and owner of Raleigh Realty in Raleigh, NC.

There’s always going to be something not so lovable in each house you view. The key to finding the right home is setting realistic expectations.

“You can find a home that meets almost all of what you are looking for,” Fitzgerald says.

Make a list of your dream features and amenities before you start house hunting—but be willing to let some of those features go once you start looking at properties. It helps to score each feature on a scale of 1 to 10—that way you (and your partner, if you have one) are on the same page about which amenities are deal breakers and which are simply nice to have.

2. How many properties have I viewed?

Once you’re house hunting, it can be nearly impossible to decide when you’ve looked at enough houses. After all, the perfect house could be listed any day now.

Go ahead and view online listings as much as you want. There’s no harm in real estate stalking in your spare time, but you should set a limit for actual viewings.

“If you go view more than eight homes [without finding anything], there’s a good chance you’re confused as to what you’re actually looking for,” Fitzgerald says. “You’re trying to piece together a home that doesn’t exist.”

If you find that you’re searching for your own Frankenstein (it won’t work, I promise), take a moment and ask yourself how many homes you’ve visited. Have you reached the (self-imposed) cap? If so, make a list of each property’s strengths and weakness, and then get ready to compromise.

3. What am I willing to compromise?

If you’ve set realistic expectations and looked at more than a few houses, it’s time to start making some tough decisions. It might feel like settling, but you’ll probably thank us later when you’re finally a homeowner.

Just make sure you’re not compromising on something you’ll regret later.

“If you’re going to compromise, do not compromise on location,” Fitzgerald says.

The real estate adage “location, location, location” bears repeating here. After all, a great house won’t matter much if you’re driving two hours to work every day or the only nearby grocery store closes at 7 p.m.

If you’re not sure where to compromise, ask your Realtor. That’s what they’re there for.

The exception to the rule

After months of searching (especially in competitive markets), you might feel the pressure to choose something—anything—just to achieve homeownership and stop throwing away your money on rent.

We’re going to contradict ourselves a bit here and tell you this: Sometimes it’s OK to keep looking. When you’re deciding on a home, you should always consider the current market, even if it means you’ll be shopping for a little while longer.

“If you are having trouble finding a home and you have proper expectations, don’t settle—especially if you’re in a hot market,” Fitzgerald says.

If you’re in a sellers’ market, homes can go quickly and you might just be missing the window of opportunity. It might make sense to wait a little longer than rush to try to beat out an overzealous buyer.

After all, competition can breed short-lived desire—and you don’t want to be stuck with a dud after the admirers have moved on to the next attraction.

Smart Tips for Selling Your Home While Living in It With Kids


Selling your house is a big, fat scary undertaking that comes with a fair amount of exhilaration when potential buyers line up to take a gander at your home. Before that happens, though, you have to prep your humble abode for sale—and that means keeping it in tiptop shape for showings.

If you have young kids, you’re probably laughing or having an anxiety attack at this notion. After all, how on Earth can you get hundreds of Lego bricks, piles of dirty laundry, and the remains of that morning’s breakfast out of sight before you hustle everyone out of the house every single day? Any parent who has shared living space with a toddler will tell you that’s asking a lot.

But don’t stress; we have some tips and tricks from the experts that will help you list and sell your home while working around your littlest residents.

Get kids to help you declutter

The first task, obviously, is to declutter. Enlist your kids’ help so they feel involved in the process, says Lauren Sheehan, a Realtor® in Portland, OR.

“Older kids are usually good about keeping their rooms clean, but offering more allowance money or special privileges can motivate them,” Sheehan suggests. “Younger kids are a little tougher to convince. I find that the reward chart system works really well. Give your kids a sticker each time they pick up toys or help clean their room. Once they’ve filled their chart, let them choose a special toy or treat as a reward so the process becomes less stressful and more fun.”

(Need some reward charts to get started? The “Supernanny” has you covered. You’re welcome.)

Let them pack their own items

Another way to engage your children’s help is to sit down with them and make a list of their toys, books, clothes, and games, then assign them certain items to pick up and pack away, says Kevin Curtis, a Realtor in Minneapolis, MN. Curtis also suggests letting your kids label and decorate moving boxes for extra measure. (What kid doesn’t love to go to town on cardboard boxes with a box of crayons or markers?!)

“Ask your kids to pick their favorite toys so they can keep playing with them, and have them store the rest away,” Curtis says.

And buyers understand that your entire life isn’t on hold for showings, Curtis says. Try to put toys away, make the beds, and keep the surfaces neat, but don’t obsess over the details in these rooms.

“It’s OK to let kids be kids; buyers aren’t going to judge the whole house based on your kid’s bedroom,” Curtis says.

Buyers coming over? Field trip!

After your home hits the market, you’ll need to think about what to do with your brood when buyers come to scope out your place. That’s where a little preparation and planning go a long way, Curtis says.

“Selling can be very disruptive to a family’s schedule, but try to make showing times fun so your kids get excited about showings instead of dreading them,” Curtis says. “Take them out to eat, go for ice cream, visit a relative or friend, go to the park, or stop by the library.”

Although you can’t always anticipate when buyers will view your home, most showings happen over the weekend. Sheehan suggests working with your Realtor® to schedule showings in long morning or afternoon blocks to make it easier on your kids. And don’t forget to keep a small stockpile of activities, snacks, and drinks ready for those one-off showings where you need to grab and go, Sheehan says.

Once your house finally sells, grab an adult beverage and congratulate yourself profusely on making it through the listing process with your sanity (and your kids!) intact.

Thinking of buying? Read more tips from Curtis and Sheehan about house hunting with young kids.