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The Dozen (Plus) Things a Real Estate Agent Always Keeps in Their Trunk


If you’ve ever seen real estate agents at work, you might imagine their car — specifically their trunk — operating like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag: Never mind the size it appears, anything they need might be found in there. 

Not seven flannel nightgowns, a folding armchair, or a pack of hairpins — but close. Masks, lightbulbs, and a shower curtain, anyone?

Meet Susan Barker, a Rockville, Maryland, Realtor with RLAH Real Estate. She specializes in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., and in an average year, she puts at least 10,000 miles on her Honda Odyssey.

In its small trunk are tools of the trade. Here are the five she uses most:

Lockboxes are for getting into empty properties. Typically, they go on doorknobs. Where there are no doorknobs — Barker often sells in a gated development of 9,000 mostly retirees, where doors open with levers — she uses a lockbox holder, a metal contraption that goes over the door. 

The toolkit is for hanging pictures and niceties when staging an open house. It’s also for last-minute fixes — tightening a screw here, flattening a nail there. 

Hand sanitizer is mostly for all those clients and visitors at open houses, sometimes for herself after touching who-knows-what in strange places. Barker goes through five 12-ounce bottles a year.

The trunk’s largest objects are directional signs: the “arrow” signs along streets and sidewalks pointing people toward a home for sale. There’s also a variety of “sign riders”: “Open Sunday,” “Under Contract,” “Coming Soon.” These hang from a post outside. Brochures and business cards complete the marketing materials.

Along with the toolkit are a level, measuring tape, and a tiny vacuum with a six-foot cord. Whether centering a sofa or checking the height of a frame on the wall, there’s always something to measure.

The trunk also includes masks, wipes, and booties, or shoe covers. (Something typically needs a swipe, from dusty counters to a dead cricket.) That’s where the vacuum comes in as well. The booties are for herself and clients, especially when bad weather meets impeccable carpeting.

What’s left? What Barker calls “light staging materials”: vases, pictures, pretty hand soaps, liquid soap in glass dispensers, and a couple of candles but no matches. “An unlit candle can still add some scent,” Barker notes. Plus, “if you light it, you can’t reuse it.”

A white towel peeks out of a basket, too. She likes to hang fluffy white towels for open houses and photos. “I have about 15 more of those,” she laughs.

The lightbulbs, in various sizes and types, are handy for swapping with dead or mismatched ones. Barker and a colleague shake their heads over how often they see LED and incandescent bulbs side-by-side in a chandelier, for example. 

And lastly, the shower curtain. That’s to hang in houses she’s showing. It’s neutral “to draw the eye to the features of the bathroom,” she says.


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