Lew Sichelman

Halloweens over. Mariah Carey is showing up on the radio once an hour.  

If you havent done so already, its time to break out the Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations. Even if your house is on the market, you can still decorate. Just remember to keep it simple. 

Theres nothing wrong with trying to sell a house during the holidays. Its as good a time as any  maybe even better. Most buyers this time of year are serious prospects  otherwise, theyd be home celebrating with their families and friends  and theres less competition because most sellers wait until the new year to list their properties. 

Selling your house shouldnt keep you from enjoying the festivities, Florida-based Kathy Streib of Room Service Home Staging said on the ActiveRain real estate website. But decorate with these key staging principles in mind: Dont distract and dont detract. 

Paul Henderson of Fathom Realty in Tacoma, Washington, has seen some ghastly decorations while touring houses for sale. And just before Halloween, Will Hamm of Hamm Homes in Aurora, Colorado, visited a house that was so decked out, inside and out, that Hamm got the feeling the sellers werent really interested in selling at all. 

Don’t Overwhelm the House 

Staging is the art of making a house as appealing as possible to a wide audience. And its rules apply to decorating for any holiday, not just Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

You dont want to post pictures that date your listing if it doesnt sell by, say, mid-January, and you also dont want anything in the photos to distract buyers from seeing the house itself. 

So, dont overdo it.  

Resist the urge to holiday every room and flat surface, said StreibYou want the buyer to see the space. A few well-placed seasonal decorations can be festive, but not overwhelming. 

Its not that agents and stagers are trying to play Grinch, said Chris Lima of Floridas Atlantic Shores Realty, but there has to be a happy medium. Moderation is the key. 

Lets start with curb appeal: A nice wreath on the front door is good, and large pots filled with seasonal plants add color. A clean, new welcome mat is a good idea, too. 

But this is not the time for a giant inflatable Santa or snowman. They are distractions that prevent buyers from seeing what your house really looks like  and if they deflate, they become serious eyesores. 

Amanda Davidson of eXp Realty in Alexandria, Virginia, suggests leaving the inflatables in storage, and warns against trying to light up the neighborhood. DonGriswold the place, she said, referring to famous over-decorator Clark Griswold of National Lampoons Christmas Vacation.  

What might be merry to you can be downright tacky to a buyer, she said. 

Stick to minimal string lights, preferably in white, and use them to accent the positive aspects of your exterior. 

Indoors, Less Is More  

Inside, you dont want your house to be awash in orange at Thanksgiving or red at Christmas. You want visitors to see the house itself.  

You dont want your buyers eyes to bounce all over, seeing everything but taking in nothing, Streib said. 

Shannon Jones of Keller Williams in Long Beach, California, is a big fan of holiday colors, but in everyday objects like flowers or pillows.  

Potential buyers are there to try your house on for size, so dont block your houses best features. A giant tree  tastefully decorated in, say, one color, as opposed to all kinds of mismatched ornaments  is a great way to emphasize a 2-story entry. But if it blocks the fireplace or patio door, its doing you a disservice. You dont want to make visitors peer behind or walk around the tree to see those selling points. 

And if you must hang stockings, wait until Christmas Eve so they dont become distractions. 

Nows also not the time to trot out your oversized Nativity set  or anything overtly religious, for that matter. Not all buyers celebrate the same holidays, or in the same way, and not everyone has the same religious convictions. So, stick to pinecones in a vase and tiny reindeer on the mantle, and bring out that other stuff next year in your new home. 

And remember: Less is more.  

Over-decorating can mean buyers spend more time studying decorations than observing the features of the house, said Sally and David Hanson of eXp Realty in Brookfield, Wisconsin. 

Finally, a word about scents. One of real estates oldest rules of thumb is to bake some cookies just before an open house to create a welcoming aroma. Thats still a good idea. But some sellers go too far, overwhelming guests with Vanilla Bean or Spiced Apple. 

Some people can be allergic to such scents, or just find them so overpowering that [they] have to leave to get some fresh air, says Barbara Altieri of New Haven County (Connecticut) Real Estate. 

Streibs advice: Stick with a scent that says clean. 

Lew Sichelman has been covering real estate for more than 50 years. He is a regular contributor to numerous shelter magazines and housing and housing-finance industry publications. Readers can contact him at lsichelman@aol.com. 

Sellers Should Go Easy on the Holiday Decor

by Lew Sichelman time to read: 4 min