Add Some Holiday Charm to Your Listings

Who said all the holiday decorations have to go when you're trying to sell a house? Bring some holiday cheer to your listings this season

November 1, 2010

Nobody wants to be the Grinch who stole Christmas but when you’re trying to sell a home, too much holiday spirit can turnoff some potential buyers. Buyers are there to look at the house and all of its wonderful features, not tippy-toe over the giant blow-up Santa impeding the front door or squint to see the roof over the nine reindeer poised upon it.

But before you stick a needle in your seller’s inflatable Santa, some real estate and staging professionals say home owners can still add a few decorations for the holidays when selling a home and don’t assume buyers won’t appreciate it too. Holiday decor can lighten moods and warm up interiors, so you don’t have to swear it off completely because you’re afraid of offending those who don’t celebrate, they say.

Betty Cunningham with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Schaumburg, Ill., says showing homes in the Midwest during the winter can be challenging enough, so to spice things up during the winter months she encourages her clients to decorate for the holidays. She’ll even provide guidance on how.

“Isn’t it nice to open the front door and see lights and the Christmas music playing with some cinnamon smells welcoming you? It just says ‘welcome, come in and stay awhile,’” Cunningham says.

6 Principles to Holiday Staging

The key to holiday decorating is to keep the decor high quality and color-coordinated, says June Lizotte with June Lizotte Real Estate in Milwaukie, Ore.

If you plan on staging a home for the holidays, here are some important things to keep in mind.

1. Don’t overdo the holiday cheer.

When Santas start to outnumber the rooms in the house, you may want to start being more selective in what you display.

“If it is ‘cute,’ it stays packed,” says Joanne O’Donnell, president and CEO of Chic Home Interiors, who offers holiday staging services. “Cute is not a universal concept and the surest way to avoid trouble is to keep it simple and elegant.”

The same staging principles apply during the holidays: Don’t overwhelm the space with clutter.

“For every holiday decor item put on display, temporarily pack something you keep out all the time. That way you can avoid over-decorating,” says staging and real estate pro Tori Lynn Wallitsch with Alliance Real Estate and Ross Designs LLC in Omaha, Neb.

Instead of a large Christmas tree dominating the living room, you might opt to have a smaller tree display on a table top -- particularly if the space is small, suggests Lizotte. Your decor doesn’t have to be super-sized or scattered everywhere: Mix in small centerpieces on dining room tables, bookcases, bathroom sinks or end tables -- simple touches such as pine cones or ornaments in a glass bowl. (See 11 Inexpensive, Simple Holiday Decor Ideas).

You also might want to have home owners rethink hanging those Christmas stockings from the fireplace too.

“Whatever the season, when you are selling a home, you want buyers to notice and appreciate the permanent features of the home and if your fireplace is almost impossible to see because your highly personalized stockings are blocking the view, then buyers will not appreciate this focal point for what it is,” Wallitsch says. Instead, ask your sellers to hang the stockings on Christmas eve and remove them Christmas day.

2. Add splashes of holiday colors.

How about some holiday red? Psychology research on color responses has shown that warm colors, such as red, can increase excitement and energy in those viewing it. Pops of seasonal colors -- such as red or green -- add festive cheer to a home too and can be as simple as just adding a red everyday throw to the sofa or adding poinsettias throughout the home.

It doesn’t have to be bold holiday statements: Add greenery to fireplace mantels or as a base for the dining room table centerpieces, O’Donnell says. Or another holiday favorite: Bows and ribbons can add splashes of color -- tie them around candles, wreaths, and basket handles throughout the house for extra pops of color. Don’t underestimate the power of neutral palettes too in your holiday decor, such as silvers and classic whites.

Try repeating colors from room to room and using similar ribbons, ornaments, patterns or decorative items that can add to the consistency of your holiday look, according to holiday decorating tips by

But when bringing in holiday colors, be careful not to clash with your home’s current color scheme, O’Donnell says. For example, if turquoise is the room’s dominant color, you might want to hold off on adding bold holiday reds; try silver instead.

3. Stage for the senses.

Get buyers in the mood with some holiday music and the smell of Christmas filling the home. Christmas music -- mixed with holiday scents -- has been shown to boost people’s attitudes in retail stores and increase their likelihood of wanting to visit them, according to research conducted in 2005 by Eric R. Spangenberg, Blanca Grohmann and David E. Sprott Journal of Business Research (Vol. 58, Issue 11).

Cunningham usually gives a holiday CD to her clients to use for showings -- it features mostly instrumental and soft holiday music.

For scents, O’Donnell recommends adding a pot of mulling spices or cider. The Smell of Christmas by Aromatique (candles, potpourri or oil) is a favorite of Cunningham’s or candles that smell like pine or fresh-baked cookies can create holiday season scents too, adds Valerie Torelli with Torelli Realty in Costa Mesa, Ca.

But if you’re going to include a holiday scent just don’t forget the music. The 2005 study showed that the presence of Christmas scent (Enchanted Christmas by Greenleaf in this case) with non-christmas music lowered buyers’ perceptions of the store and its merchandise. But when the Enchanted Christmas scent filled the air with Amy Grant’s “Home for Christmas” music playing in the background, participants had a favorable response and were more eager to buy.

4. Keep the tree simple, yet elegant.

The Christmas tree will likely be your biggest decor piece so it needs to make a statement. Use a string of 100 lights for every foot of tree, suggests Cunningham. In other words, if you have a 7-foot tree, use at least 700 lights (she prefers the white twinkling ones).

Other tips:

  • If your tree is larger than six feet, consider removing a piece or two of furniture so the space doesn’t feel crowded, Wallitsch says.
  • Use ornaments all in one basic color palette with “show piece” ornaments mixed in that add extra style, O’Donnell says. As a general rule of thumb, use about 20 filler ornaments (such as one or two tone bulb ornaments) for every two feet of Christmas tree and then mix in those special “show piece” ornaments between the filler ornaments, using about 10 for every two feet of tree, according to interior design writer Coral Nafie who wrote about holiday decorating tips at
  • Hang ornaments on the tips of branches as well as inside the tree to add depth, and mix in various size of ornaments.
  • Make sure ornaments that are overly personal -- such as those marking milestones like “Our First Christmas” or “Baby’s First Christmas” -- are not in prominent locations on the tree or keep them packed up for next year, Wallitsch suggests.

5. Give a holiday impression from the curb.

You needn’t be able to view your outdoor holiday lights from space, Clark Griswold, to show your holiday spirit. Twinkling clear, white lights (preferably non-blinking) tend to be the favorite among staging and real estate professionals for classy holiday curb appeal that adds a glow to your listings at night.

“The winter months are usually less than attractive outdoors and some well-placed and tasteful holiday lights or yard ornaments can go a long way to adding a festive and welcoming touch,” Wallitsch says. “Just remember that many potential buyers may either cruise by your home for sale during the day or schedule a showing during the day when outdoor lights are more likely to be an unsightly bunch of wires (such as icicle lights) rather than a cheerful display of color or white lights. Do your best to make your home show its best during the day and night.”

Here some holiday curb appeal tips:

  • Add poinsettias: Plant several poinsettias in groups of three or five close together in the garden. “They really set off the first impression,” says Torelli.
  • Hang a wreath on the front door (and make sure it’s clean!), suggests Cunningham.
  • Have battery-operated candle lamps in each of the windows for extra glow and to show off all of those windows at night.
  • Make the deck sparkle. For example, a weather-proof, tip-proof tree with lights or a simple strings of lights along the deck’s railing can go a long way in adding charm to your showings after dark, says Judy Jensen, Edina Realty in Eagan, Minn.

Then, consider adding the holidays to your marketing: Take a photo of the home at night as it twinkles from the holiday lights and create a special holiday flyer with information about the house.

“This is a great marketing tool we often use in the months of November and December to help sell the home,” adds Torelli with Torelli Realty in Costa Mesa, Calif.

6. Remove decor after the holidays.

Jolenta Averill, broker-owner of Lake & City Homes in Madison, Wis., once showed a home in the middle of summer that still had a huge Santa Claus on its front porch and a Christmas tree lit in the living room.

But Christmas in July isn’t for everyone, so in general, wait to decorate for the holidays until after Thanksgiving and be sure your home owners remove all holiday decor promptly by New Year’s.

As Wallitsch tells her clients: “If you are feeling a little cheated this holiday season by not putting all of your beloved holiday treasures around your house, focus on the reason that you placed your home on the market and keep your eyes on that goal. Next year when you are comfortably settled into your new home, you can go all out with the holiday cheer.”


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