Whether it’s wreaths or menorahs, your sellers shouldn’t overdo it around the holidays. Here’s how to stage a listing properly during “the most wonderful time of the year.”
December 2012 | By Barbara Ballinger
Gone are the days when houses were best listed come spring when flowers bloomed or in late summer before the beginning of the school calendar. Now, any time of year is good for selling if the property is priced correctly, clean, and in good condition.
But with Thanksgiving past and Christmas, Hanukkah, and the New Year fast approaching, many sellers wonder if December bodes well, given how busy people’s lives get and because so many home owners like to decorate their houses. Holiday decorations can distract buyers and make it hard to focus on a home’s important architectural features when, for instance, rows of stockings camouflage a beautiful period fireplace mantel or a toy train set takes up the entire living room floor.
Help your sellers understand how to attract buyers and showcase their house to maximum advantage at this time of year, yet not forgo their favorite seasonal traditions and merriment. And don’t forget to remind sellers that if they’re located in a cold, snowy region, it’s paramount they make their homes safe to enter by clearing all walks, steps, and the driveway and putting down some salt.
Here are answers to nine frequently asked sellers’ questions from real estate salespeople and brokers coast to coast:
- Should we take our house off the market if it’s listed or not list it until the holidays are past?
Absolutely keep it in play, say most real estate pros. Those who brave the weather in colder climates and during this busy time of year often are the most serious about buying, says Randy Bell, sales practitioner with HomeSmart Realty Group in Denver. “November and December tend to be two of our best months, since we get folks who are willing to bundle up and head outdoors in cold temperatures; they’re not just tire kickers,” he says. Susan Stynes, GRI, with Long and Foster in Midlothian, Va., agrees, “While sales may go down at this time of year, the buyers looking definitely are among the most serious.” Some buyers also like the idea of purchasing before the end of the year for tax reasons, says broker Jennifer Darby with ERA Justin Realty Co. in Rutherford, N.J. And this year buyers may house-hunt during the holidays for two more reasons, according to Mark Fitzpatrick, broker and CEO of Fitzpatrick + Prince Real Estate Group in Irvine, Calif. “Inventory is going down in California, and rates are still low,” he says.
- What kinds of outdoor decorations are appropriate?
Simple, classy, and classic are the three operative words, according to experts. What that means are trees and bushes with some lights, and potted plants and a wreath at the front door. Too many lights during the daytime can turn wires into an eyesore, says Stynes. The bottom line is to create a festive, warm holiday mood without anything becoming gaudy, says Maike Scherer, CEO of Capital Home Management in the Washington, D.C., area. What crosses the line into tackiness are huge, inflatable Santas on roofs and lawns, oversized Nutcracker soldiers, and human-sized candy canes, as well as so many lights that you think you’ve stepped into Santa’s workshop. The light colors should be kept to white or to discrete pairings of the season, such as red and green or silver and gold.
- How about inside? What’s best and what’s to be avoided?
Again, real estate experts suggest erring on the minimalist side rather than going overboard. “Avoid clutter, and try to stay neutral,” says Gillian Luce, marketing manager of Homes.com, which offers an idea gallery online to inspire home owners how to display their personality subtly throughout the year. Good ideas from her include one tree with a few ornaments and wrapped presents, one wreath, a few stockings along a mantle, some candles and a holiday inspired runner on a dining room table or buffet, and maybe a simple garland up a staircase. But displaying all holiday cards, yards and yards of tinsel, and every single ornament you’ve always owned can become too personal and messy. “The goal is to get buyers to imagine themselves sharing the holidays with their family in the house, and if the rooms are so crowded with your stuff, they can’t,” says Bell. “Use common sense,” he adds, “and stage your house and rooms in the same way you would at other times.”
- And religious decorations — OK or not?
OK, but the key again is not to have too many on display — lots of nativity scenes or menorahs, for instance. “If these objects are very meaningful for home owners, you don’t want to ask them to change their traditions, but it’s better if the house remains more neutral,” says Stynes. It also may depend in part on location. In Denver, Bell describes his area as a melting pot where various religious traditions are respected, welcomed, and celebrated.
- What about music?
Soft music is fine; experts disagree about Christmas music, however, which some buyers may be tired of hearing in elevators and stores and on car radios at this time of year. Most agree that religious music should be avoided to appeal to the widest buyer segment.
- And those sugar and gingerbread cookies and cinnamon spiced candle smells? Do they entice buyers or are they perceived as a bit kitschy?
Baked goods and nice fragrant candles always bring a warm, welcome smell. “They help introduce a nice emotional touch that lets buyers make a connection with the property,” says Luce. But the caveat is to avoid smells that might prove overwhelming.
- Can sellers say no to appointments if they’ve got family visiting or are having holiday parties, or does that make them seem too Scrooge-ish?
Of course, they can say “no.” But if they’re going to say no repeatedly, it might be better for them to wait and list in January, says Darby. If they have a party or two to host, experts advise they do a thorough cleaning right away.
- When should decorations come down?
Sometime in the week after New Year’s Day. “Nobody wants to see a house decorated for Christmas on Super Bowl Sunday,” Bell says.
- And photos or videos with Christmas images used in online listings?
Those, too, should be changed fast, says Fitzpatrick. Darby agrees. “If you’ve got pictures with holiday wreaths and lights at the end of February, it will quickly date that the house was on before the holidays,” she says. Better to use only nonseasonal photos if you’re not going to have two sets.
And remember to wish all buyers and real estate pros who come to look at a listing to have a happy, healthy holiday and new year. Seasonal good cheer is always in style.