The Housing Scene by Lew Sichelman

Sellers: Go Easy on the Holiday Decor

“The height of sophistication is simplicity.” -- Clare Boothe Luce

Halloween’s over. If you haven’t done so already, it’s 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.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to sell a house during the holidays. It’s as good a time as any -- maybe even better. Most buyers this time of year are serious prospects -- otherwise, they’d be home celebrating with their families and friends -- and there’s less competition because most sellers wait until the new year to list their properties.

Selling your house shouldn’t keep you from enjoying the festivities, said Florida-based Kathy Streib of Room Service Home Staging, on the ActiveRain real estate website. But decorate with these key staging principles in mind: Don’t distract and don’t 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 weren’t really interested in selling at all.

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, says Streib.

So before you put up your tree and hang your stockings with care, consult with your agent, who needs time to take photos of your place for the multiple listing service and other websites.

You don’t want to post pictures that date your listing if it doesn’t sell by, say, mid-January, and you also don’t want anything in the photos to distract buyers from seeing the house itself.

So don’t overdo it. “Resist the urge to ‘holiday’ every room and flat surface,” says Streib. “You want the buyer to see the space. A few well-placed seasonal decorations can be festive, but not overwhelming.”

It’s not that agents and stagers “are trying to play Grinch,” says Chris Lima of Florida’s Atlantic Shores Realty, but “there has to be a happy medium. Moderation is the key.”

Let’s 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. Don’t “Griswold” the place, she says, referring to famous over-decorator Clark Griswold of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” After all, “what might be merry to you can be downright tacky to a buyer.” Stick to minimal string lights, preferably in white, and use them to accent the positive aspects of your exterior.

Inside, you don’t want your house to be awash in orange at Thanksgiving or red at Christmas. You want visitors to see the house itself. “You don’t want your buyer’s eyes to bounce all over, seeing everything but taking in nothing,” Streib advises.

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 don’t block your house’s 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 two-story entry. But if it blocks the fireplace or patio door, it’s doing you a disservice. You don’t 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 don’t become distractions.

Now’s 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,” say Sally and David Hanson of eXp Realty in Brookfield, Wisconsin.

Finally, a word about scents. One of real estate’s oldest rules of thumb is to bake some cookies just before an open house to create a welcoming aroma. That’s 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.

Streib’s advice: Stick with a scent that says “clean.”