(Not So) Happy Holidays: How Seasonal Decorations Can Botch Your Sale

Posted on Dec 2 2015 - 4:06pm by Housecall

By Justin M. Riordan

Christmas interior in gold colorIt always cracks me up when I see Regional Multiple Listing Service (RMLS) photos in July that show homes with fall leaves. The first thing I think is “must be a dud, it’s been on the market since last fall.”

Selling homes is an art. Not so much “still art” like painting or sculpture, but more like “time based art” like dance or film. It is a carefully choreographed performance that, when done well, looks easy and makes the audience feel at ease with their decision to take part. When not done well, the audience (or in the case of real estate, the buyer) is stressed, dismayed or feels sorry for the seller.  Needless to say, these three feelings do not lead to sales.

Much like time based art, a lot of work goes into the performance prior to revealing it to audience. In real estate, we have pre-inspections, repairs, cleaning, staging, photographs and marketing. One of the biggest flops we encounter in this choreographed dance is holiday decorations. Every year during this season we are asked to stage homes for people that have to sell. December is one of those months where nobody wants to sell, they have to. Most of these projects are due to life changes: deaths, divorces, births or job changes. They need to sell their house and they turn to us to get it done.  Most of these forced sellers are already in a heap of chaos, and selling their house is just one more item on the list.

Inevitably we are asked, “Once you complete the staging, where will our Christmas tree go?” We very gently explain that if they need to have a Christmas tree this year, it will need to be set up on December 24th and taken down on December 26th. Most of our clients understand and they agree to do so.

Holiday traditions are different for everybody. They bring up different emotions for each person who will walk through the door of a house being sold. That’s the rub. We want our buyers to be moved emotionally by the house itself, not by the holiday it is dressed for. It would be like going to a job interview in a Halloween costume.  Sure, you love Halloween, many of us do. Do you want your new boss to pay attention to your costume or to you and your resume?

Holiday decorations provide a time stamp to every picture in your RMLS listing, much like the fall leaves we discussed at the beginning of this article. I don’t know about you, but I always scoff at folks who still have their Christmas decorations up in May. My canned joke is “Either they are way behind or way, way ahead.” Nobody wants their house to be on the market for more than a few days. The truth of the matter is, it happens. The best course of action is to plan for the worst and simultaneously hope for the best. The pictures you post in December may still be up in May. You want those pictures to look as fresh in May as they did in December. Decorations, for any holiday, at any time of year, will date your listing quicker than you can say “price reduction.” 

Justin M. Riordan, LEED AP is founder of Spade and Archer Design Agency, a home staging company with offices in Portland, Seattle and Palm Springs. As the creative energy behind Spade and Archer, Riordan fuses his formal training as an architect with his natural design savvy to create beautiful and authentic spaces for clients.

6 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Jerry decker December 4, 2015 at 12:20 pm -

    It is the sellers home until closing. I would not tell a chritlstian, Jew or Muslim not to have a manger or a camel in the front yard; and i would not their home decorated as they would have it in any season.

  2. Dale Kwekel December 4, 2015 at 12:47 pm -

    Here is a concept, take some before, during and after the holiday pictures! Duh!. With today’s technology you can edit and change pictures very quickly. I hate it when i see a picture of a house covered in snow on a summer listing. If you are listing homes in periodicals that the pictures aren’t changed out more frequently then you are using the wrong medium.

    From a guy who sells Christmas decor!

  3. Keith whited December 4, 2015 at 6:00 pm -

    While there are a few good points to this post a good portion of it is pure malarkey – – written for the purpose of having something to write. Decorating for Christmas may contribute some negativity if the home is in an ethnic and culturally diverse area. Christmas (or any other holiday decoration, for that matter) should never have the effect of ‘dating’ a listing. Any agent worth his (or her) salt is going to refresh on older listing periodically with new photos – – if for no other reason than that the folks out there in internet land quickly recognize photos of homes once they have viewed then 2-3 time. If a home is on the market for more than 6 weeks new photos should be uploaded at the very least. Better yet, delete the old listing and re-enter the entire listing – – the least one can do to earn their commission if a home is taking a bit of time to sell.

  4. Steph Waite December 7, 2015 at 11:30 am -

    Refresh the photos on the listing after the holidays. Buyers should be able to look past holiday decor during the Christmas season.

  5. Gigi Topping December 7, 2015 at 9:49 pm -

    That is baloney! I would never tell a client to change their holiday decorations to suit everyone else. They can enjoy their traditions and then, remove the decorations before January 1. Do enough photos to reflect the style of the home and stop overthinking this!

  6. Sienna March 28, 2018 at 6:46 pm -

    I never thought about what a turn-off “sad” decorating can be. These days, it goes beyond the winter holidays, at least where I live. People decorate inside and outside for Halloween, Easter, and more. The article https://www.homelight.com/blog/sell-house-during-halloween-decor/ points out that the same rules apply, and maybe even more so. It has good tips to adapt to any holiday where decorating is important to you, such as how to go seasonal rather than kitschy or even unsafe.