The Dos and Don’ts of Holiday Decorating When Your Home Is On the Market

These tips will help you maximize both holiday cheer and buyer interest.

By Terri Williams | Updated Apr 25, 2021 12:59 PM

Photo: istockphoto.com

‘Tis the season to be festive and jolly, but if your home is on the market, it’s also the season to sell. Selling a home at this time of year presents a dilemma for homeowners trying to balance holiday decorating and marketability. “Strategic selection and placement of holiday decorations while your home is on the market can significantly increase your home’s desirability factor,” says Chuck Vander Stelt, an Indiana-based real estate agent and founder of Quadwalls. “The right decorating strategy will trigger home buyers’ emotions to get them engaged and ready to write an offer on your home.”

On the other hand, you can also make significant missteps with your holiday decorating that could negatively impact your home’s appeal. To help you make the best holiday decorating decisions, we’ve rounded up the following dos and don’ts for decking the halls when your home is on the market.

Do finish decorating ASAP.

Once you start decorating, complete the task as soon as possible. “Don’t draw it out and keep an unfinished look for buyers to get distracted by or for you to have to keep the home off the market for an extended period of time,” warns Jaylon Ceylan Brigham, a licensed associate real estate broker at Brown Harris Stevens in New York City.

Don’t go overboard.

We get it: The holiday season comes but once a year and lasts for only a few weeks. While it’s tempting to pack in as much holiday cheer as possible, it’s a bad idea to overdo the decorations. “Keep in mind that less is more, so don’t go overboard and cover every flat surface with decorations,” advises Brigham.

What’s the harm of spreading so much holiday cheer around your home? “It will be distracting to buyers, and they won’t be able to see the home for what it is,” Brigham says. In fact, she believes that buyers get lost in the decorations and end up focusing on them instead of the house. “You want the focus to be on the home, always,” she says.

Be especially mindful of garlands and glitter. “Glitter’s so messy, and it’s one of the hardest things to clean,” explains Jennifer Okhovat, real estate agent at Compass in West Hollywood, California. “No potential buyer wants to go home with hard-to-remove glitter on their clothing or shoes.”

RELATED: 10 Understated Holiday Decor Ideas for the Minimalist Decorator

Do create a welcoming first impression.

When buyers drive or walk up to your home, they’re already forming first impressions. Make sure they’re good ones! “Do set the mood. If you (or your agent) can, turn on all the interior and exterior lights—including the holiday lights,” recommends Nicole Wilhelm, cofounder and managing partner of The Wilhelm Team at Compass in San Francisco. She also recommends a holiday doormat for visitors to wipe their wet feet.

The beauty of this time of year is that holiday decorations can enhance your lighting efforts. Richard Deacon, a real estate adviser at Engel & Völkers Okanagan in British Columbia, founded and judges an annual holiday lights competition in his neighborhood. This makes him a bit of an authority on the subject. “Use strategically positioned temporary lights to help any weaker areas of your property,” he advises. “You can also use natural elements such as trees, branches, boughs, and wreaths to fill in hollow spaces around your property—and augment them with lights.” If your home looks particularly stellar at night, Deacon recommends encouraging your agent to do twilight or nighttime showings.

The entryway and foyer play a crucial role in creating that all-important first impression. Dress them cheerfully and tastefully. “Perfect touches include a nice natural wreath and ribbon for the door, bells on the door handle, and a subdued holiday fragrance as buyers walk into the home,” says Vander Stelt of Quadwalls.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Don’t forget the backyard.

Holiday curb appeal isn’t limited to the front of your home. Wilhelm notes that people tend to forget about the backyard, but this is a mistake. “Do spruce up the backyard with string lights, hanging plants, and poinsettias,” she says. “If you have a pool, consider waterproof lighting that encourages buyers to celebrate the holidays outdoors, especially during Covid-19.”

RELATED: The Best Christmas Lights for Any Indoor or Outdoor Display

Do minimize clutter and maintain flow.

Some rules don’t change just because it’s holiday season, and minimizing clutter is one of those rules. No matter what time of year it is, if your house is on the market, you need to cut down on clutter. “If you have a Christmas tree taking up a lot of space, you may need to put some nonessential furniture in storage so people can move throughout that room easily,” advises Liz Coughlin, partner and COO at HD Properties in Los Angeles. “Similarly, if you have fun holiday decor scattered around, I would advise moving other types of smaller personal items like framed photos and figurines into storage.”

Brigham of Brown Harris Stevens agrees and adds that you should keep decor on the periphery, where it won’t obstruct the flow of the house. “People should be able to move around freely and feel the space as it is,” she says.

If you need yet another reason not to clutter your home with decorations, note that there’s a chance that an ornament or figurine that’s been in your family for generations could get knocked over and broken during a showing. “Do not display fragile items if you’re in the process of selling your home. Keep those items hidden away or in a safe spot.”

Don’t decorate haphazardly.

This is probably good advice anytime, but especially when your home is on the market, you need a decorating theme, or at least a consistent style. “Avoid the shotgun method of bringing out every tchotchke, craft, or ornament you have ever received,” warns Vander Stelt of Quadwalls. Your home should be inviting to buyers—it should not look like a circus, he adds. “Instead, opt for a more thoughtful holiday decorating motif, where the pieces create a beautifully laid out holiday experience for buyers.”

Along the same lines, Deacon of Engel & Völkers Okanagan advises against using those mismatched lights you got on sale that don’t line up. “This might be the year that you hire the local installation company that often uses commercial-grade lights,” he says.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Do stay within the home’s color palette.

When your home is on the market, keep its color palette in mind while decorating for the holidays. “If the home is designed with a lot of neutrals, utilize those same colors with touches of white, gray, and silver, and tasteful pops of green or red,” advises James Harris, principal at The Agency and one of the agents on Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles. “This will allow the decorations to accent the home and have a positive effect.”

Don’t limit your buyer pool.

We don’t want to put a damper on your decorating, but we also don’t want your home to languish on the market because it didn’t appeal to as many buyers as it could have. “Avoid religious decor items surrounding the holidays,” advises Lisa Troyano-Ascolese, licensed partner at Engel & Völkers Hoboken in New Jersey. “On the other hand, winter themes, such as snowmen and holly, make a home feel warm, but portray themselves as more inclusive to potential buyers of all backgrounds,” she explains.

Wilhelm of the Wilhelm Team at Compass agrees: “We encourage our sellers to depersonalize their homes, but we welcome them to have holiday decorations up that are most likely to be suitable for all tastes, like white exterior holiday lights around the outside of the home,” she says. “When buyers tour the home, they’ll need to be able to envision how they can celebrate the holidays in their new home.”

RELATED: Move Over Poinsettias—Succulent Christmas Trees are the New Go-To Holiday Houseplants