Deck the halls with hopes of selling

  • Article by: KIM PALMER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 15, 2012 - 4:47 PM

Listing your home over the holidays? The old rule used to be don't - and if you do, don't decorate. But today, a few festive touches can put buyers in the mood to make an offer.

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Catherine Kinniburgh's home is all dressed for Christmas, with wreaths, mantel trimmings and her collection of Santas from all over the world.

"I decorate to please my family and friends," she said.

But this year, a lot of strangers are likely to see her decorations, too.

That's because the Kinniburghs' Minneapolis home is listed for sale this holiday season.

"The old rule of thumb was to take the house off the market until after the Super Bowl or even Easter," said David Abele, an agent with Lakes Sotheby's. Owners who did keep their house on the market were strongly encouraged to keep their holiday decorations in storage to make their homes look spacious, neutral and appealing to buyers.

But those old rules have loosened, according to agents.

"You can't put your life on hold just because your house is on the market," Kinniburgh said. Decorating her home with holiday mementos that she and her husband, Keith, have collected during their travels is part of celebrating the season. "It puts us in the Christmas frame of mind."

Their agent, Patti Oakes of Coldwell Banker Burnet, is fully on board.

"Some agents say keep it neutral and impersonal, but that's not my philosophy," she said. "Holiday decorating sets a feeling. It adds warmth, charm and character."

Years ago, when she listed her own house, its festive holiday decor helped attract a full-price offer the next day, she believes.

The buyers "wanted the feeling we had created in our home," Oakes said. "They wanted our tree, our decorations and would have asked for our dog and our kids if they thought we would go for it."

To list or not to list?

While many prospective buyers put their home search on hold over the holidays, the ones out looking tend to be serious, Abele said. "There are still people coming into town, relocating and visiting family. There's also less inventory, less competition, so it's a great time to be on the market."

Teresa Boardman, an agent/broker with St. Paul Home Realty, agreed. "The people relocating after the first of the year are looking for houses right now," she said. "Last year, I showed a house on Christmas Eve and wrote the offer on New Year's Eve."

If you're going to show your home during the holiday season, Boardman advocates at least some minimal seasonal decorating. "I think it's a good idea. It's inviting to put up a tree and some lights."

But keep it simple, she cautioned.

"Some people go way overboard. Buyers don't want to see your Santa Bear collection from floor to ceiling. Then they're looking at the Santa Bears and not the house. They want to imagine the house with their own decor."

Less is more, Abele agreed. "Any time you're trying to sell a house, you want to depersonalize. That does include reducing holiday decor," he said. "The home has to be livable for the person living in it, but you don't need 15 reindeer and a blow-up Santa in your front yard. Stage the house as you would like to see it."

Too many decorations can make a home feel smaller and more cluttered, he said.

And some types of decor are more distracting and less universally relatable than others. "I would go for holiday-driven vs. religion-driven," Abele said. "There's Christmas-tree Christmas and Jesus-in-the-manger Christmas."

A la natural

Natural decorations, such as evergreens and holly, are safer yet. "They create a holiday feeling without saying 'Christmas,'" Abele said.

Catherine Kinniburgh didn't edit her holiday decorating this year just because their home was on the market. "You have to be true to yourself," she said. She still put up her "ship wreath," a memento of when the couple lived in Greece, where ships symbolize prosperity. And she displayed her entire Santa collection. "I have 50 or more, and I used them all," she said.

But Kinniburgh has a good eye for design, Oakes said. "She's very clever, with lovely taste. When people walk in, it's appealing. Not everyone can create that."

For those who can't, agents recommend stagers who can decorate a home for the holidays -- often with the homeowners' own decorations -- in a way that isn't a turn-off to prospective buyers.

"A professional can give you the right flavor with landscaping and lighting, so it enhances the home without hitting you in the face," Abele said.

And one final note: Just as you might want to tone down your holiday visuals, don't get carried away with holiday scents. "I would not overdo it with potpourri," Abele cautioned. "That's not going to help things."

Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784

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