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Cover story: Overdecking halls may turn off buyers

In many neighborhoods throughout the Washington area, nothing says community more than streetwide decorating, when just about everyone on the block gets together and starts stringing up holiday lights. But decorating for the holidays can take on a life of its own, whether you are coordinating your displays of twinkling white lights with your neighbor or taking a more individual approach with pulsating colors and inflatable snow globes on the lawn.

If, however, you are trying to sell your home, holiday decorating can be a horse - or a reindeer - of a different color. In that case, Realtors say, homeowners seeking to showcase the holiday spirit need to exhibit something else - restraint.

“Keep it simple,” says Susan Mekenney of Re/Max in Alexandria, Va. “We tell people to declutter anyway, and holiday decorations are no exception.”

In other words, show off your home, not your decorations.

“You want the decorations to embellish the house, not overwhelm it,” says Kristie Zimmerman, a Realtor with Avery-Hess Realtors of Northern Virginia. “Overdecorating and clutter may make the house look smaller and be reflected in the purchase price.”

Some Realtors, such as Darrin D. Davis, principal broker and owner of Anacostia River Realty in Southeast Washington, caution that any decorating could make the wrong impression.

“I tell people that everyone who comes by to see the house might not celebrate Christmas,” Mr. Davis says. “We try to have the houses as neutral as possible.”

But for longtime residents of Old Anacostia, where a lot of community energy goes into decorating the whole street, cutting back can be difficult for the homeowner who has put a lot of time, effort and tradition into the presentation.

“People compete to have the best decorations, and sometimes they go way overboard,” Mr. Davis says. “Having a big Santa in a ball takes up a whole front yard.”

Other real estate professionals note that a few well-placed holiday touches can go a long way toward creating a warm holiday feeling, particularly in winter.

“It can help to make the house more homey and attractive,” Ms. Zimmerman says.

If you are readying your home to sell, remember that prospective homebuyers at this time of year may be a bit more intent.

“If people are looking during the holiday season, they are serious buyers,” Ms. Zimmerman says.

So showcasing your home to the greatest effect is key. You want potential homebuyers to see how great your home will be with them in it - not your collection of antique ornaments or holiday bears.

Of course, exercising restraint can be difficult, especially with all the new holiday decorations, including imaginative tinsel ornaments and LED lights, beckoning.

“The LED lights seem to be really flying off the shelves,” says Kimberly Johnson, department supervisor at Home Depot’s Rhode Island Avenue store in Northeast Washington.

Then there are the popular icicle lights, which can be hung along the roofline for maximum effect without overstating the theme. A grapevine reindeer and sleigh can be put outside on a larger lawn without being too overwhelming.

“We’ve also got the blow-up Santas,” Ms. Johnson says.

Whatever your decorating style, it’s important to tone things down, inside and out, when your home is on the market. Here are some basic tips to keep your home simple and elegant but in the holiday mood.

  • Less is more. If your home is on the market, now is not the time to outdo your neighbors when it comes to holiday decorating. Sometimes, something as simple as a wreath on the front door or a string of white lights along the mantel or banister is all you’ll need to present your holiday face - and let buyers see the bones of your home. Remember that what’s cute to you may be kitsch to someone else. Go for quality over quantity, and you’ll be sure to strike just the right balance.
  • Depersonalize. Because prospective buyers may not share your particular faith, don’t put them off with overtly religious decorations.

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