As the leaves change from green to orange, red, and gold and the words “pumpkin spice” begin appearing on packaging of everything from lattes to pop tarts, we know that fall is in the air. In our own homes, we may crack out the cinnamon brooms, the football-themed front-door decor, and start thinking about whether or not we’ll be purchasing new Christmas lights for the front yard this year. It can be tempting to let this seasonal cheer spill over into our investment properties as well, but is staging with the season in mind really good for your returns?

According to conventional wisdom, you need to keep most of your holiday cheer at home. “When I stage, I discourage seasonal decorating because it is really distracting to potential buyers,” said Jan Britt, owner of Jan Britt interiors and a professional home stager. “It’s hard during Christmas to tell homeowners not to decorate for Christmas day, though,” she added. “Holiday staging also dates the listing and alerts buyers to the length of time the property has been on the market,” said Lee Arnold, CEO of Secured Investment Corp. If you can’t resist a little holiday cheer, here are three ways you can bring in a little bit of the season without dating your listing or overwhelming the positive attributes of the home with holiday decor.

1| Scents of the Season

If you cannot resist bringing a little Thanksgiving cheer into the house or you just need the sparkle of Christmas or another winter holiday, consider using smell instead of knick-knacks to get your buyers in the mood. After all, we’ve all heard of the strategy of warming an apple pie or popping a fresh batch of sugar cookies in the oven before a showing. Try a fresh pine scent or even “fresh sparkling snow” if you can’t stand not acknowledging the season.

Hint: Don’t overwhelm your buyers with seasonal smells. Choose a light scent and make sure that it is not too heavy in the air. Otherwise, they may think you are trying to cover something up or an allergic buyer may have to leave before they are done looking.

2| Use Your Flower Power

Instead of focusing on a holiday, focus on the broader season using fresh flowers. In the fall, you might use vases of fall foliage to accent the home, or cranberries and holly in winter. As with any staging, however, less is more. You only need a few of these accents in the home rather than filling every room with leaves or flowers.

Hint: A bowl of seasonal fruit in the kitchen is another way to bring in a little bit of the season without overtly acknowledging a particular holiday.

3| Let the Light Work

As the seasons change and the days get shorter, you will have less natural light to highlight a property’s features. Make sure that you are letting plenty of light in through the windows when possible, and use lamps for additional illumination. You don’t want any dark corners making the home feel dark and cramped. Nearly every staging expert agrees “dim and creepy” is a bad staging move!

Hint: While you cannot make the days longer, you can take advantage of outdoor living space to emphasize how nice and cozy the earlier fall evenings could be. Accent furniture in these spaces with a plush throw or fluffy, all-weather pillows to help potential buyers visualize themselves cuddled up enjoying a hot cup of cocoa or the company of a friend or loved one.

Seasonal staging is very different for an investment property than a personal home because you do not have the same personal need to decorate the space for a holiday or to celebrate a change in the temperature. Always remember that less is more, and if you are not sure if a seasonal touch is “too much,” it probably is.

Eye on the Prize: Why We Stage Our Properties

While many investors view staging as something that they can live without, those who do stage tend to swear by it. Whether you are staging to make a rental property look more attractive and garner a higher monthly rent or with a retail sale in mind, the right prep work on a property will usually result in a more polished finished product and hopefully less time on market or a shorter vacancy. When you stage a property, remember that your end goal is simple: Help the potential buyer envision themselves in the home.

If a buyer can see themselves living in the home and imagine comfortably cuddling up on the screened-in porch or enjoying family around a bright kitchen island, then they are far more likely to not only move quickly to make an offer and hopefully a purchase, but also to pay a higher dollar amount for the property either in monthly rents or final sales price. In order to enable this important, subconscious, emotional connection to the home, staging needs to be pleasant but somewhat impersonal, what many decorators refer to as “vanilla.” You want your audience to imagine creating their own memories in the home, not feel like they are just spectators to yours. Use colors, scents, and minimal accents to create a bright, clean, attractive palette for a potential buyer’s imagination.

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This article was originially published in Think Realty Magazine, December 2017 available online or in print.

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  • Carole VanSickle Ellis

    Carole VanSickle Ellis serves as the news editor and COO of Self-Directed Investor (SDI) Society, a membership organization dedicated to the needs of self-directed investors interested in alternative investment vehicles, including real estate. Learn more at or reach Carole directly by emailing

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