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Set the seasonal mood — in moderation

Fall, winter staging can make or break a sale

October 3, 2012

» click to enlarge «
Staging experts say curb appeal is often neglected when it comes to preparing a home for a fall or winter sale. Without the bonus of colorful landscaping, it’s up to the seller to add tasteful seasonal accents to catch the eye of prospective buyers, like this arrangement made by Realtor Kathi Jones-Cutler.

Calling to mind warm sweaters, crackling fires and glowing Christmas trees, the cooler seasons bring abundant opportunities — but also unique challenges — for staging a home for sale.

Carolyn Stieger, owner of Bloomfield Hills-based We Stage Greater Detroit, and Kathi Jones-Cutler, a Realtor with The Cutler Group in Birmingham, said the key is conjuring up a warm, welcoming ambiance without going overboard.

“If you can create a cozy feeling, you’re going to have an edge over other sellers,” said Stieger, but “there’s a fine line.”

By Stieger’s standards, that means putting up a Christmas tree, but not one in every room; adding colorful mums and a hay bale to your porch, but skipping the scarecrows.

In short: Resist the temptation to deck the halls to the extreme, said Stieger.

“Decorating every inch is way over the top, and turns a buyer off,” agreed Jones-Cutler, but done right, “people fall in love with it. It really puts them in the mood to buy.”

For fall, she advised creating a “Pottery Barn-look” by combining pinecones, acorns and decorative branches in clear glass vases on the mantel, or fashioning a table arrangement from pumpkins, gourds and Indian corn.

“You can often work with what you have,” she said. “It is simply a matter of artfully arranging your home’s interior to make it more attractive, appealing and functional.”

Jones-Cutler recommended keeping Christmas decorations on the generic side, as you never know what the religious beliefs of a prospective buyer might be, and keeping the volume “pleasing to the eye, without taking over the space.”

In general, “less is more” is good policy year-round, as clutter obscures a buyer’s ability to assess a room’s size and potential, said Stieger, who even advocates renting a storage unit if a seller has an unwieldy amount of possessions.

“People aren’t buying our stuff,” she said. “They’re buying our house.”

On the other end of the spectrum, if a few just-right accents are needed, professional stagers sometimes have items clients can borrow or rent. Michele Linn, of Royal Oak, for example, said Stieger replaced the family photos on her walls with framed artwork to add a touch of elegance.

Stieger also helped Linn repurpose furniture from her basement to increase seating in her living room, she said.

“For the most part, she really gave us a lot of tips of things we could do with stuff we already had, so it didn’t require much of an investment at all,” said Linn, who partially credits staging for getting an offer within 24 hours of listing her home.

When it comes to seasonal scents, Jones-Cutler and Stieger diverge. Jones-Cutler encouraged incorporating the aromas of fresh evergreen, cinnamon, breads and cookies to facilitate autumn ambiance, while Stieger’s general recommendation is to “keep it very neutral or nothing.”

With the shorter days, keeping homes “light and bright” is another major consideration in the fall and winter, said Stieger.

Get light bulbs that throw off sufficient illumination, she said, and flip on all lights before leaving pre-showing. That alleviates the risk of aspects going unseen if the showing agent is different than the listing agent and is unfamiliar with all of the light switch locations.

Outdoors can be even more important than indoors. Stieger and Jones-Cutler said curb appeal is crucial regardless of the season, yet it’s often overlooked in the cooler months.

Simple maintenance implies you care about the house and gives a buyer confidence that you kept it in good condition, said Jones-Cutler.

An unkempt yard screams “lots of work,” so keep lawns manicured and edged, and consider applying a fresh layer of mulch, said Stieger.

Without the benefit of summer’s bright flowers and lush foliage, a few subtle accents can add color and interest in fall and winter. Stieger suggested the aforementioned mums, in moderation; Jones-Cutler recommended a tasteful seasonal wreath and doormat.

Also be aware of exterior aspects that might go virtually unnoticed in warm months, but become potential deal-breakers come fall and winter, warned Stieger.

A steep driveway, for instance, might not trigger warning bells in the broiling sun, but once ice and snow sets in, it might be perceived as a hazard. So keep the driveway and sidewalks cleared, said Stieger, even if it means hiring a service to handle it.

“You have to pay attention to the message you send to the potential buyer,” she said. “Other people are looking at, ‘Why should I buy this? What’s going to be the downfall? If I buy this house, what’s the worst that can happen?’”

For more information on Stieger, visit or call (248) 322-4703. For more information on Jones-Cutler — who has a free presentation at the Royal Oak Public Library coming up Nov. 17 — visit or call (248) 345-7775.


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