What a wonderful tradition, filling every nook and cranny of your house with Christmas decor — unless, that is, you're trying to sell that house this month.
Each year, many home stagers — they are the people who help prepare homes for sale by eliminating clutter, and editing and rearranging furnishings — find themselves playing the Grinch to their clients, advising them that a Christmas-themed house isn't a good idea.
"It's a sticky situation when you have the holidays coming and your house is on the market," said Linda Minogue, owner of Room Refreshments Staging Services in Naperville. "I usually tell people, no tree. Preferably, no Christmas decorations at all."
Minogue, president of the Greater Chicago Chapter of the International Association of Home Staging Professionals, said homeowners often struggle with this advice, arguing that putting some Christmas spirit in the house might help to sell it if buyers perceived it as a beautiful place to observe holidays.
Minogue doesn't buy into that.
"If it's a beautiful home, they're going to see that anyway," she said.
Instead, she explained, putting the trappings of Christmas throughout the house may be a turnoff for would-be buyers who don't celebrate Christmas.
"The reason we say don't do it is because there are such differing viewpoints about religion," she said. "When you're putting the house on the market, regardless of Christmas or any other time of the year, you try to make it as neutral as possible in order to make it appeal to a wide array of buyers.
"What if your buyer doesn't celebrate Christmas?" said Minogue, who generally counsels her staging clients to remove religious-themed items of any kind. "Sometimes, your Christmas decor will put them off."
Then there's the stuff-stuff-stuff issue, she said. The trappings of Christmas, especially trees, tend to take up a lot of space, Minogue said.
"People traditionally put the tree right in the living room window to show it off from the outside," she said. "But from a staging viewpoint, we're trying to keep things open. You don't want to obstruct the view. We want the room to look as big as possible and as light and bright as possible."
And that toy train racing around under the tree might be priceless to you, but every minute that a homebuyer spends gazing at it is a minute not spent looking at the house as a potential purchase, said Craig Schiller, who owns Aurora-based Real Estaging, which moved this year from Park Ridge.
"I call the decorations 'beautiful distractions,'" Schiller said. "If you have a beautiful mantelpiece and you put Christmas balls on it, and you have stockings on it, and you have your little light village on it, then buyers don't see the mantel because you've covered it up."
Schiller said that after a decade spent staging homes, he has softened a bit on the topic of Christmas decor.
"I think (a homeowner) should invoke his right to live in his house when it's for sale," he said. "Ten years ago, it was easier to say all that stuff has to go, but now I've done this enough to know that when people say, 'I'm not going to change it,' we can give and take on things."
Still, Schiller has one thing to say about a house that's for sale at Christmas: Whoa!
"If you can get away with just the tree, do that," he said. "You really do have to play it down a little. No Christmas-in-every-room stuff. Less is still more when it comes to Christmas."
Minogue said that if she loses the no-tree argument with a client, she suggests a skinny tree or tabletop tree — anything to reduce the space it consumes. And just one tree, please.
"If you're going to have holiday decor, opt for a winter theme," she said. "Maybe use just a few greens, some pine cones, a couple of candles. Use white lights. Make the rooms look elegant and simple, not whimsical."
If the house is being photographed for its for-sale listing this month, Christmas decor is an even bigger no-no, she said.
"If, God forbid, the house is still for sale in February, it tells buyers that the house has been sitting there, unsold, all that time," Minogue said. "You just don't want it in the pictures."
Minogue and Schiller said they are not particularly concerned about exterior Christmas lights — within limits.
"You can put lights on the outside of the house because during the day you can see through all of that, and see the house itself," Schiller said. "But none of those big, inflatable snow globes and the like.
"No," he said. "No, no, no."