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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.

“When a potential buyer walks in, you want it to look like they could live there,” Mr. Davis says. “You want to sell the house, and there are not a lot of buyers normally [at this time of year]. You don’t want to take yourself out of the market.”

Consider leaving your holiday collections packed away this year, and be mindful of overly personal ornaments, like “Baby’s First Christmas” or “Baby’s First New Year.” You may not want to put out the monogrammed stockings this year, either.

  • Don’t showcase your kids’ art projects. Most parents love to display their children’s artwork and decorating attempts, clumsy as they may be. However, Realtors caution that seeing a kindergartner’s macaroni wreath or one-eyed snowman may be distracting. Save it for when you’re in your new home.
  • Make the tree a focal point. Instead of filling all yourrooms with decorations, set up one tree and carefully consider its placement and how it enhances the space. Put away the Santas, keep the garlands packed away, and let the spirit of the holiday shine forth in that one place. You can even put out a few cookies - not for Santa, but for those hungry homebuyers.

“Keep all the decorations in one place,” Ms. Zimmerman says. “Tastefully decorate with things from nature.”

Alternatively, you might consider a smaller tabletop tree, particularly if your space is small. You could always go with just a few simple touches, such as pine cones or a few ornaments in a glass bowl. If you do go for the larger tree, try removing some furniture so your home will seem less cluttered.

  • Add greenery. A touch of holly or a balsam wreath can bring in a bit of the holiday spirit without being overly dramatic. You can lay some evergreen boughs along a mantel or hang a wreath on an inside wall, so long as it’s not too flashy. A few well-placed poinsettias will add a nice touch without being overwhelming. Some Realtors like a whiff of cloves or cinnamon when entering a home this time of year, but be careful. Many people are allergic to certain odors or may be put off by a strong scent.
  • Be careful with your colors. Although some studies have noted that red shades have an energizing effect, too much bright red and green can overwhelm potential homebuyers. Instead, use neutral colors such as fresh greens and classic whites, and use silver and gold - sparingly - to add sparkle. You also will be less likely to clash with your existing color scheme.

If you are wedded to red and green for the holidays, stick to a simply colored afghan or throw pillow to add a holiday feel. Remember, coordinating your colors throughout your home can make your decorating look consistent and elegant.

“Just a few holiday-themed hand towels in the kitchen can make a big difference,” Ms. Zimmerman says.

  • Cue the music. It worked at New York’s Port Authority, where piped-in classical music seemed to calm frantic commuters. In your home, a softly playing baroque ensemble or string quartet on a hidden CD or iPod can add an understated yet elegant touch. If you really want holiday music playing in the background, limit your selection to melodies played by a single instrument, such as a piano or harp.
  • Consider the curb (appeal). Obviously, if your home is on the market, you will want to showcase it both inside and out. Turning your yard into a field of 4-foot-tall candy canes might not be the best idea in this case, and it certainly could distract buyers. And although it may be tempting to put your Christmas tree in the front window, remember that potential homebuyers will want to check the view from there.

Meanwhile, non-blinking lights around the shrubbery or along the roofline can add an elegant touch, and a line of lights around a patio or deck can draw attention.

  • Timing is everything. If your house is on the market, your decorations clearly have a sell-by date. Don’t put them up too early, and don’t take them down too late.

“That’s one of the biggest problems I see, people leaving their decorations up too long,” Mr. Davis says.

  • Keep things safe.ou don’t have small children, potential homebuyers may visit with children in tow. That means you should be extremely mindful not only of precious ornaments and other decorative items (which probably should be packed away anyway) but also of tangled or trailing cords or overcrowded electrical outlets. Of course, never leave your holiday lights on or candles burning when you’re away, even if you are anticipating a visit by a buyer and a broker.

Finally, if you are really attached to the holidays, consider taking your home off the market for the season.

“These are the holidays, after all,” Ms.requested Mekenney says. “Whichever holiday you’re celebrating, it’s personal, and it may be the last one you celebrate in your house. Why would you want people trooping through your home at this time of year?”

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