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Home Sellers: Don't 'Scare Away' Buyers This Halloween

Last October, Jacky Teplitzky got a fright when she entered the residence of one of her clients and was transported into a haunted house.

A broker for Prudential Douglas Elliman, Ms. Teplitzky mostly sells homes in Manhattan's high-end market. This particular apartment had been listed since the end of August, and she had convinced her Upper East Side clients to clear out excess furniture in the 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom and two-bathroom unit to make it more appealing to buyers.

When she walked in, Ms. Teplitzky expected to see less clutter. Instead she found fake witches, cadavers and pumpkins on the floor, as well as "things that make noise and surprise you," scattered around, she says. Every room in the apartment -- including the kitchen and bathrooms -- oozed Halloween decorations.

The place was so full of seasonal décor that Ms. Teplitzky had difficulty maneuvering through it. When she asked house hunters what they thought about the unit, they replied: " 'We didn't see the apartment; we only saw the decorations,' " she says.

She asked her clients -- who had decorated the home for their young children's enjoyment -- to limit the ghoulish decorations, but they were offended and refused. They kept the Halloween décor up for 31 days, and the apartment sat on the market a month longer than it should have, Ms. Teplitzky says. She finally secured a buyer in December and the unit closed in June at its listing price, $825,000, she says.

With the housing market slumping, there are already plenty of ways to dig a grave for yourself as a home seller this fall. Making sure Halloween decorations aren't a dealbreaker is relatively simple by comparison.

You don't want to "spook" house hunters, real-estate agent Phyllis MacBeth of Main Street Realtors in Long Beach, Calif., says. Some might not understand the holiday, while others may find it offensive, she explains. To avoid turning off potential buyers, opt for a neutral autumn theme over ghosts and goblins, she suggests.

Try adding displays of fall leaves, colorful mums, or pumpkins -- use white ceramic ones if orange clashes with your interior. "They look nice and make a house look more homey, while skeletons don't," she says.

Barb Schwarz, founder of Stagedhomes.com and credited as the founder of home staging, recently used carefully selected Halloween and seasonal items to help market a $1.5 million home in Palm Springs, Calif.

She didn't string up orange and black garlands or place a scary scull on the kitchen table. Instead, she put a pumpkin made of dried willow on the front porch, added a vase with gold and copper twigs and eucalyptus to the entryway, and used another arrangement in the kitchen that matched the room's black granite counters. In a child's bedroom, she replaced some toy soldiers with a set of mini pumpkins with various facial expressions. The decorations are "minimal and tasteful," she says.

She didn't want to flood the home with seasonal props, but also didn't want to ignore the holiday, either, she says. "People expect to see something happening for the season," she explains.

While Ms. Schwarz used upscale decor to give the home a holiday flavor, another option is to make your own seasonal decorations, offers James Barry of ListingBook.com, which provides client-management services for real-estate agents. If done tastefully, your crafts can show potential buyers the care and attention you devote to your home, he explains.

Looking for another way to get buyers to stop "dead" in their tracks and take notice of your home? Try using the holiday as a marketing opportunity.

Use trick or treating as an opportunity to talk up your home. One could even distribute flyers that highlight a property's top selling points, Ms. MacBeth suggests. More potential buyers are likely to visit your house this Halloween than during any open house, she says.

Or, take it a step further and host a Halloween open house, Pam O'Connor, president and chief executive officer of Leading Real Estate Companies of the World in Chicago, suggests. The event could be themed as a late afternoon cocktail hour, or a more family-friendly offering would be light refreshments and pumpkin cookies, she says. The holiday open house may be just what you need, she says, to "draw people in to see the house."

Provided it's not haunted, of course.



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