5 Tips to Stage Your Home for the Fall Season

How to take advantage of this last buying hurrah before winter sets in.

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If you've had your home on the market throughout the spring and summer seasons and it still hasn't sold, you might be starting to sweat. The heat and pressure are on, and it's probably hard to believe that fall is already here. Once the cold sets in, the number of buyers out there starts sinking like a weight in water. Most people just don't want to shop for a home when it's 10 degrees out.

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You still have some time, but you can't ignore the fact that the clock is ticking. Don't waste these days. You need to take advantage of this last buying hurrah before winter sets in, and a major part of your strategy should be to stage your home effectively, regardless of whether you're using a real estate agent or selling your house yourself by owner.

Follow these top five staging tips for autumn planning:

1. Focus on Fall Curb Appeal. When your house is on the market, your top priority should be your home's curb appeal. Unfortunately, however, keeping an attractive-looking yard gets tougher in the fall. Your summer flowers will have already come and gone, so make sure you dress up your front steps with pots of brightly colored mums, and a few pumpkins as soon as they're available.

You'll also want to make sure your yard and beds are kept clean of falling leaves. Keeping up with falling leaves can be a chore, especially when they start falling during peak season. Raking is no job for a perfectionist, and a few leaves here and there are okay. Overall, however, you need to be sure that potential buyers see your yard and home, not dim shapes covered up by three inches of leaves.

Lastly, realize that as your lawn plants, shrubs, and trees start to go dormant for the winter, paint chips and dirty siding will become even more noticeable. You don't want these little issues to become big problems, and you definitely don't want to do repairs in the colder months. It's a good idea to pressure wash your home before it gets too cold.

 [See Secrets of Staging: Sell Your House for More, Quickly.]

2. Don't Go Overboard. Now that we've covered priority No. 1, remember the importance of moderation. As important as staging is, the key to success is to keep yourself in check and know when to stop. You don't want to break your personal budget, and you don't want to over-decorate your home. Between the weather, fall sports, and holidays, autumn is full of tempting reasons to decorate too much.

It's easy to go overboard, and plenty of people will make this mistake. Don't be one of them. Put a simple wreath on the door, grab a few potted mums for inside, and leave it at that. Remember, you want your buyers to remember the house, not your great fall or Halloween decorations. You just want some accents that make potential buyers realize what they could do if they owned your home.

3. Focus on Comfort. As the days get chilly, we all want to be in a cozy home. Once you've drawn potential buyers in, make them realize how comfortable they'd be during fall--and year-round. Highlight the coziness of your home. Stack firewood in the fireplace so it's "ready to go," at least in your buyers' minds. Add some comfy touches like laying out your favorite blanket (e.g. drape lush afghans over the side of the couch). Put out a few decorative candles, but don't light them. Remember, some potential buyers might have allergies or dislike certain smells.

Set up a small table with hot coffee and fresh-baked cookies, cider donuts, or any other local treats that will warm up your home and stick in buyers' minds. Finally, make sure every room is very clean.

 [See the 7 Biggest Home-Price Negotiation Blunders.]

4. Brighten up Your House. Autumn days get shorter and shorter, and the early sunset can weigh down emotions and lead to some tired house shoppers coming to your home experiencing seasonal affective disorder symptoms. So brighten your home, and their day.

Make sure you have bright, warm light bulbs in all of your lamps and fixtures. If it's even a little dark outside or getting slightly dim in a room, turn on your lamps. If you have a room that gets strong afternoon sun or has a great angle at sunset, make sure the shades are wide open at the right time. No matter what time it is, your home should look bright, clean, and open.

5. Change Your Bedding. Don't let the warm and cozy theme stop on the main floor of your home. Your shoppers will be upstairs checking out the bedroom, so make sure it's just as cozy as every other room - if not more.

If your quilt is old and battered, change it for a new one. You can still sleep under your favorite quilt, but show off with a thick and luxurious one, even if it's just temporary. The bed is the focal point of the room, and the comforter sets the tone and establishes how the room will feel. It's crucial for you to make it warm, relaxing, and inviting.

Final Thoughts. I've listed my own home during the fall season, so I know firsthand how challenging it can be. It's a special time of year, and it's especially challenging for home sellers. You may have a distinct advantage, however, when you list in the fall. You'll probably be competing with fewer other homes on the market. And while it's tough to combat falling leaves and do repairs on chilly days, you have the benefit of wonderful fall foliage to make your home look picture perfect.

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Fall is a season of change, and if your home is still on the market, it just means you need to switch up your plan. Change the feel of your home by making it feel warm and cozy for the fall season, and you'll be more likely to draw interest from potential buyers.

Have you had success selling your home in the fall season? What are some of the methods you used to prepare your home and dress it up for prospective buyers?

Heather Levin blogs about eco-friendly lifestyle, real estate (e.g. tips for how to flip a house), and saving money on Money Crashers, an online personal finance resource site. Sign up for the RSS feed to get daily updates.