Nicole Solari is a top-producing broker-owner in Northern California whose regular bimonthly column, which covers real estate marketing, selling strategies and working with clients, publishes on Tuesdays.
Fall is arguably the most colorful season of the year no matter where you do business, and its beginning conjures up cherished traditions and memories — high school football games, kids running through piles of leaves, crisp mornings, blazing fireplaces, warm kitchens with baking pies and holidays past and present come to mind.
In the Napa Valley, the leaves are showing color, and fall has definitely arrived. As we drive through Up Valley for client meetings (or wine tastings), the smell of crushed grapes perfumes the air. Soon, the vine colors will transform into vibrant reds, golds, oranges and yellows that — along with our trees — make the Valley so inviting this time of year.
We make those visual (and scent) memories work to maximum advantage for every listing from now through the New Year. Here’s how we do it.
1. Add accessories featuring the colors of the season
Doing this will make listings and listing photos pop!
Our stagers tend to go for a minimalist look most of the year. But in fall and winter, accessories can add seasonal color and a much-needed feeling of warmth and coziness from the entry through the interior.
We still keep the front walk and porch uncluttered but welcoming. We often use pots of flowers on the steps and porch if there is ample space. When the season changes, we simply swap summer bloomers for fall favorites: bright mums, marigolds or plants with colorful leaves.
Pumpkins and gourds can feel a bit clichéd, so if we use them, we mix them with baskets of tall grasses or ferns and offset the expected with an unexpected touch — a modern wreath crafted from rusty metal or a basket of ornamental corn.
A heavier door mat in a warm tone and rough texture adds both beauty and utility. And we try to place a bench and umbrella stand near the front door, inside or out, for buyers to slip out of coats and wet shoes.
Pillows, throws and other accessories — fresh sunflowers while they last, even artwork — in seasonal hues and interesting textures make the listing pop online and in person. Light the fireplace — even if it’s only added by your photographer digitally for online use — to make that appealing feature stand out and add coziness and warmth to the room.
Finally, if we’ve shown off bare hardwood during the summer, we bring in rugs to add color and texture — underfoot as well as visually — and to pull seating groups together so they feel a bit cozier.
2. Make the most of the season’s scents and sensations
Seasonal scents will appeal to buyers in a hurry to close before the holidays (and rain) start.
It’s harvest time for more than grapes! Apples, nuts, lavender, cranberries and, yes, pumpkins and gourds are all readily available along with pine cones and evergreen branches (or bare ones).
All of these items lend themselves to arrangement in rustic wooden trays, carved bowls and baskets; and they frequently give off wonderful aromas. Since the real thing can rot, displays of (really good) faux apples and cranberries should be substituted for the real thing if sellers don’t want to be consuming a lot of apples.
Scents are a bit trickier. Fundamentally, a house that always smells fresh and clean has an outsize impact for the effort. Artificial scents and room sprays — even heavily scented cleaning products — can make some buyers physically ill. So to add seasonal scents, simmer cinnamon sticks in cider (or water), bake apples with lots of seasonal spices or have a pot of cinnamon-laced coffee brewing when buyers are expected.
Tucking fresh coffee beans in an inconspicuous spot in the kitchen can add a natural, if short-lived, fragrance that most people find appealing and few find offensive. Finally, unscented candles can be great for decorative purposes. Scented candles — not so much.
Whether buyers are consciously aware of it or not, they associate fall with rougher textures, heavier weaves and the crunch of leaves beneath their feet. So we bear those things in mind when we’re selecting accessories and when we’re encouraging the landscaping crew to keep the leaves under control and the gutters clear of them.
A pretty leaf here and there gracefully resting on a tidy green lawn conveys fall in all its glory. A yard coated with leaves shouts, “Yard work! Lots of yard work!” That is not a feature most buyers seek.
3. Highlight the season’s (and the area’s) natural beauty
If you want to make your listing pop, take care of the lawn. Nothing looks better — especially online — than a house set on a neat lawn and framed by neatly clipped shrubs, flowers and trees in blazing fall colors.
We use a professional photographer to take maximum advantage of the season, whatever the time of year or property. Our photographer, in turn, takes maximum advantage of the natural beauty of a setting for both exterior and interior shots.
The first listing photo shows off the setting, as do other exterior shots. Interior photos use windows and doors to frame a view of the color outside. This means, of course, that all “frames” must be scrupulously clean at the time of the shoot and remain in that condition throughout the time the home is being shown.
In addition to emphasizing the beauty of the property itself, we take full advantage of the natural beauty of the neighborhood. For our Napa agents, the beauty of the Napa Valley, especially in fall, stars as an asset to be enjoyed by the new owners of our listings.
To emphasize the desirability of our Napa Valley listings’ location, we use coffee table books open to winery scenes and cookbooks featuring local chefs, wines or produce in the kitchen.
We also set out a bottle of wine and a couple of glasses from time to time as part of the staging.
4. Use holiday ‘treats’ not ‘tricks’ to impress at showings and open houses
Halloween is afoot, but we don’t want our listings to look like haunted houses. Each home gets a thorough cleaning inside and out before it goes on the market. Cobwebs are brushed down or power-washed away, windows are cleaned and the landscape is polished before the on-market date as well.
If our clients are still living in the listings, we discourage their use of blow-up yard monsters or skeletons in the closet. A Halloween costume laid out on the bed of a child’s room can, by contrast, say, “this is a real family home” better than any marketing collateral ever could.
A platter of pumpkin bars and hot cider warming on the stove are inviting to guests at open houses, whether they partake of the goodies or not.
As Thanksgiving approaches, a table partially set for the coming feast is evocative of happy gatherings of friends and family. And having a basket of holiday candy available (whether it’s the mini candy bars favored at Halloween or peppermint sticks as winter gets closer) is nearly irresistible to buyers, especially those with cranky kids!
Sometimes it’s the smallest touches that make a home memorable.
We don’t go overboard with accessories that evoke specific holidays because each holiday period is brief. But we may tweak existing staging seasonally, depending on the house and how long it’s been on the market. For example, refreshing the staging with seasonal accessories can give new appeal to a home that was listed in the summer and still remains unsold in fall.
Naturally, for maximum impact online, dramatically staged rooms and exterior photos may also need to be shot again.
5. Understand and manage the challenges of the season
Fall is wonderful — it looks good, it smells good, the mornings are cool and the days are warm and usually sunny. But the biggest drawback is that natural light grows less intense by the day.
So starting now, we make sure every light in the house (including appliance lights and under-cabinet lighting) and on the front porch stays on, blinds are up or open and curtains are pushed as far to the side of windows as possible before all showings or open houses.
When feasible, lining a walk with solar-powered landscape lights lengthens showing hours.
With less light comes cooler temperatures, so we urge our clients to have both the HVAC system and chimney(s) inspected and put in good working order before the house goes on the market. (We like to have those reports at hand because fall is when the reliability of the furnace immediately matters most to buyers.)
In addition, because buyers won’t spend five minutes in a freezing house, we ask our sellers to leave the thermostat in unoccupied homes set at a minimum of 68 degrees.
We also ensure leaf fall is managed ruthlessly (including keeping the gutters over the front porch leaf-free) and even the season’s most-used tools are arrayed neatly in the garage because buyers look at garages too.
We’ve had great success using these five simple principles on our fall listings, and we’re confident you will too.
Nicole Solari is owner and managing broker of The Solari Group in Solano and Napa Counties in Northern California. Nicole runs one of the highest producing brokerages in all of Northern California.