Denis Phillips, an amiable local TV meteorologist, found his home in Florida when he was driving around a neighborhood looking at Christmas lights 10 years ago. Today, Phillips is one of the many homeowners in Indian Trails who brings over-the-top Christmas spectacles to visitors.
Located in a tree-lined neighborhood near Tampa, the Indian Trails community has been doing massive Christmas displays for more than 40 years, and is now known in Central Florida as a destination to drive by, or walk through, to enjoy the holiday festivities.
“We get people literally that have driven for three hours to come look at the lights,” Phillips, who also hosts the Phillips Family Hot Chocolate Fundraising during the December spectacle, told Yahoo Finance. “What we love about it is the family traditions, the way it brings people together.”
For many homeowners, living on a Christmas block is more than putting up decorations and stringing lights each year – it’s a lifestyle they buy into before they even move in.
“I don’t know of anyone who’s moved into the neighborhood (who) wasn’t warned in advance by the Realtor,” Phillips said.
Block party with Cher and Elvis
Across the country, homeowners Lisa and Fred Molina in Las Palmas, California were preparing for their annual neighborhood Christmas party. The cozy southern California cul-de-sac on Dallas Drive has been lighting up for the holiday season for 40 years.
This is the Molinas’ 23rd year of showcasing Christmas lights, and the festivities have grown to include not just decorations, but also a live jazz band, a mariachi band, a Santa, a stilt walker, and look-alikes of Cher, Joan Rivers and Marilyn Monroe.
When the Molinas were shopping for a home, their agent showed them a house across from the Las Palmas neighborhood. They paused their search and waited when they heard a listing might come up on Dallas Drive where the Christmas lights are.
“It’s right up Lisa’s alley,” Fred told Yahoo Finance from his living room, where a 14-foot Christmas tree stands. “She just loves the holiday spirit.”
A couple doors down from the Molinas, Daniel Koui said he knew about the neighborhood’s tradition when he purchased his home, but it was during his first Christmas there that he truly felt the spirit.
“We put up a few string lights the first year and I saw what everybody else did and knew I better step up my game,” Koui said.
Part of the curb appeal
Brad Davisdon, the real estate agent who sold Koui his house, said the neighborhood’s holiday tradition was part of the selling appeal. His listing on the Koui’s home mentioned the Christmas celebrations, an effort to lure buyers who would appreciate the ambiance.
“The city gives [the neighborhood] a permit to close down the street once a year and they have this huge block party with people coming from all over the place just to see all the decorations on the houses,” Davison said.
Homes in these festive neighborhoods can even sell themselves thanks to the traffic pouring in.
Marcello Mennone, a realtor based in Palm Harbor, Florida, currently has a listing in the Indian Trails neighborhood. He received multiple calls from interested buyers who came to look at Christmas lights and saw his for sale sign.
“I had a few calls on the house this past week just because [potential buyers] walked through the neighborhood and saw how nice the place was,” Mennone said.
However, some clients have the opposite reaction. Buyers who prefer privacy and seclusion stay away from this listing.
“A few days ago, [a potential buyer] said the house was great, but they don’t necessarily appreciate the traffic during the holidays,” Mennone said. “It really depends.”
Sellers in the Christmas neighborhoods are even known to vibe check prospective buyers before accepting offers. Koui said a previous homeowner on his street specifically looked for buyers who were willing to decorate for the holidays.
It’s how the neighbors – even those on the way out – maintain the tradition and the friendships that arise from it.
“Before I lived here, I didn’t really talk to the neighbors that much,” Koui told Yahoo Finance. “But when we moved here we got to know everybody, we learned their names, we invited each other over. It feels like a close community, which we don’t really get often.”
A community with a reputation for Christmas
Driving down Indian Trails drive, often in bumper to bumper traffic on weekends, guests are welcomed with extravagant decorations: roofs covered with jewel-tone lights, tall palms trees dressed like candy canes, and Christmas lights synced to holiday music.
Phillips and his six kids, ranging from age 9 to 30, install their decorations together starting at Thanksgiving, a family tradition that takes around two weeks to complete even with all hands on deck.
“I started syncing the music to the lights,” Phillips said. “We have almost 40 different songs on our playlist and each song is programmed to every light flash and every blink. Every phase is manually created in the software.”
In addition to putting up light shows for strangers, Phillips’ daughter and her softball team fundraise by selling hot chocolate and popcorn for $1 to visitors on some nights during the spectacle. They dart between vehicles, doing car hop service taking and delivering orders. In past years they’ve raised several thousand dollars for organizations such as Children’s Miracle Network, Feeding Tampa Bay and Suncoast Animal League.
“They run back and forth to the cars because the cars aren’t moving quickly,” Phillips said. “The kids really love doing it and it makes them feel good about giving back.”
Putting on the Christmas lights, though, requires a financial commitment. The cost of electricity to power the lights runs at around $700 in December – even using all LED bulbs on the displays.
“My electric bill is cheaper in December than it is in the summertime with air conditioning being as high as it is around here,” Phillips said.
While the community collectively embraces the holiday spirit, not all the neighbors appreciate the traffic that comes with it. On busy nights, it can take 30 to 45 minutes to drive through the neighborhood. But Phillips said it’s an accepted part of life in Indian Trails.
“[The neighborhood] is known for it,” Phillips said. “Nobody is going to buy a house in this neighborhood if they don’t already know there is a ton of traffic and a ton of people that come in December for Christmas lights.”
Rebecca Chen is a reporter for Yahoo Finance and previously worked as an investment tax certified public accountant (CPA).
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