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Professional decorators can light up holidays at a price

It's the most wonderful time of the year, unless you're the one assigned the task of untangling the lights, balancing on the ladder and spending hours hanging and rearranging your home's exterior holiday decorations.

Sure, a lot of folks actually look forward to taking care of the outside adornment duties themselves. But for those of us with limited handyman skills, and even less time, there's not enough egg nog around to make decking the outside of our homes a joyful experience.

If you're in the latter category, then this might be the year to give yourself the gift of hiring a Christmas lighting pro. But make your decision soon. Some companies are already stringing lights, and most are booked for the season by mid-November.

And be sure to budget for the brilliance to cover both installation costs and your electric bill. Depending on just how large a display you want, hiring a holiday decorator could eat up a big part of your Christmas club savings.

A growing, glowing business
Many holiday decorating companies evolved as offshoots of landscaping enterprises looking to expand business year-round. Since they couldn't mow or fertilize or plant in the dead of winter in most places, holiday decorations seemed like a natural next step. The popularity of holiday lighting, however, has prompted some companies to focus only on that service.

Brad Finkle began decorating houses as a hobby while still a teenager. When he saw the amount of neighborly interest in his handiwork -- "They'd say, 'You know what? I can't get my husband outside to do anything. Would you mind?'" -- he knew it could succeed as a business.

He was right. For 25 years, Finkle's Creative Decorating has been a full-time holiday lighting company in Omaha, Neb., and a busy company at that. "We hang close to 1 million lights each season," says Finkle. And in the off-season, there's removing the lights, inventorying, repairing and storing them and consulting with others who want to start similar businesses.

Christmas Decor also lends wannabe decorators a hand, says Brandon Stephens marketing director. The Lubbock, Texas-based company opened in 1986 as a winter component to an original lawn-care business but now specializes in holiday lighting displays for homes and businesses. It began franchising in 1996 and now has 375 operations in 48 states, Canada and Bermuda.

Anthony Minotti owns a landscape business in Austin, Texas, but not a run-of-the-mill lawn service. Got Lights concentrates only on landscape lighting, and when Minotti started the company seven years ago, holiday lighting was part of the plan from day one. This Christmas season he expects his company will decorate around 200 homes.

Next: "... no two homes are exactly alike ..."
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Questions to ask a professional decorator
Holiday spending worksheet
Tips for stretching your holiday budget

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