Tis the season to list your home

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Home For Sale Sign in Front of Snowy New House Home For Sale Sign in Front of Snowy New House

If you need to sell your home and the holidays are approaching, you may be concerned about the inconvenience or a possible lack of buyers that may make it a waste of time. If your home has been on the market and hasn’t sold, you may be tempted to take it off the market during the holidays and wait for the spring market in February or March.  On the other hand, if you take your home off the market during this time, you may miss a unique opportunity to showcase and sell it at a time when competition is low and your home looks its best thanks to tasteful seasonal decorations such as greenery, candles and lights.   

Of course, it’s not just your home that looks its best.  Often whole neighborhoods are lit up and decorated in ways that are inviting to newcomers and prospective buyers. If your community has a clubhouse and other amenities, they too will be decorated and may be planning special events that offer a taste of what life is like for people who live there.

These kinds of special events can be very appealing to someone thinking about buying a home in your neighborhood, including all of the visitors who come for the holidays with no intention of moving, but who decide while they’re there, that your neighborhood would be a great place to live.

To take advantage of this special time of year you will, of course, need to make your home available for showings.  However you can designate times and dates when the home can’t be shown or when you won’t accept calls assuring that you won’t be disturbed during family times or when you have guests or are just enjoying the season.  Your agent will communicate this information via the MLS so agents for prospective buyers won’t bother you during these times.

The Holiday Market

The end of the year is traditionally a slow time in real estate.  However, many agents in our local market report say they are busy this year, and the statistics suggest this is not unusual.  Over the last several years, more than 20 percent of closed sales happened in February through April, reflecting listings taken and sales contracts negotiated during the months of November through January.  In other words, if you need to sell, don’t hesitate to put your home on the market now.  You may be pleasantly surprised at the result.

Candice Van der Linde, with RE/MAX Realty Specialists, said that in the last couple of years,  “fall and winter markets were busier than spring and fall.”  She added that in general the “scale of home sales is on the upswing,” and that “a lot of agents are very busy now.”  She shared that part of the reason for this is that financing is more available now for more people than in the recent past.

Len Mailloux, with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate III, described the December and January time frame as “very rewarding.” He has worked with a number of buyers during this time saying they were in a “much stronger position” to negotiate a good deal during this time of year. “The last two Januarys have been very good months for me,” he added.

A less active new construction market is another reason for sellers to put their homes on the market now.  Van der Linde explained that in recent years resale homes have faced a lot of competition from the new homes market.  Since there is less building going on during the winter months, this eliminates some of the competition making resale homes more attractive.  Of course, many of the buyers out looking during the holidays are in the market because they need to move now, and since they are unable to wait for a home to be built, they will almost certainly buy a resale.

Holiday Buyers

One reason the holidays are a good time to list a home is that the buyers are more serious.  Some must buy before the end of the year for tax reasons, while others may be relocating because of work obligations.

For example Phyllis Novotny, with Roy Wheeler Realty Co., said that many doctors move July first and February first.  Those who need to move in February are good candidates to be out looking in November or December.  A good example is a couple she worked with recently. Both spouses are physicians hired by UVA who looked for and found a home in November.

Another source of buyers are those moving in from out of the country, many of who may not observe the same holidays we take for granted here.  According to an article at realtor.com, as our real estate market has improved, there has been a concurrent increase in the number of foreign buyers along with what the author, Sam DeBord, calls  “significant upticks in buyer showings and home sales around holiday periods.”

This may be why Novotny got a call from one of her sellers on a recent Christmas Eve reporting that someone had just stopped in front of his house and removed a flyer from the brochure box out front.

DeBard makes another good point about having your home on the market during the holidays.  Most of today’s buyers start their home search online, and many people take time to do this during holiday and winter months when they have some time off or weather makes it more difficult to be out driving through neighborhoods scouting out options.  There is often a lot of online activity during these slower times in the market as buyers review the options and narrow their choices.  If your home is not being actively marketed during this time, these buyers will not find it.

Another plus for keeping your home on the market during the holidays is that many buyers are on vacation from work and have more time to look at homes than they do during the rest of the year. It also means they have more time to check on things like neighborhood amenities and schools.

Novotny described one couple she worked with who took time to interview all of the high school principals before deciding which school district to live in.  “Usually buyers don’t have time to do that kind of thing,” she said.  Since the children were out of school they also came along to look at homes Novotny said, adding, “the children got to choose the home.”

From the buyer’s perspective, one of the downsides of holiday home shopping is that inventories are often low. In other times of the year this could lead to bidding wars.  However, during the holidays the less serious buyers drop out of the market, which means those remaining face less competition. According to Mike Peters, with Roy Wheeler Realty, Co., this often means remaining buyers find it easier to negotiate a favorable contract because many sellers are motivated and they have fewer buyers coming to them with offers.

Holiday Sellers

The holidays give sellers a unique opportunity to showcase their home at its best, and this may be the only time of year when they can use decorations to tastefully highlight its many benefits.  Not only that, but the holidays are also a time when most homeowner associations and club houses put out decorations welcoming to residents, visitors and prospective homeowners alike. For example, Spring Creek at Zion Crossroads will not only be festively decorated, but there will be holiday activities throughout the season for both children and adults, including a New Year’s celebration with dinner and music at Tavern on the Green at the community’s clubhouse.

Byrd Abbott, with Roy Wheeler Realty Co., said that she “does not advocate sellers pulling their house off the market during the holidays.”  Rather she suggests they get seasonal decorations up right after Thanksgiving.  “Some homes look fabulous when they are decorated,” she continued.

Of course decorations need to be well thought out.  Van der Linde suggests using seasonal decor to accentuate the home’s best features. For example, sellers might use holiday lights to highlight a bay window, a porch or a walkway while a nice wreath on the front door can draw attention to the home’s entrance.  She cautioned that while holiday decor can make a big difference in how a home is perceived by buyers, it is important to keep it tasteful and not over do.

Mailloux explained that while he asks sellers to make everything neat for showings as always, he “doesn’t ask them to stop living in the house.”  He believes that a house that feels lived in “conveys a lot about the house and shows that it is loved.”  In other words, sellers can continue to enjoy their homes even when they are on the market during the holidays.

In addition to holiday decorations, sellers can also take advantage of seasonal fragrances, filling their home with the kind of scents that people associate with the season.  This could be anything from the smell of fresh baked cookies, to the fragrance of evergreens or hot-spiced cider.   These fragrances promote what Peters calls a “welcoming atmosphere” and when buyers experience it they are more likely to stay longer in a home imagining what it will be like for their family to enjoy it there during next year’s holiday season.

The holidays can be a good time to sell for other reasons as well.  “It’s a festive, happy time of year,” Novotny said and a time when “people are in a good mood.”  All of this can make it easier to negotiate a deal that works for both parties.

With fewer homes on the market during this time of year, sellers face less competition and if theirs is in good condition and well priced, the chances of it selling increase.  During the spring market when there is more competition, offers may be lower and come from buyers who are not as serious or as likely to negotiate as those out looking during the holidays.

Sellers who have already moved, leaving a vacant house, and those out of town for the holidays should definitely take advantage of this unique market. In addition to adding some holiday cheer to their house before they leave, Van der Linde suggests these homeowners make arrangements to clear away snow making sure that the main entrance is accessible.  She also suggests turning off the water to prevent burst pipes, and keeping the utilities on.

If you are someone who needs or wants to sell your home, talk to your agent about putting it on the market during the holidays and take advantage of this unique opportunity to decorate for the season and sell at a time when you don’t face a lot of competition.

By Celeste M. Smucker, PhD

Celeste Smucker is a writer, blogger and author who lives near Charlottesville