Here come the holidays. In a few weeks, Halloween will be upon us; four weeks after that, Thanksgiving. And before you know it, Christmas and New Year’s will arrive.
It’s the time of year for good cheer. It’s also the time of year when many sellers take their homes off the market, or wait until January to list them. But the smart money says they’re wrong to do so.
For one thing, there’s usually less competition to attract would-be buyers during the holiday season. Busy with holiday parties, buying gifts and perhaps taking a family vacation, sellers don’t have the time to make their homes ready for sale, so they don’t even bother.
But if they wait, other folks in the same boat will also be listing their houses. And before long, all of you could be vying for the same buyer.
For another thing, people out looking at houses during the holiday season are not tire-kickers. They’re serious. They are just as busy as you are, but they’ve made buying a priority. Some need to find a place right away: Maybe they’ve been transferred into the area, for example. And since they won’t have much inventory to choose from, you might be able to sell quicker -- and at a higher price.
Other potential buyers may be fat with money given to them for Christmas -- not a hundred bucks or so, but serious money. After all, Mom and Dad can give a lucky relative up to $15,000 each, tax-free, in any given year. Tampa, Florida, agent Rae Catanese of RE/MAX Bay to Bay says she sees this kind of thing “all the time” in her market.
The recipients will still have to account for the windfall with their mortgage company. Lenders these days want to know where every dollar comes from. But beyond that, a big-time gift goes a long way toward meeting down-payment requirements and/or covering closing costs.
Another reason the end of the year is a good time to sell is because it’s often a slow period for many real estate professionals. Sellers and buyers alike can expect to command the full time and attention of their agents -- or at least, much more of it than if the agents were running around serving many clients during a busier season.
Unfortunately, it’s also a slow time for the many other professionals who provide the ancillary services you’ll need, should you end up striking a deal with an anxious buyer. And that could be a drawback, especially if your buyer must meet a certain timetable, such as closing by the end of the year.
Appraisers, title companies, home inspectors, surveyors and the like take time off, too. Some may be out of town visiting relatives, and some even close down completely, for a week or more at a time. Ditto for insurance companies, recording offices and even lenders. So scheduling becomes an issue that must -- but can be -- addressed.
But back on the positive side of the ledger, in many markets at this time of year, you don’t have to worry about keeping the grass cut or the shrubs pruned so your house makes a good first impression. You’ll still have to rake the leaves and keep the street, driveway and walkway clear of ice and snow. But probably not as frequently as mowing and yanking weeds out of your flower beds.
Inside, your holiday decorations will make the house festive and welcoming. Yes, you’ll have to keep the place tidy. But nothing is as inviting as holiday decor.
“Decorated homes engage the emotions,” says Debbie Reynolds of Platinum Properties in Clarksville, Tennessee. “Remember: Emotions buy.”
You’ll still have to be flexible and prepared to show your place at a moment’s notice. But you’d have to do that anyway, no matter when you put your home on the market. So why not do it when the place shows itself off? Indeed, the holidays are probably the one time of the year when sellers can get by with minimal staging.
Finally, a few tips on selling during the winter in general, especially in cold-weather markets:
-- Open the curtains and blinds to let the natural light shine in. And turn on all the lights in every room to brighten up the place, especially on cloudy or dismal days.
-- Provide convenient parking, either in your drive or on the street. People won’t want to climb a snowbank or take baby steps to avoid ice patches.
-- Put a festive welcome mat at the front door, where visitors can wipe their feet or perhaps even leave their wet or salty shoes. Have slippers or disposable booties available, and a bench or chair where they can sit to make the exchange.
-- Keep your own cold-weather gear out of sight.
-- Don’t allow bad odors to turn people off. Create pleasant scents by baking cookies and cakes, and roasting turkeys. You’ll be eating them anyway.