Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Tips for Selling During the Holidays

It was a few weeks before Thanksgiving that a couple in their 30s were offered better jobs. Though they were pleased with the offers, there was just one catch. The new jobs, which started the following January, required a move out of state. That meant their bungalow would have to go on the market during the challenging holiday season.

But the couple, parents to two preschoolers, embraced the challenge. They immediately began prepping their place for sale, tailoring their marketing plan to fit the season.

“They didn’t try to fight the season or push for too high a price. Instead, they accepted the holidays as a positive for their sale,” says Ashley Richardson, a longtime real estate agent affiliated with the Residential Real Estate Council (crs.com).

Richardson, who represented the sellers in this true story, says tasteful holiday decor can enhance a property’s appeal by giving it a warm and welcoming feel. On her advice, the couple put up the family Christmas tree as soon as showings began, several days before Thanksgiving. What’s more, they followed her recommendation and priced their place slightly below what it would have fetched during the more active spring or summer selling seasons.

The couple’s marketing plan, which included cosmetic upgrades, worked out well and their property sold at list price weeks before they had to move out of state.

Do you have a compelling need to sell during the holiday season? If so, these few pointers could prove useful:

-- Accept the advice of pros in the real estate field.

Sid Davis, author of “A Survival Guide to Selling a Home,” points out that those facing an involuntary home sale during the emotionally fraught holiday season are especially likely to challenge the counsel of the listing agent they hire. Often, they want to set a higher price for the property than their agent recommends, on the basis that they can “test the market."They’re also inclined to question the need to spend for pre-sale home improvements, such as painting or carpet replacement.

“Clients often battle their agents. They don’t like the message, so they blame the messenger. This causes lots of conflict and needless delays,” Davis says.

But those who face a compelling need to sell should try to avoid such conflicts, he says. The best way to do so is to carefully select a listing agent they trust to give you the best possible advice on your sale.

“Look for an agent who is thoroughly familiar with property values in your area. Try to find someone who’s sold homes there for at least two to three years. Also, ask for references and then question former clients about whether the agent’s advice proved sound,” Davis says.

-- Manage your time skillfully during the busy holiday season.

Many people are usually busy in December, when holiday-related activities crowd their already hectic schedules. But because home-sale preparations can eat up many hours, Davis suggests that sellers on a tight deadline consider simplifying some of their holiday social plans.

“You’re going to have to triage. Over the long run, it’s probably a lot better for your pocketbook to put your heart and soul into selling rather that expending all that energy on fancy holiday arrangements,” Davis says.

-- Don’t forgo holiday decor.

For many homeowners, one plus to showing their property during the holidays is that it should look especially attractive, assuming it’s tastefully decorated.

“Go ahead and put up lights and bring in holly and evergreen bows, if that’s what you normally do. You can also use a Christmas tree if you’d like, but don’t get so big a one that it makes your place seem crowded,” Davis says.

-- Make sure your home is accessible as long as it’s on the market.

These days, many prospective homebuyers, especially those with an urgent need to move due to a long-distance job change, are able to wrap up their property search quickly because they pre-screened property on the Internet.

“Most people are really web-savvy now. Before making a property tour in a new area, they’ve already done an extensive review of the available homes via the computer. Because of that, they land with their boots on as soon as they hit town and often do a very compressed home search,” Davis says.

What does this mean for holiday season home sellers? Davis says this makes it imperative that your home be available for showings every day and that you don’t let holiday activities block access to potential buyers who may be home shopping for just two or three days.

“A big penalty is inflicted on those who refuse to let prospects into their home when it’s inconvenient. You’ve got to keep your home especially accessible during December or risk missing some of the most eager buyers of the year -- people who have to make a job move in January,” Davis says.

(To contact Ellen James Martin, email her at ellenjamesmartin@gmail.com.)