Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Tips on Timing the Sale of Your Home

For months, home sellers have been flying high. For many, an extreme shortage of properties has meant multiple bids -- with pandemic-weary buyers especially keen on acquiring spacious havens in suburbia and exurbia. Meanwhile, prices have been steadily rising.

The hot seller’s market has created a high level of confidence among homeowners, according to economists at Zillow.com, the national real estate firm. They report that nearly 40% of those planning to sell in the next three years expect a more favorable price if they wait.

But consumer advocates caution that the torrid seller’s market could cool in the U.S., at least somewhat, after the first of the year. Mortgage rates are predicted to remain low. Yet due to economic uncertainties, home values could plateau or possibly even moderate.

“If you truly plan to sell your house soon, I wouldn’t postpone on the hope of still higher prices. No one knows for sure, but by late next year, there might be fewer eager buyers,” says Eric Tyson, a personal finance expert and coauthor of “House Selling for Dummies.”

One indication of slightly diminished interest in homebuying came just days ago, when the Mortgage Bankers Association (mba.org) reported on the continuing, multi-week slump in applications for new home loans.

“Inadequate housing supply is putting upward pressure on home prices and is impacting affordability -- especially for first-time buyers and lower-income buyers,” says Joel Kan, who oversees the association’s economic forecasting.

Tyson urges those planning their timing to take into account their own lifestyle needs and preferences.

“No one has a crystal ball, so don’t stay up all night trying to figure out the perfect season to sell. Just discuss the matter with a trusted listing agent and then decide what works for you,” he says.

Here are a few other pointers for sellers:

-- Try to sell when few homes are available in your area.

If your neighborhood is experiencing a significant shortage in available homes, you may wish to go forward with a planned sale within 30 days or so, says Ashley Richardson, a veteran real estate agent affiliated with the Residential Real Estate Council (crs.com).

“You’re always better off being the only one out there because a dearth of competition can drive prices upward,” says Richardson, who sells homes in Maryland through the Long & Foster real estate company.

Are you unsure about the supply-demand ratio for real estate in your neighborhood? If so, Richardson says the most efficient way to obtain information on local inventory levels is to request statistics from the listing agent you’ve chosen.

“You need to know whether your market is strengthening or weakening for sellers. If it’s weakening, you may wish to move forward with your sale as promptly as you reasonably can,” she says.

-- Delay until repairs and decluttering are complete.

Do you have a seriously stained carpet that needs replacement? Is there peeling paint on your front door? Are you still sorting through the contents of an overstuffed bookshelf?

Make sure all this work is done before giving your agent approval to list your place. She says buyers typically show little interest in any home where renovation work is incomplete.

Likewise, a cluttered house can be very hard to market to prospects, who often underestimate the size of rooms ridden with excess furniture and cardboard boxes. Also, closets crammed full of clothes and shoes make a bad impression.

“When your closets are crowded, people think you have less storage than you really do,” she says.

-- Avoid the weekend to launch your listing.

Richardson believes no one should obsess about the day of the week their agent lists their property in the Multiple Listing Service. But she says it’s better to avoid having it appear on a Saturday or Sunday.

“During the workweek, buyers monitor their email from the office for new listings sent them by their agent. But on weekends, they’re often too busy running errands and driving kids around to pay much attention to email,” Richardson says.

In her opinion, the ideal time for sellers to have property listed is a weekday, preferably early in the week. Then if the place still catches the interest of buyers when they view it online or drive by, they’ll have sufficient time to plan a tour of the interior.

“In reality, most serious home shoppers search with buyers’ agents. So it's prudent to consider the rhythm of their work when choosing the best day to hit the market,” Richardson says.

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