Smart Moves by Ellen James Martin

Confused About Timing Your Home Sale? Here Are Pointers

A couple in their 60s -- a social worker married to a coffee shop owner -- vowed to never let go of the brick ranch house in suburban Maryland that they’d owned for 39 years. Indeed, they joked with friends that the “starter house” they bought soon after their wedding would one day become their “terminal house.”

But that was before the social worker was diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s disease. The couple decided she’d be better off if they sold the house and moved near their grown daughter in North Carolina. The medical need wasn’t urgent. Still, they reasoned that from a financial perspective, 2020 was the best year to sell.

As it turned out, the couple’s decision to hasten their property sale proved advantageous. The day their place went on the market in late November, it attracted four offers -- all well above the asking price. The one they chose was all cash with zero contingencies. Their deal closes in mid-December.

Of course, no one knows for sure how the currently robust housing market will play out in the coming year. With the new administration in Washington, D.C., mortgage rates are likely to remain low. Yet economists are fearful an increasing number of would-be buyers are getting priced out of the market.

“The housing market is still hot, but we may be starting to see rising home prices hurting affordability,” says Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors (nar.realtor). He notes that pending home sales slid slightly in October, which could be a sign of a cooling real estate market.

Many potential home sellers are now raising questions with their listing agents about timing their sale. Should they rush to list in the immediate future, or perhaps wait until the traditional springtime home-selling season? Opinions vary.

Fred Meyer, an independent real estate broker and appraiser in Massachusetts, acknowledges that current conditions are favorable to sellers. Even so, he advises that sellers with ample time to wait might benefit from delaying their sale until the post-pandemic period.

“My guess is that six months from now, home prices will be a heck of a lot higher -- especially in well-valued suburban communities. Americans will be a lot more cheerful. Many who’ve lost jobs will regain them and qualify to own a property,” Meyer says.

But he expects that in 2021 -- as usual -- there will be wide variations in real estate markets on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis.

Here are a few pointers for sellers:

-- Monitor neighborhood inventory levels before targeting a sale date.

In most desirable neighborhoods, a shortage of available homes is a strong signal that many prospective sellers are holding off in hopes of an uptick in property values later on.

“In nearly all cases, you can count on low inventory as a sure sign that the community is coveted and owners can command excellent prices,” says Dorcas Helfant, a past president of the National Association of Realtors.

You may also be observing other indications of pent-up demand for property in a community, such as people driving through trying to spot “For Sale” signs and letters left for residents from wannabe buyers.

If you’re anticipating a springtime surge in nearby listings, don’t wait until the floodgates have opened for sellers.

“Too few sellers consider inventory levels before timing their sale,” Helfant says.

-- Wait until repairs are done to put your place up for sale.

Are painters laboring to finish their work at your home? Are your bathroom renovations still incomplete? Have you yet to finalize the sorting and boxing of books in your huge collection?

If so, make sure all this work is done before giving the listing agent a green light to market your home. Home shoppers often show little interest in a place where renovation work is only half done.

Likewise, a cluttered house can be hard to market to prospects, who often have difficulty picturing the space free of excess furniture and cardboard boxes.

-- Choose a midweek day to launch your listing.

“No one should obsess about the day of the week their home goes on the market. But I favor a Wednesday or a Thursday if possible,” Helfant says.

When a property appears on the Multiple Listing Service by Thursday, agents representing buyers have ample time to schedule a visit to the place during the popular weekend home-shopping hours.

“People who wait until Friday to list typically get little attention until the following Monday. But rest assured that buyers in a popular area with scarce inventory will discover your home no matter when it’s listed,” Helfant says.

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