Of all the days you’d expect a potential homebuyer to want to tour your listed home, Thanksgiving and Christmas are probably the two you would least expect. But it’s possible, and it’ll happen occasionally.
Before you laugh at your agent’s request to clear out for a couple hours for that would-be buyer to walk through your house while your turkey is still in the oven, consider the likelihood that this tour leads to an actual offer. If a buyer is looking on a holiday when most sellers are at home, “they’re dead serious – they’re ready to buy a house. The agents probably won’t take them out unless they know they’re serious,” says Michael Straley, a Realtor with eXp Realty who's based in Stafford, Virginia, and has dealt with more than one holiday home tour in the past.
Ultimately, you want to sell your house and for the right price, so passing on such an opportunity for a serious buyer to tour your home could be a mistake that leaves your house on the market for longer than you’d like.
[Read: The Guide to Selling Your Home.]
Selling your home in winter, considered the off-season for most of the U.S., leaves you with little room to make mistakes. You may opt to sell your home in winter because you’re on a deadline to move into your next house, or you may simply like the idea of avoiding the competition of all the other properties that put a for sale sign up at the first hint of spring. Either way, you want to be prepared to make your winter listing a success.
Here are four mistakes to avoid when trying to sell your home in winter.
Waiting to list your house. The biggest mistake you can make is trying to time when you put your house on the market. After all, you only need one buyer to make the sale a success, and the right buyer could be looking at any time.
Don’t overlook November and December, says Lou Nimkoff, president of the Orlando Regional Realtor Association in Florida. While the time between major winter holidays may seem like a period when people wouldn't want to buy a house, Nimkoff says homebuyers get just as excited to put in an offer on a house as they do to buy gifts during the holiday season.
As much as people are ready to buy rather than shop around for holiday gifts, he says, "The same holds true for (home)buyers with all the craziness that we go through in November and December with the Black Friday sales.”
Expecting zero interest on certain days. Whether it’s a holiday where you normally have a family gathering or a snow day when the kids are home from school, don’t be put off if you get a request to show the house on a day you may consider inconvenient.
“There are people out there that will sometimes want to see your property on Thanksgiving or on Christmas Eve,” Straley says, stressing that the majority of these serious buyers are moving to the area from another state or country and likely have little time to make a decision. That means your home is on their short list, and you don’t want to miss your window of opportunity.
If you’re trying to sell your home in the winter, consider having another family member host the festivities, or at least have a backup plan to make yourself scarce, like going out to a holiday movie or traversing the neighborhood to check out holiday lights. The same goes for days when you’re home due to bad weather conditions. Serious buyers may take the opportunity to look at houses once roads have been plowed, so be ready to head out of the house for a couple hours if need be.
Pricing your home too high. Even if there are active buyers every month of the year in your market, you won’t be seeing the same bidding wars that you may have grown accustomed to in the warmer months or over the past few years. Rising mortgage interest rates and the general cycle of real estate means buyers are seeing their bottom-line mortgage payment increase, which means they’re less likely to overpay for a house.
The share of homes on the market throughout the U.S. that have to undergo a price reduction is climbing, according to real estate information company Trulia. In a report released in October, 17.2 percent of all properties on the market in August underwent a price reduction.
To avoid becoming part of the nearly one-fifth of home sellers forced to lower their asking price, make sure you understand the current market and realistically approach pricing your home. Work with your real estate agent and look at the sale price of similar homes that have recently sold – not the asking price of those listed – to see how you can compete with what’s on the market.
Not preparing your home for guests. If your house is on the market, you should always have it ready for a tour – and in the winter, that may require extra preparation. You may have less control over how the grass or trees look in the winter, but you can ensure a safe passage to your front door.
“The last thing you want is for someone to walk up your driveway and slip and fall,” Nimkoff says.
Prepare before you get a forecast calling for any snow or icy conditions, and keep rock salt or ice-melt pellets of some sort on hand to ensure you can keep the sidewalk, driveway and porch or patio slip-resistant. Inside, keep your entryway or mudroom clear of wet boots, coats, hats and gloves.
In addition to the usual organizing and deep-cleaning that comes with staging your property, keeping your home warm and cozy when the weather is cold can help a potential buyer fall in love with your house.
The weather may be getting colder but that doesn't mean buyers' bids have to.
While spring may be the best time to put your home on the market, that’s not possible for every homeowner. If you missed out on the height of buying season, you can still sell your home for a good price in fall and even winter. But Scott McGillivray, real estate investor and host of the HGTV show “Income Property,” notes that selling a home during this time of year can be a whole new ball game. Here are 13 things you should know about putting your home on the market in fall and winter.Photos from spring look better.
Photos from spring look better.
It’s particularly beneficial to have marketing photos for the property done before the weather turns cold and trees go bare. Photos from spring or summer show a buyer what the home looks like in other seasons, when the exterior may appear more lush. “The last thing you want is no leaves on the trees or snow on the ground or dead grass [in the photos],” McGillivray says.Curb appeal still matters.
Curb appeal still matters.
While you can’t force the leaves to stay on the trees, it’s important to keep up on yard work while your home is on the market. “The grass should be mowed [and] there should be no leaves on the ground,” says Anslie Stokes, a Realtor at McEnearney Associates Inc., a real estate firm covering the District of Columbia metro area. Even if frost or other weather keeps you from planting colorful flowers or plants, a well-tended look will boost your curb appeal.There's little room for indoor maintenance mishaps.
There's little room for indoor maintenance mishaps.
You’ll need to be even more proactive with maintenance inside the home. Before the weather turns cold, make sure your boiler and other heating systems are functioning properly; most homeowners don’t discover heating problems until the weather prompts them to turn these systems on. “If you happen to have a showing on the first cold day and the boiler goes out, that’s not a good situation,” Stokes says.The more light, the better.
The more light, the better.
As the U.S. inches closer to winter the days continue to get shorter – and the end of daylight saving time (Nov. 6, 2016) means the sun sets even earlier, which can wreak havoc on showings to potential buyers. “It’s really hard to sell a house that’s dark,” says Eric Boyenga, who leads the Boyenga Team with his wife for Keller Williams Realty in the San Francisco Bay Area. He often brings additional floor lamps into homes he’s listing, and he recommends sellers install landscape lighting around the yard if it’s not there already.There will be fewer showings.
There will be fewer showings.
The market is always hottest in spring, so you shouldn’t expect the same foot traffic at an open house in October as in May. Boyenga says listings will typically see half or even a third as many showings in fall, but that doesn’t mean the homebuyers who do come aren’t ready to make a deal. “Though it’s tougher for sellers in the sense that there’s less of a buyer’s pool, the buyers who are out there tend to be the ones that are showing up and are serious and are pretty motivated,” Boyenga says.Marketing may need a further reach.
Marketing may need a further reach.
To help widen your pool of potential buyers, McGillivray recommends targeting people relocating to your area for work or those looking to have a second home in a different climate. If you live in a southern state, for example, market your home to appeal to snowbirds from northern states looking for a winter getaway, he says. McGillivray also notes businesses commonly relocate employees during the fall, so reaching out to relocation specialists or major employers in the area could give you some leads.Flexibility helps.
Winter can create additional obstacles for buyers, from kids' sports and clubs taking up evening and weekend hours to surprise storms that can throw off a scheduled meeting. It helps to be flexible when setting a closing date, which can range from taking four months to seal the deal to the buyer needing the home as quickly as possible. “I’ve seen as fast as a 20-day closing for someone who’s in a rush,” McGillivray says. The more flexible you are, the easier it is for everyone involved.Don't expect a price explosion.
Don't expect a price explosion.
As a seller you shouldn’t have to settle for less than the home is worth just because you’re marketing it in the fall, but be prepared for a little less fire behind the offers. Boyenga notes that fall listings are “still getting multiple offers, they just don’t necessarily go over asking [price].” Some buyers may think they can submit lowball offers because of the late season, but Boyenga says those aren’t offers worth taking unless you’re desperate to sell.Taking on more responsibility may make things easier.
Taking on more responsibility may make things easier.
Fall is a busy time for everyone, not just homebuyers. McGillivray notes your listing agent is likely to have personal commitments like kids’ football or soccer games, which can complicate showing your home or holding an open house. He says taking on some additional showing tasks or forgoing a real estate agent and selling the home yourself may help to avoid scheduling problems.Too much seasonal decor can be a turnoff.
Too much seasonal decor can be a turnoff.
Fall and winter are prime time for holiday decorations, and while a nod to the season can often work in your favor, Boyenga and Stokes stress avoiding religious themes or distracting decorations. Effective staging will “follow the holiday spirit or the wintertime spirit,” Boyenga says, with garlands or place settings made to look like the home is ready to host Thanksgiving dinner. A Christmas tree in the living room might work, but nativity scenes or menorahs are likely best put away before anyone tours the home. Pumpkins work for Halloween, but McGillivray warns against “spray painting spider webs” all over the front of your house.Highlight seasonal pluses.
Highlight seasonal pluses.
To push your home’s wintertime appeal, highlight rooms and features that serve as a great place to hang out while you’re stuck inside for the colder months. Stokes says a lit fireplace during a house showing on a cold day helps to create a cozy atmosphere, and a finished basement showcases room for kids to play when their outside activity is limited. “You want buyers to go down in the basement and say this would be a great play space,” she says.There's a point where you might want to hold off.
There's a point where you might want to hold off.
As we go deeper and deeper into fall, buyers actively searching for homes become fewer and fewer. And once it gets to Thanksgiving, it’s often wise to pull your home off the market or wait to list your property until after the new year because the number of buyers drops off during the major holidays. “Unless you really have to sell, we recommend waiting until … late January before [putting] it on the market,” Boyenga says.There are some local market exceptions.
There are some local market exceptions.
If you live in an especially hot neighborhood of a particularly hot market, the time of year may take second fiddle to the number of people vying to own on your street. Stokes uses the District of Columbia's Mount Pleasant neighborhood as an example: “There has been such a lack of inventory that everything that comes on the market has multiple offers.” The buyers who lose out in a bidding war are likely to jump at any chance to get the right house in the right neighborhood, it doesn’t matter if it’s the day after Christmas.Read More
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.