You’ve got plans to sell your home, but as you approach the end of the year, waiting until spring seems like torture. The house is already prepped, and you’re eyeing a new house you’d like to buy. So why wait?
You don’t have to. Spring may be the strongest home-selling season, but that doesn’t mean selling your home at any other time of year is impossible, even in the chilly winter months.
In fact, selling your home in the winter is getting easier in many parts of the U.S. The median listing price nationwide in February was $274,900, a 10 percent increase from February 2017, according to real estate information company realtor.com.
As housing markets continue to struggle for enough inventory to meet buyer demand and prices continue to rise, serious homebuyers are widening their scope and choosing to shop throughout the year, not just during the warmer months.
“It’s a misnomer that the market doesn’t pick up until late spring,” says Gretchen Rosenberg, president and CEO of Kentwood Real Estate in Denver and a member of the Denver Metro Association of Realtors. She says the Denver area doesn’t see much of a slowdown in winter, and sale prices often hit their peak in winter and early spring – during February, March and April.
As a seller, you can benefit from selling your home during winter rather than having to wait until spring. Lou Nimkoff, president of the Orlando Regional Realtor Association in Orlando, Florida, even recommends putting your home on the market before the end of the year.
“If you’re going to want to sell it in the spring, it’s a good idea to put it on the market in November and December,” he says, because you don’t want to miss out on the right buyer who’s already looking.
The holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve can be tricky for just about any industry other than retail, but even when time constraints mean selling as soon as possible is necessary, there’s no such thing as an impossible time of year to sell. “I’ve sold a house once on Christmas Eve and once on New Year’s Eve,” Rosenberg says.
If you do have options, Rosenberg recommends putting your house on the market either by the first couple of weeks of November or waiting until mid-January.
New Year’s resolutions help many homebuyers get into the house-hunting groove after the first of the year. If you like the idea of marketing your home at the start of 2019, reach out to real estate agents now to be sure you’re making all the right preparations to draw winter homebuyers to your property. That includes maintaining curb appeal to ensure you won’t discover any maintenance disasters during snowfall, such as a leak in the roof or frozen plumbing that causes pipes to burst.
There is some seasonality to real estate, of course – many buyers who don’t feel the urgency may put off house hunting until after the holidays. That's why it’s important to price your home realistically. The winter months aren’t the time to test the market and see how high of an offer you can get, but rather to price it correctly and attract the right buyer looking for a home like yours.
Depending on where you live, weather can also play a factor. Orlando benefits from a warm climate year-round, and Denver’s snowfall is typically followed by warmer days that melt everything. For Midwest or New England cities that see regular snowstorms in winter, Rosenberg says the housing market is more likely to “get a hit from the winter weather.”
But tough weather still doesn’t mean you can’t make a successful deal in the winter months. Here are five reasons the winter home-selling season may be your best option.
The buyers are as serious as you. You have to be pretty dedicated to prepare your home and put it on the market when the weather is cold and the winter holidays are either gearing up or just ending – it’s a busy time of year, after all. Fortunately, buyers are the same way during winter. While you may encounter buyers who have no timeline and want to tour dozens of houses in the spring, if a winter buyer is scheduling showings and touring houses, that means she’s looking to find the right house now.
“For you to take time out of your day to find a home that works for you in your area … you’re probably a pretty serious buyer,” Nimkoff says.
Buyers care less about days on market. There may be fewer active buyers, but their motivation for finding the right house means they won’t care about some of the superficial reasons that trip up buyers during more competitive selling seasons.
In the peak selling seasons of spring and summer, some buyers are put off if they see a house doesn't have an offer after 50 days on the market, and they often assume something’s wrong with the house and write it off. While 200 days on market may still be considered a red flag, houses selling in winter tend to stay on market a little longer anyway and shouldn’t put off the serious buyers. Realtor.com reports the median days on market for houses that sold in February was 83 days, while May 2018 saw a median of just 55 days on market, both a decrease in days compared to the same time periods in 2017.
Spring is just a few months away. If you can’t find a buyer during the winter months, spring is bound to bring plenty of eager homebuyers to the market. As long as you make sure the house stays staged for buyers and looks fresh as the weather warms up, people who haven’t seen your listing yet will want to view all their options.
You’re not competing with as many buyers for your next house. In most cases, you’re selling your house because you’re looking to buy another. You have the benefit of less competition for your ideal next house when you’re not shopping during the hotter spring sales months like April and May. Negotiating with contingencies that your house sells as well could be more acceptable with fewer buyers to compete with.
You'll get a realistic sense of listing price. As you’re prepping to put your home on the market in winter, you’ll probably see other nearby houses on the market as well, and they’re likely priced in line or slightly below recent sales to ensure they attract the right buyers. Follow their lead and market your home at the price it’s worth based on recent sales of comparable properties. The winter home-selling season is not the time to get ambitious with prices, it’s time to be realistic.
“We know that there are fewer buyers that are out there this time of year, so we’re going to make sure a house is priced right,” Nimkoff says.
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.
Devon Thorsby | June 5, 2019
Homeowners should not fret, as long as they're prepared for the possibility of a downturn.