A winter scene in Chicago

Even in the cold weather, homebuyers are eager to start looking for a property to buy. (Getty Images)

In mid-January, Kim Colaprete held an open house for a property that had just hit the market in Seattle. With nearly 100 people attending over two days, it was a busy event, says the broker of Team Diva Real Estate with Coldwell Banker Bain. Earlier in the month, in Chicago, the Matt Laricy Group had a weekend packed with 20 open houses, drawing in large crowds.

"They were slammed," says Matt Laricy, managing partner at the Matt Laricy Group, a division of real estate brokerage Americorp. "You couldn’t even walk in these places."

In cities across the country, many home shoppers are not waiting until April, which often marks the start of the buying season. Instead, they are now commencing their search early in the new year, according to realtor.com. A realtor.com report states that last year the spring home shopping season began in January for 20 of the nation’s 100 largest metro areas. From Seattle to Atlanta and from San Jose to New York, the first month of the year saw the highest number of listing views on the housing platform. In most of these 20 cities, February also registered a surge in online traffic.

"January has become really an early month for the spring buying season," says George Ratiu, senior economist at realtor.com. "It is a little bit ironic since it is in the middle of winter. For buyers, there's very little downtime anymore."

[Read: 10 Mistakes to Avoid When Selling Your Home]

Spurred by low interest rates but constrained by tight inventory, home shoppers’ early start to the buying season offers leverage to sellers willing to market their residences in the winter months.

This January, according to realtor.com data, homes sold in 86 days, or a couple of days faster than a year ago. While winter generally elicits price discounts, this dynamic might be changing as well. According to realtor.com, although slightly over 15% of active listings sustained price cuts in January, their share of the overall market dropped by half a percentage point. The share of listings that saw their prices increase rose by nearly half a percentage point as well.

Still, Vincent Biondillo, co-founder of Norhill Realty in Houston, warns that after the January spike in buyers’ interest, February could usher price drops if homes fail to sell. “There are more positive attitudes going into January because you assume once you break free of the holidays that activity is going to increase,” he says. “For some properties that doesn't actually happen. Those positive feelings start to diminish in February (and you are more likely to see) price cuts.”

Overall, however, 60% of the agents polled for HomeLight’s 2020 outlook survey of top agents say that homes sell for the same amount – or even more – in winter compared to other seasons.

While the national housing market appears to shift away from the common winter mode of inertia and discounts, sellers should consider local dynamics when deciding whether to list. Two important aspects to think about are:

  • Price.
  • Preparation.

Here is how winter is swaying these prime facets of the home-selling process in several cities.

[See: Types of Roads That Can Have a Big Impact on Home Sales]

Pricing Right Remains Crucial

Aspirational pricing – the practice of setting an asking price above actual value – is losing its popularity as buyers, though pressured by few options on the market, are becoming more educated about costs. Thus, even if winter may outline a seller’s market in some locales, pricing a home right remains crucial.

With little available stock over the last several years, San Jose has seen prices skyrocket. Now, they have “plateaued,” says Sophia Delacotte, real estate agent in the city affiliated with Compass, pushing sellers to rethink their pricing strategies. Along with that, she says more sellers listed their homes this January (rather than in March when the market usually picks up) compared to the same time a year ago.

“Right now, the price you list is usually the exact price you sell for,” Delacotte said. “Do not overprice because your house is going to sit on the market.”

In Denver, Paul Aceto, leader of the Aceto Team at Realty One Group Five Star, says that while January usually stirs momentum, March and April continue to be the optimal months to list. “The fact that the average sold price does tend to be lower during the winter months means that is not the ideal time to list,” Aceto says.

Beyond its relevance for the sale of individual homes, price is a characteristic with broader implications. For instance, in Chicago, condos and townhomes asking under $1 million generate demand in January, while single-family houses are yet to emerge on the market, Laricy says.

“If those (single-family home sellers) would come out in January rather than March or April like they do, I bet all those people would sell,” he says. “I do think there's an advantage going on earlier because there's a lot of people who want to get a jump-start and January and February are your best months in the year for that. I would much rather be on a market then than in June or July.”

In Seattle, single-family houses appear to enjoy a similar advantage of limited stock in the cold months. "In the single-family home market, we have seen, this January, quite a few multiple offers," Colaprete says. "Almost every buyer that we've worked with has had to get involved in a multiple-offer (situation)."

While it is an amalgam of many micro-markets, New York City often sees modestly priced properties better withstand the winter cold, says George Case, real estate agent with Warburg Realty.

“If they're lower priced and smaller units – for instance, a studio or one-bedroom – it's kind of an ideal time because you have less competition and less units coming onto the market in the wintertime,” Case says.

Case adds that he would usually hold off listing multimillion-dollar properties at least until January, when city dwellers return from vacations and salary bumps greet some of them back. “The Manhattan market responds quite a bit to the financial market,” he says. “We see bonuses being announced and distributed in January and February. So that's usually a fairly good time to introduce a property to the market.”

[See: 11 Things to Know About Selling Your Home in Spring and Summer]

In Cold Weather, Preparation Means More

Preening a home for sale is a ritual that assumes new dimensions in winter, especially in cities with inclement weather.

Buyers often begin to form an opinion about a house before they even step foot in it. Hence, the importance of curb appeal. Yet, the latter is hard to maintain in snow and ice.

“Shoveling and keeping a path clear so that buyers don't have a hurdle with coming to see your home is a big deal,” says Leigh Marcus, a Chicago-based agent with @properties. “That's still part of your curb appeal in the winter.”

Once inside, Marcus says, a warm home – with temperatures at or above the mid-60s Fahrenheit – welcomes buyers to comfortably look around. For vacant properties, keeping the heat on generates an additional cost for sellers, but in cold locales it pays off, Marcus says. Large-scale winterizing, however, is a measure sellers should carefully weigh. While it may show that the current owners have taken steps to avert cold weather-induced damage to their unoccupied property, it could also discourage buyers.

Moreover, frigid temperatures could complicate, if not render impossible, simple tasks such as painting the walls and cleaning the gutters before listing. Thus, agents often advise sellers to take on this type of chore in the fall. Property photography is another prelisting activity better done in advance.

“That way you also don't have to worry about rushing to get your Christmas decorations down,” Laricy says.

Whether winter will continue to shape up as an ideal time to list and sell hinges on a slew of national and local factors. A prime one is the supply of new construction, which today is far below demand across the country, says Ratiu of realtor.com. “It's possible that for the next year or two, the increased level of activity during the winter months will remain,” he says.

10 Secrets to Selling Your Home Faster

Ensure a quick sale.

Upscale modern house for sale

(Getty Images)

Selling your home quickly not only allows you to move on with your life, it also means fewer days of keeping your home in pristine condition and leaving every time your agent brings prospective buyers for a tour. According to real estate information company Zillow, the best time to list a home for sale is on a Saturday between May 1 and 15; homes listed during those times sell six days faster and for 0.7% more than the average annual home price. But how fast your home actually sells, and at what price, depends on factors beyond timing. Here are 10 secrets to selling your home faster, no matter when you list it.

Updated on March 20, 2020: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

Pick a selling strategy.

Pick a selling strategy.

African American neighbors greeting each other over fence

(Getty Images)

Before putting a for sale sign in your yard, it's important to pick the selling strategy that will work best for you. The for-sale-by-owner option may be best if you feel confident in your ability to market the home and negotiate. If your time is better spent on other details, a real estate agent could be best. If you need to sell the home quickly, you may want to inquire with an iBuyer, an entity that can make the deal close faster than the typical homebuyer. You should feel confident in the selling strategy you choose, and avoid switching from one to the other while your house is on the market. Buyers could be turned off by the constant changing of circumstances.

Invest in a professional photographer.

Invest in a professional photographer.

Close-up of a man photographing with a camera

(Getty Images)

According to NAR's 2019 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 44% of recent buyers started their search online. Of those, 87% found photos very useful in their home search. If your listing photos don’t show off the features of your home, prospective buyers may reject it without even taking a tour or going to the open house. Hiring a professional photographer and posting at least 30 photos of your home, inside and out, is a good way to attract buyers. Photography is often free for home sellers, as shoots are often conducted at the expense of real estate brokers as part of marketing the property.

Clean everything.

Clean everything.

Not prepared to miss a spot!

(People Images/ Getty Images)

Nothing turns off buyers like a dirty house. Hire a company to deep clean if you can’t do it yourself. “When the (home) is on the market, no matter what time of day or night, it should be clean and neat,” says Ellen Cohen, a licensed associate real estate broker with real estate brokerage Compass in New York City.

Key places to clean while your home is on the market include:

  • Kitchen countertops.
  • Inside cabinets and appliances.
  • Floors and room corners where dust collects.
  • Shelves.
  • Bathroom counters, toilets, tubs and showers.
  • Inside closets.
  • Windows, inside and out.
  • Scuffed walls, baseboards and doors.
  • Basement and garage.

Depersonalize the home.

Depersonalize the home.

Modern living room

(Getty Images)

Remove all your family photos and memorabilia. You want buyers to see the house as a home for their family, not yours. Remove political and religious items, your children’s artwork (and everything else) from the refrigerator and anything that marks the house as your territory rather than neutral territory. The same goes for any collections such as figurines, sports memorabilia or kids' toys that can make a buyer think less about the house and more about you. Family photos can be replaced by neutral art or removed entirely – just be sure to remove any nails and repair nail holes where any hanging photos used to be.

Let the light in.

Let the light in.

Sunlight through a bedroom window.

(Getty Images)

People love light and bright, and the best way to show off your house is to let the sunshine in. Open all the curtains, blinds and shades, and turn lights on in any dark rooms. If the natural light situation is lacking in any room, strategically place lamps or light sources throughout to set the mood. And while your house is on the market, open all curtains and turn on lights every time you leave your house for work or errands in case you get word that a buyer would like to tour the space before you get home.

Be flexible with showings.

Be flexible with showings.

Woman realtor talking to a young family

(Getty Images)

Buyers like to see homes on their schedule, which often means evenings and weekends. Plus, they want to be able to tour a home soon after they find it online, especially in a hot market where they're competing with other buyers. If your home can be shown with little or no notice, more prospective buyers will see it. If you require 24 hours’ notice, they may choose to skip your home altogether. "That's one less person who gets to see the property," Cohen says. Be ready to leave quickly as well – if you're still cleaning up or hanging around outside when the buyer arrives, it can make for an awkward interaction.

Set the right price.

Set the right price.

House with for sale sign in yard and open wooden fence

(Getty Images)

No seller wants to leave money on the table, but the strategy of setting an unrealistically high price with the idea that you can come down later doesn’t work in real estate. Buyers and their agents have access to more information on comparable homes than ever, and they know what most homes are worth before viewing them. A home that’s overpriced in the beginning tends to stay on the market longer, even after the price is cut, because buyers think there must be something wrong with it. "Pricing correctly on the lower side tends to work much better," Cohen says.

Remove excess furniture and clutter.

Remove excess furniture and clutter.

Self storage units

(Getty Images)

Nothing makes a home seem smaller than too much big furniture. Rent a self-storage container or a storage unit and remove as much furniture as you can. It will immediately make your home seem calmer and larger. Remove knickknacks from all surfaces, pack them away and store the pieces upon which you displayed them. Take a minimalist approach to books, throw rugs and draperies, and clear off your kitchen and bathroom countertops, even removing appliances you normally use. If you can scale down the contents of your closets, that’s even better, because it makes the home's storage space look more ample.

Repaint in neutral colors.

Repaint in neutral colors.

Couple preparing to paint living room

(Getty Images)

A new coat of paint will do wonders to freshen up your home, both inside and out. This is the time to paint over your daughter’s purple bedroom, nix the quirky turquoise bathroom and cover up the red accent wall in your dining room. Busy wallpaper can also turn off potential buyers. Your goal is to create a neutral palette so buyers can envision incorporating their own personal touches in the home. "You just want people to see the space for what it is," Cohen says. Rather than a stark white, consider neutral shades of gray, taupe and cream on the walls.

Spruce up the front of your home.

Spruce up the front of your home.

With white pillars, steps in the entry way

(Getty Images)

You’ve heard it 100 times before, and it’s still true: Curb appeal matters. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. A new or freshly painted front door, new house numbers and a new mailbox can breathe life into your entryway. Fresh landscaping and flowers in beds or in pots also enhance your home’s first impression. Trim trees and bushes, tidy up flower beds, remove dead leaves from plants, clear out cobwebs from nooks near the entrance and pressure-wash walkways, patios and decks. Leave the outdoor lights on, too, because prospective buyers may drive by at night.

Here are 10 tips to sell your home faster:

Here are 10 tips to sell your home faster:

Aerial view of house roofs in suburban neighborhood

(Getty Images)

  • Pick a selling strategy.
  • Invest in a professional photographer.
  • Clean everything.
  • Depersonalize the home.
  • Let the light in.
  • Be flexible with showings.
  • Set the right price.
  • Remove excess furniture and clutter.
  • Repaint in neutral colors.
  • Spruce up the front of your home.

Read More

Tags: real estate, housing, housing market, existing home sales, pending home sales, new home sales, home prices

Dima Williams is a reporter and editor who covers the residential real estate industry with an emphasis on economics, policy as well as luxury. As a managing editor for a national real estate website and magazine, Williams extensively collaborated with top producing agents across the country to develop expert opinion pieces and advice articles. Connect with Williams on LinkedIn.

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