There’s something about selling a house that makes everyone procrastinate. Often, sellers will be financially and emotionally prepared in the fall, but they'll decide not to get serious until winter ends. That's a lot of time to wait.
It's a real estate phenomenon that extends beyond the northern states, according to Greg Jaeger, a vice president with USAA Bank, based in San Antonio.
"The perception is that all of the homebuying goes on during the spring and especially summer because families don't want to uproot their kids during a school year, and so people think that you aren't likely to be able to sell a home during the other months," he says.
But Jaeger and many other real estate professionals argue that you needn't wait. Even if it's three degrees below zero with a lot of snow falling, you should put up that For Sale sign if you’re ready, they say. Contrary to conventional wisdom, winter can be a terrific time to sell a house. Here’s why:
More serious buyers. Some people enjoy looking at homes even if they aren't sure they want to move. But when you're selling a house in the middle of the winter, you're much more likely to find serious prospects, says Debra Angilletta, a business coach and trainer in New York City, speaking from the experience of having bought and sold several properties.
"Families don't uproot their kids into new school systems in the winter by choice. It's by necessity," she says, adding that her real estate agent was once able to sell her house in February in less than 24 hours.
Jerry Grodesky, managing broker at Farm and Lake Houses Real Estate in Loda, Illinois, agrees. "Here in Illinois, there are always a determined group of buyers who want or have to buy in the offseason," he says. "Job and lifestyle changes don't stop because of a little snow and cold."
Patti Michels, a real estate agent in Downers Grove, Illinois, concurs. She says that in 2015, she sold 27 homes, five of them in December.
"If buyers are serious, they will stay in any market," she says, adding that late December can be a particularly good time to sell because a lot of people find it easier to get away from the office. Which is something to consider if you wait to sell your home next winter.
Less competition. On top of having more serious-minded buyers courting you, you'll have fewer sellers to compete with. Because other homeowners will have bought into the idea that it's a terrible time to sell, you're less likely to be disappointed to learn that the couple you were certain would make an offer was swayed by another house around the corner.
Less competition should, at least in theory, improve your odds of selling. Once spring arrives, Grodesky says, "the buyer has so many choices, they will be more selective and frugal in their negotiations."
You may save on additional costs. If you need to make home improvement repairs, either because your real estate agent suggested it or a potential buyer wants you to, you'll find contractors faster and who will likely work more cheaply during the cooler months.
Why? "They're less available during the summer when a lot of other homeowners want them," Jaeger says.
He adds that once you sell your home and want to make your getaway, moving companies' rates are often 30 percent cheaper in the winter.
But don't get cocky. If you're excited now and ready to put your home on the market right away, remember that there are some negatives still working against you. For instance, the sun sets earlier, so a lot of potential buyers may be looking at your house in the darkness. You also won't have those beautiful trees and flowers to do some of the selling for you. In other words, your curb appeal may be lacking.
That doesn't have to be the case, says Brett Ringelheim, a real estate agent in New York City. Most people buying a home in the winter are young couples who are envisioning a family, Ringelheim says.
"Having a snowman in the front of the home is very cute, because the buyers will think about one day we will build a snowman with our kids," he says, adding that having a fire going in the fireplace is another nice touch.
"The objective is to make the home feel very cozy and have the buyers feel like this is the right home for them as they begin to start a family," Ringelheim says. He says it's especially important to have the shades open with a lot of natural light coming into the home to counter the often cloudy skies that winter brings.
Michels also suggests clearing the sidewalks of any snow and ice. Sending potential homebuyers sliding into your azaleas is probably not the first impression you want to give anyone.
You'll also want to look at your exterior lighting and make sure it's top-notch to counter the early darkness, suggests Rachel Hillman, owner of Hillman Homes, a boutique real estate firm in West Newton, Massachusetts.
She also advises against getting too ambitious with pricing.
"Pricing is super important during the winter months. There is less inventory, and the buyers looking in this time frame are usually serious about buying, but for the right price. Overpricing in the winter can lead to way more days on market," Hillman warns.
Which means you could soon also learn what it's like to sell your home during the spring, summer and autumn, too.
Williams got his start working in entertainment reporting in 1993, as an associate editor at "BOP," a teen entertainment magazine, and freelancing for publications, including Entertainment Weekly. He later moved to Ohio and worked for several years as a part-time features reporter at The Cincinnati Post and continued freelancing. His articles have been featured in outlets such as Life magazine, Ladies’ Home Journal, Cincinnati Magazine and Ohio Magazine.
For the past 15 years, Williams has specialized in personal finance and small business issues. His articles on personal finance and business have appeared in CNNMoney.com, The Washington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, Forbes.com and American Express OPEN Forum. Williams is also the author of several books, including "Washed Away: How the Great Flood of 1913, America's Most Widespread Natural Disaster, Terrorized a Nation and Changed It Forever" and "C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America"
Born in Columbus, Ohio, Williams lives in Loveland, Ohio, with his two teenage daughters and is a graduate of Indiana University. To learn more about Geoff Williams, you can connect with him on LinkedIn or follow his Twitter page.