13 Things to Know About Selling Your Home in Fall and Winter

Tips for preparing your home for sale when the weather is cooler and days are shorter.

By Devon Thorsby, Editor, Real Estate |Oct. 6, 2016, at 12:33 p.m.

13 Things to Know About Selling Your Home in Fall and Winter

Slideshow

The weather may be getting colder but that doesn't mean buyers' bids have to.

Home For Sale Real Estate Sign in Front of Beautiful New House in the Snow.

(iStockPhoto)

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.

Woman in business suit takes a photo of a house.

(Getty Images)

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.

Woman raking leaves

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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.

Close-up of man hands setting the temperature of water in Electric Boiler

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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.

Modern house illuminated at night

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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.

Couple With Real Estate Agent in Apartment

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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.

Red and white open house sign close-up with more signs in the background.

(iStockPhoto)

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.

Flexibility helps.

A house key on a calendar background

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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.

A sold sign pictured outside a home is pictured.

iStock Photo

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.

Real estate agent showing house to a couple.

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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.

Woman and golden retrievers looking out front glass door at a home decorated with orange lights, spider webs and pumpkins for halloween.

(Getty Images)

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.

Fireplace with fire burning

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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.

A Thanksgiving turkey is pictured.

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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.

Historic townhouse architecture of US capital.

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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.

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Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

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 dthorsby@usnews.com.

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