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Selling Your Home? Use the Off Season to Your Advantage

December 9, 2015
Selling a home this winter

Are you in a hurry to sell your house in the dead of winter because of a job change or other significant life event? Don’t sweat it. Selling your house during the winter months actually has some advantages—namely, motivated buyers. Plus, big-picture economic fundamentals still support a solid housing market and home sales. 

Macro Housing Outlook

The housing sector has been one of the supercharged areas of the economy this year amid a choppy period for consumer spending, and is on track to reach its best performance since 2007. In July, existing-home sales hit their highest level since before the Great Recession, and have stayed in a similar range ever since, according to the National Association of Realtors. 

At the same time, solid improvement in the labor market this year, interest rates at historic low levels, and pent-up demand from millennials and others who have postponed home buying in recent years have boosted the housing sector. Meanwhile, U.S. single-family, new-home sales dropped 11.5% to a fresh one-year low in September, according to the Commerce Dept. 

Inventory conditions tend to tighten during the winter months as fewer buyers bother with the hassle of listing their homes during a traditionally slow selling period. But that’s to your advantage if you do have to sell during the winter months. Even through September, existing-home inventories were tight at a 4.8-month supply, while a six-month supply of existing homes for sale is seen as normal.

Rising Home Prices 

A trend toward rising home prices this year also means you may be able to list your home sweet home for more than you expected. The S&P/Case-Shiller U.S. National Home Price Index registered a 4.7% annual increase through August 2015.

"Home prices continue to climb at a 4% to 5% annual rate across the country,” says David Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the Index Committee for S&P Dow Jones Indices. 

But don’t get too overzealous. A good chunk of home sellers are finding they have to take a knife to their prices. “Seller optimism is flying high right now,” says Nela Richardson, chief economist of Redfin, the online real estate database and brokerage services firm. “But buyers are more grounded now and pricing a home too high is risky. More sellers are having to drop their initial asking price this fall than a year ago. ”

Having said that, beware of buyers who think a winter home sale means you’re desperate to dump the place. “The notion that sellers are more apt to negotiate price is, of course, unfounded if a market is experiencing low inventory and high demand,” says Sharon Voss, president of the Orlando Regional Realtor Association. “Statistics speak, so ask your Realtor to provide sold data and comps of recently closed listings that justify your asking price."

Here is what home sellers need to know now: 

Love the foot traffic. Yes, movement through Sunday open houses may slow down during the winter months, but home sellers can rest easy knowing that potential homebuyers willing to troop through cold and wet conditions are motivated and serious buyers. 

"Homebuyers who shop during the off season, and in particular around the holidays, are typically very serious about getting into a house,” Voss says. “They are unlikely to waste their time viewing homes that don’t already appear to suit their criteria." 

Also, the winter season can mean a bigger bang for the effort. “A smaller pool of buyers will benefit the seller who dreads dropping everything to make the house presentable, and get the kids and pets out the door for showings," says Voss. 

Your home as a shining star. Less inventory on the market during these months is a good thing when it comes to competition for your house. Home sellers can take their marketing tactics a step further to target active buyers. 

"Winter is a good time to target marketing efforts to retirees, millennials, and those with very young children,” says Voss. “In other words, buyers who are not so tied to the school calendar.”

Undivided attention. Selling your home during the off season could mean more personalized hand-holding for your property, as Realtors and finance professionals generally have a lighter load. 

The same goes for inspectors, appraisers, title agents, and attorneys. That can be a big help in moving your home sale quickly without your file waiting—or worse yet, getting lost—in a stack on someone's desk. 

Tips for Fast Sales in Any Season

Home sellers looking to lock up a fast sale turn to home staging and de-cluttering strategies no matter what the time of year. During the winter months, Voss identifies several more suggestions to help your home move fast: 

  • Keep holiday decor to a minimum. Classic and elegant is best.
  • Maintain your landscaping as the weather permits, and make a special effort to keep walkways and entryways clear of snow. 
  • Turn on all the lights before showings to offset grey days and early sunsets. Make every effort to accommodate requests for daytime showings.
  • Turn up the thermostat for that welcoming, homey feeling. 

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