So you’ve begun thinking about selling your house and you figure: Let’s wait until the spring or early summer before listing. The yard will look its best and potential buyers will be out in force. And everybody knows that winter is dead time for real estate.
Right? At least that’s the widely held belief. But national statistical studies suggest it’s not necessarily the case. Winter — officially Dec. 21 through March 20 this year — can be a surprisingly advantageous time to list, shop, negotiate and buy. Consider some findings by researchers at Redfin, the online realty brokerage.
Last week Redfin studied home listing, sales price and time-on-market data from 2010 through this past October from around the country, updating a two-year analysis it completed last year. It concluded that if you want to sell for more than your asking price, listing in December, January, February and March gives you a better chance on average than if you list any time after June through November. During the past three years, listing during these four months has produced higher percentages of above-asking price sales than any months other than April and May. In 2012, at the inception of the housing rebound, December listings produced the highest percentage of above-asking sales for the entire year — 17 percent.
If your goal is to sell relatively quickly, February “is historically the best month to list, with an average of 66 percent of homes listed then selling within 90 days,” according to Redfin. In its two-year study completed last December, researchers found that in each of 19 major markets, including cold-weather cities such as Boston and Chicago, “home sellers were better off listing their homes in the winter than during any other season.”
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Researchers are quick to note that the advantages of listing in winter compared with other seasons are not huge. But the fact that winter produces at least competitive or better results by some measures should encourage some potential sellers to get into the game sooner rather than later.
Nela Richardson, chief economist for Redfin, says houses “that are priced right and show well can sell any time” of the year. What many potential sellers may not know, however, Richardson said in an interview, is that shoppers who are active during the winter months “are serious buyers. Most people are not window-shopping” in December and January, as many do in the spring months. Winters buyers wouldn’t be trudging through the bad weather if they didn’t have a pressing need to purchase a house.
Some sellers also pull their unsold houses off the market during the winter, hoping for better results in the spring. By doing so, they leave a smaller inventory of active listings — lessening the competition for sellers who list in January and February, ahead of the pack.
Winter-season buyers may find some sellers more flexible about negotiations over prices and terms than they would during the middle of the spring. Mary Bayat, a broker active in the Washington, D.C., market and chairman-elect of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors, says in the past two weeks alone she has participated in three deals involving sellers who were far more open to negotiations than they were months ago.
“People get more realistic at this time of the year,” Bayat told me, especially when their properties haven’t attracted serious offers during the summer and fall. So it’s a good time for smart shoppers as well.
Paul Stone, an agent in Redfin’s Denver office, says many large corporations in his area transfer employees and hire new ones early in the year. Despite what can be snow and frigid weather in January and February, Stone says “we get a lot of out-of-staters moving in (then) and needing to buy homes.” That, in turn, creates opportunities for winter-time listers who opt not to wait for better weather in the spring.
Bottom line: Real estate does not hibernate from December through March. More than five million homes typically are resold annually in the U.S., and many of them are listed and sold during the winter months. In strong local housing markets such as Seattle, Austin, Boston, San Diego, Washington, D.C., Phoenix and Los Angeles, the likelihood of selling your home within 180 days is highest when you list during the winter months compared with any other season, according to Redfin’s 2013 study.
Winter is warmer for real estate than you might think.
Kenneth Harney is executive director of the National Real Estate Development Center.