Home sales typically cool down along with the weather in the fall and winter months – but realtors say that some savvy sellers can quickly sell a property for a decent price this time of year.
Because fewer people are on the market in the fall means you have less competition. Plus, people on the prowl for houses at this time of year tend to be more serious shoppers, compared to the browsers and neighborhood nosy bodies who might make a day of hitting open houses just for fun in the spring.
“People who are house hunting now are the real buyers,” says Billy Wynn, a San Fernando Valley, California, realtor. “They wouldn’t be out there if they didn’t need to be.”
Some other forces are bringing buyers out now: While it’s still tough to get a mortgage, lending standards are starting to loosen up. The average FICO credit score on conventional loans used to purchase homes in August was 727, down from 738 a year ago, according to Ellie Mae. That, combined with the exit of big investors, should bring more buyers to the market. At about 4.2 percent, mortgage rates are still relatively low.
This market is also a boon to trade-up buyers, many of whom were sidelined when the housing bust left them without enough equity to sell without bringing cash to the table. About 950,000 homeowners regained equity in the second quarter of this year, according to CoreLogic. The National Association of Realtors actually expects home sales to be stronger in the second half of this year.
For a quick sale, try these steps:
1. Take photos ASAP.
If you live in the Northeast and are thinking of listing your home in the next few months, get a few shots of the exterior now. That way, when you’re ready to list, you won’t be stuck with photos of bare trees and a lawn under several inches of snow.
In general, it’s better to list your property earlier in the fall anyway. “Thanksgiving is a dead week, and things are slower during the holidays,” says Michael Corbett, a real estate expert with Trulia. “Not only are buyers home celebrating with their families but realtors are, too.”
2. Price your home correctly.
Yes, it’s a seller’s market right now but the pace of price increases is slowing. Bidding wars are becoming less frequent and tend to occur when homes are underpriced, realtors say. The best way to sell a home quickly is to price it correctly at listing. Otherwise it may sit on the market until you cut the price, which could push you into the competitive spring selling season with a stale listing.
3. Keep it warm.
Have all the curtains drawn back to provide as much light into the home as possible. That, combined with a constantly open front door that lets in potential buyers, can make for a chilly house. Be sure to keep an eye on the thermostat so that the temperature remains comfortable. Even better than turning up the heat: Start a fire in your fireplace, to show off that feature, says Zillow’s real estate expert Brendon DeSimone.
4. Go easy on the holiday decorations.
You may want to put your holiday cheer on hold this year, at least when it comes to sprucing up the homestead. Holiday decorations add clutter and religious-themed décor could turn off some buyers. A simple understated wreath or a basket of acorns and gourds is plenty. “Nobody wants to see ten inflatable ghosts on your lawn for Halloween,” says David Fogg, a real estate agent in Burbank, California.
Clear out non-holiday related clutter, too. Start now; the process can take longer than you think. Remove as many personal items as possible to make it easier for potential buyers to see themselves living there. Aim to clear away about 50 percent of your belongings. Get rid of anything you haven’t used in a year, and put extra furniture or other large items in storage.
5. Refocus on curb appeal. Even in the dead of winter, curb appeal matters, though you don’t have the benefit of lush plants. It might be worth an extra coat of paint on your shutters and doors to help them pop against the bleaker winter background. Also, make sure there aren’t any newly exposed cracks or other problems that get hidden behind the foliage during the year.
Make sure your home is well-lit from the outside, too, says Lisa West, a realtor in Coronado. California. Buyers often drive by potential homes after work; since it gets dark earlier in the winter, you want them to see your house easily.
Also, consider a few minor upgrades on the inside, like new cabinet hardware or light fixtures. Small projects can freshen things up and help set your home apart. Consider getting a home inspection to make sure there are no surprises that could derail a sale.