December 24th, 1972. It was already dark, and much later than Bill wanted to be out on Christmas Eve. It was his first year in the real estate business and he had taken a young couple through several houses on the market. As they were leaving the last listing, the clients were insistent, “Don’t you have any others?” The only other house had a split foyer floor plan that they had clearly stated they didn’t want. But Bill agreed to take them by. When they saw it, they fell in love with the house at first sight and bought it on Christmas Eve. That was Bill May’s first holiday sale and ever since, he has been enthusiastically encouraging sellers to put their homes on the market during the holiday season. This advice, from the now Broker with ERA Bill May Realty Co., has proven right year after year. At the same time, May cautions that sellers need to be aware of the unique challenges to listing a home during the holiday season. First of all, it might be just plain inconvenient for the seller. Add in the fact that darker, gloomier weather tends to bring out the flaws in some homes; or at least may hide any beautiful landscaping that would otherwise be a plus. Also, it might take a little longer for the sale, as there typically is a smaller pool of potential buyers. But these shouldn’t prevent sellers from listing their homes during the holiday season. They just need to employ strategies to overcome those challenges and take advantage of the fewer homes that may be on the market during this time. Tastefully decorated and lighted homes can reverse the limited curb appeal that the winter season brings. The buyers that are out there may be smaller in number, but tend to be more serious about actually purchasing, and tax benefits may be an incentive to close the deal before December 31st.
The Rules (Still) Apply
When they apply all the tried and true wisdom about listing a home, and then some, sellers can have a successful outcome with a holiday listing. Three of the most impactful “rules” are to work with the right REALTOR® to determine the best asking price; get the home in tip top selling shape; and shine the best light on the home with a great online presentation. And fourth, be patient. Even with spring and summer listings that may move at a faster pace, the right buyer still has to come along. Patience is even more critical with holiday listings because of the typically longer time on the market in December.
Price is (Still) King
Just like the rest of the year, don’t underestimate the impact of pricing for a holiday sale. Michael Guthrie, CEO and Principal Broker of Roy Wheeler Realty Co., stresses how important it is to hit the right listing price. It can be very tempting to try and squeeze just a few more thousands out of a home sale with a higher than justified asking price, but Guthrie warns against that strategy. “Pricing a property too high holds its own risks. Homes that are priced too high miss their target market. Qualified buyers who might find the home just right for their needs won’t see your home, or make an offer on it, because it is out of their price range.” The “let’s test the market by listing high and then drop the price if it doesn’t sell” approach is also likely to backfire. According to Guthrie, “A property receives its best exposure during the first three to five weeks after it is listed.” Any additional time on the market due to being overpriced will lead to a stale listing that is unlikely to attract buyers. Or it will be a target for a low-ball offer because a potential buyer can see how long a home has been on the market. No one is more qualified to help determine that best price and avoid those traps than an experienced REALTOR®. Their access to data about specific neighborhoods and their Comparative Market Analysis will help establish the best price for each listing.
Curb Appeal is (Still) Critical
Admittedly, one of the challenges to a holiday listing is the potential lack of curb appeal. Winter months can be dreary. With beautiful landscaping buried under snow or slush, grey skies, and dark evening showings, it’s critical to eke out whatever curb appeal can be mustered. There’s nothing worse than having an open house and seeing cars slow down just enough to take a look, and then drive away. So stash the inflatable Grinch yard decorations. Instead, set up an invit- ing and bright, but not Clark Griswold bright, exterior with a tastefully executed seasonal look. Make sure walkways and both front and rear entryways are clear and well lit. Splurge on a new doormat that will keep the rain and slush outside. Don’t forget about the gutters and any exterior drainage issues. Gutters full of leaves and drips where there should be none will raise the antennae of anyone thinking about buying. That “drip, drip, drip” a potential buyer hears (or the puddle around the foundation) equates to money down the drain and signals that repairs need to be made. Worse yet, issues like these paint a picture that the house is poorly maintained before a buyer prospect even crosses the threshold.
Winter dreariness can also creep inside a home and magnify existing flaws. Drafts, dampness, and poor lighting all detract from a home’s appeal to potential buyers. So it’s critical to make sure that all lights, windows, doors, and insulation are performing at their peak. Then make use of good lighting and comfortable heat (just turn the thermostat up a degree or two) to help your home feel warm and cozy. During this time of year, the extra lights and decorations can imbue a brighter, more inviting and homier feel that encourages buyers to linger a few minutes longer in your house as they imagine future holidays living there. May encourages sellers to put up greenery, lights and tasteful decorations. Of course, de-cluttering and staging the home is still important. “But get the presents wrapped and under the tree, even if they’re just empty boxes. A holiday atmosphere usually brings to mind home and family, and can help the buyers picture themselves happy there.”
Picture Perfect for the Holidays
Now the price is right; the maintenance and sprucing up have been done; the home is tastefully decorated. It’s time to make sure the visuals for the listing shine the best light possible on the home so that it gets the attention it deserves. Guthrie explains that “85-90 percent of people start their home search on the internet. Therefore, the first impression doesn’t just happen when a buyer prospect walks through the door. The pictures posted of your home can make the difference on whether or not they choose to contact someone to arrange a showing.” There are lots of options to grab the prospect’s attention, make that positive first impression, and get her out the door to see the home in person. Chastity Morgan, Broker with Mountain Area Realty, reports that most agents include professional home photography for their clients. There is a stark difference in quality between professional photography and snapping a few shots with a phone, but if a client has a good photograph of the home in another season, Morgan will consider using it. She knows that first impressions are everything to today’s online buyers. In addition to the standard still pictures, a REALTOR® can advise on the options for 3-D video tours and overhead photography. Any home that includes unique outdoor amenities or features, or has significant acreage, will probably benefit by including overhead photography with the online listing. Drones have dropped the price of overhead photos dramatically, making them well worth considering.
Patience is (Still) Required
A holiday listing can be even more challenging because December listings already tend to be on the market longer when compared to the rest of the year. CAAR statistics for the past five years show that December listings, along with January and February, are among the highest for days on the market. These numbers hammer home the importance of making sure the home is priced to sell from day one. One of the reasons sellers hesitate to list their home over the holidays, or even outside of the traditional spring and summer listing periods, is that they are afraid they will miss the vast majority of the buyers. The prevailing belief is that most home buyers are tied into a traditional school year and only want to move during the summer school break. This is unfounded on several levels. According to Zillow, fewer than half of today’s buyers have children, so moving during the summer just isn’t as important as people think. And in today’s economic world, people change jobs or living situations year-round and aren’t nearly as concerned about waiting until summer to move. Their numbers may be fewer, but holiday real estate prospects tend to be more serious. And the holiday calendar can support a wintertime move almost as easily as waiting until summer. Beginning with the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, many workers are able to take more time off at year’s end, and can fit house hunting—and a move— into their schedules. For investors in particular, a holiday home purchase can fit in nicely for tax benefits.
Stand Out with Less Competition
A holiday listing has the added benefit of having less competition than it would have during the crowded spring and summer months. Yes, there may be fewer buyers, but there are also likely to be fewer houses on the market. So the homes that are listed get more attention from buyers and agents. The reality is that any month can be a good month to list a home. May knows that keeping a home “ready to show during the holidays is inconvenient. But if your house is not on the market, a buyer is not going to just appear. It’s like trying to fish without putting a line in the water.” As they say in the lottery, “You have to play to win.” Selling a home is the same. You have to list to win, and the best chance for winning the sale is by following the tried and true “rules of the game.” List it at the right price with a knowledgeable REALTOR®; make sure the home is in great shape inside and out; pay attention to marketing. For those holiday listings, put up the lights; nudge the thermostat up a degree or two; bake cookies (really); cue the Vince Guaraldi. And be patient. Carla Huckabee writes about how real estate and the built environment impacts health.