Posted by Damon L. Chavez on Friday, November 4th, 2016 at 5:10pm.
Not so long ago, only truly desperate owners listed their homes during the holidays because they could expect to attract only bottom-feeder buyers eager to take advantage of someone else’s ill fortune.
Today’s real estate market is virtually season-less. With millions of listings available online, buyers house hunt all year long online. In just a few years, the holiday home selling season has become a nearly as busy as the balance of the year. Last year nearly a million homes were sold during the holiday period, about 17 percent of all homes sold in 2015. Yet 2015 was actually slower than 2014, when 1.12 million homes were sold during the holidays, down 18.5% from their most recent peak level of 1.13 million in 2014.
The new holiday season is a time when motivated sellers and motivated buyers cut to the chase, and many do deals that eluded them the previous ten months of the year. Holiday home selling is not for the faint of heart. Buyers want to buy for a good price and settle in time to take transaction-related tax breaks in the current year. Sellers don’t want to close up shop and wait until the following spring. It is not a time to test the waters with an inflated price or to fill an offer with contingency clauses. In the holiday season, there are no second chances and no room for mistakes.
If you are thinking of selling your home over the holidays, here are seven tips to make your Christmas merrier.
Not every real estate agent is available over the holidays and has a Rolodex full of lenders, inspectors, title companies and settlement agents also willing to work hard in December under deadline pressure. This is not the time for hit-or-miss marketing. Good holiday marketers are social media mavens. They know how to identify and reach potential buyers who have been looking for several months and may be losing patience, relocating families, including corporate and military, looking to buy quickly, move-up buyers who sold their current homes late in the summer. Shop hard for an agent who is experienced at holiday selling in your market. If you are working with a large brokerage, ask your listing agent if they have a holiday specialist to consult for two months.
The biggest mistake you can make is to decorate like grandma or the guy in the National Lampoon movie. Do NOT go overboard on the holiday decorations. What you think is cute may turn off someone else. In the holiday selling season, you can’t afford that. Play it safe and use a few well-placed lights, a tasteful wreath and a tree that warms up the living room and echoes the season. Your goal is a de-cluttered, open and comfortable but clean feeling that shows off your real house, not your gingerbread one.
Once your house looks terrific, hire a professional photographer for a new set of photos or a video to show off your house with a fire in the fireplace and an uncluttered curbside view. Work with your Realtor to redo your listing. If your house has been on the MLS all summer, pull it for thirty days during October to reset it’s time on market “clock” on Homes.com and other sites. Rewrite the listing to emphasize the home’s holiday features—entertainment spaces, fireplace, kitchen features, neighborhood festivities, access to shopping and dining.
When thinking about pricing your home over the holidays, remembers what the Stones advised: “You can’t always get what you want, but you can always get what you need.” When you price your house to sell over the holidays, you don’t get a second chance. Do your homework with Homes.com’s valuation tool to find out your home’s real value and don’t go much higher. After all, buyers are looking at the same numbers. If you can’t afford to price to sell, chances are good you’ll still be trying to sell when spring arrives.
Borrow a page from retailers who extend their most important selling season by starting their holiday advertising before Thanksgiving. You are also operating with a tight time frame. Get your house ready, post your new listing and schedule an open house to take advantage of the free time buyers may have over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Qualify every offer carefully. Blow off bottom feeders who are looking for desperate sellers. Don’t waste time with buyers who want time-wasting contingencies like Hubbard clauses. Don’t take a chance on shaky financing. Don’t take your house off the market until you are sure you have a winner.
If your buyer wants to write off closing costs like real estate taxes, mortgage insurance premiums or points on their 2015 returns, they may need to close by January 1. So your buyer may be as motivated as you are to get the deal done as soon as possible. Some appraisers, inspectors, title companies or inspectors may not be willing to put in overtime in December. With the new “know before you owe” requirements, many lenders may have a very hard time closing in 3o days. That’s when having a super real estate agent with a great Rolodex can save the day.
So maybe you don’t get a great offer during the holidays. Don’t panic and pull your listing or cut your price to a fire sale level. January is not such a bad time to sell. Inventories of homes for sale hit yearly lows during January, so there’s not much competition. Buyers are scarce, but no scarcer than during the holidays. There are always motivated buyers who need to buy quickly, like families relocating for a new job or move up buyers who have sold their current homes. Often, new buyers — with their fresh New Year’s resolutions to stop wasting money on renting a home — are ready to jump into the market as soon as possible.