Is Now a Good Time to Sell a House? Winter 2020

Posted on Nov 09, 2020


The general rule of thumb has always been that the best time to sell a house is in the spring. Why? It's real estate’s busiest season. Parents want to find a new house before the next school year starts, the weather is typically ideal for attending house showings and open houses, and homes have more curb appeal when things are in bloom. 

In reality, the idea of a “best” season to sell is a nuanced one, and the truth remains that sometimes people need to sell their homes in the winter - regardless of whether it’s the most ideal time of the year or not. Likewise, there are buyers who want or need to make that purchase before spring rolls around. If you’re thinking about selling your home in the winter, here’s what you need to know. 

Fewer Homes to Compete Against 

Because most people opt to sell their homes during the spring season, home inventory tends to be at its lowest during the winter. This is especially true during the holidays: most home sellers opt to put off selling their homes, if they have the option to, rather than trying to juggle holiday planning and home selling at the same time. According to Zillow, inventory drops by about 23% during the period of Dec 1. To Feb. 28.

If you’re a home seller, low inventory means less competition for interested buyers. Instead of being able to look at five available homes in your neighborhood, buyers may have only one choice this time of year: yours. 

And while the holidays may hold some people back from searching for a home, some people need to move - whether that’s for a job, kids, school, lease ending, etc - and can’t afford to delay their home search.

Buyer Intent is High

Buyers are often more serious in their intent if they’re looking for a new home during the winter. Most winter buyers likely have life circumstances that require them to move now, rather than waiting until the spring. Others have been trying to land a home for a while and want to get it done before the next pool of spring buyers come around.

"Inventory levels always drop in the winter, but the supply of homes has already been low all year," said senior buyer specialist Chad Eason. "Now there's a backlog of buyers who hoped to find something back in the spring that are still waiting for a home. These buyers are ready to move on. If you come on the market with a decent home that is well-staged, buyers are going to eat that up – even in the winter."

During the holidays, many people are looking to close a deal quickly rather than linger over back-and-forth exchanges . This can work to your advantage as a seller - you’ll spend less time dealing with people who come to open houses on a whim, or who schedule out 20 home showings without any real interest in most of the homes they’re seeing. 

Winter Can Give Your Neighborhood a Boost

According to the New York Post, about 60% of Americans surveyed report putting out holiday lights every winter. Others decorate with wreaths, outdoor decorations, and more. The winter season can help show your neighborhood in the best possible light (literally and figuratively) and help drive home the sort of warm feelings people want to associate with a place they’ll potentially live: neighborly, homey, and inviting. 

Less Listings = More Agent Attention

During the busiest season of the year, agents often have to split their time between numerous clients. Even the best agents may need extra time to answer your pressing questions when the springtime rush hits. In winter, though, fewer people trying to sell their homes means faster responses and more one-on-one attention from your agent - which can work to your advantage.

Winter Can Highlight Your Home’s Cold-Prep

Do you have an energy-efficient HVAC? What about newer, draft-proof windows? Winter is when buyers pay more attention to the nitty-gritty of utility bills and energy efficiency. Now prospective buyers don't have to wonder or take your word for it. In some ways, cold winter months can potentially highlight benefits of your home that would otherwise be difficult to observe in the summer. 

Complications in Winter

One of the big issues with selling your home during the winter is the inevitable lull that happens during the holiday season. “The holidays are always a challenge. We see a lot of slowdowns between Thanksgiving and Christmas especially,” explains listing agent Trish Gesswein

If you live in a cold region, potential buyers may also be put off by the weather and cold and limit their showings. For this reason, Gesswein advises taking an aggressive stance from the beginning when it comes to the listing price so that you’re not stuck with an unsold home for months and months. “For this season, it’s more important to list it appropriately and aggressively and not too high,” she explains. “Even though there’s a lack of inventory, you want to be able to sell that home right away.”

How to Prepare Yourself for Selling During the Winter

Winter comes with unique hurdles that you need to prepare yourself for if you plan to sell your home. Here’s what you need to keep in mind.

  • Homes take longer to sell: as noted in our “how long does it take to sell your home?” guide, the average time to closing is longest in winter - with February taking almost 60 days on average. That said, this number can vary widely depending on everything from the local market and neighborhood.
  • Financing may be delayed: during major holidays, banks are often closed. You may need to factor in extra time for your buyer’s offer to get to closing if your home is closing around, for example, Christmas. 
  • Expect lowballing: buyers will often test sellers during this time with lowball offers, on the assumption that selling during the slow season may mean you’re desperate. Make sure you’re priced to sell (not listing your home at more than it’s worth), and that you have a listing agent experienced in negotiating.
  • Maximize light: during the short winter days, it’s often dark out by the time home buyers come to view your home. Make sure all your lighting is bright and inviting - now is the time to change out busted bulbs, and add lamps when necessary to dark corners.
  • Flexibility during the holidays: you may want to relax during the holidays and take a break from selling your home, but keep in mind that for many potential buyers, the time off work during the holiday season is the perfect time to view homes. Try to be flexible and arrange your plans so that you can accommodate potential showings.

The Best Time to Sell a House: When You’re Ready To

While winter may not always be the best time to sell a house for various reasons (holidays, cold, inventory, etc), thousands of people buy and sell homes every winter nonetheless. If you need to sell your home in winter 2020, contact an experienced listing agent today who can help you map out a path to a successful sale. 


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