Spring may not be the best time to put a house on the market

April 18

It’s common knowledge verging on holy writ in real estate: Spring is the absolute best time of the year to sell a house.

Right?

But is there hard statistical evidence that listing your house in April, May or June — flowers blooming, birds chirping, lawns greened up after a tough winter — actually nets you a higher price or a shorter time from listing to sale?

Yes, but it’s not as clear-cut as you might imagine. There are important nuances in the data. Reviews of realty industry and academic studies suggest that while sales totals generally are highest in May and June, they actually reflect listings, contracts and buyer searches that occur earlier in the year.

A study of 1.1 million home listings between 2011 and 2013 in 19 major markets by the national realty brokerage firm Redfin found that, contrary to popular impressions, houses put on the market in winter — defined as Dec. 21 through March 21 — had a nine-percentage-point greater probability of selling within 180 days and at a smaller discount to the initial list price than houses put on the market during the spring months (March 22 through June 21). The advantage jumped to 10 percentage points over summer listings (June 22 through Sept. 20.) Winter listers ultimately sold for prices 1.2 percentage points higher than homes listed during any other season.

Though there were geographic differences, researchers found that even in areas with harsh winters, there were statistical advantages for listers. In Chicago there was a 13-percentage-point advantage in selling time for listings initiated in late December through mid-March compared with listings in the summer.

In Boston, the advantage was 14 percentage points. In Los Angeles and San Diego, even with their relatively mild winters, the advantage was still evident: nine points and 11 points, respectively. In Seattle, it was 12 points.

Ellen Haberle, a Redfin economist, said sales agents in Boston and Chicago reported that the greatest impact of winter weather this year was not on buyers: They were scoping out available listings early on. Instead, it was the owners who lagged behind: They were reluctant to list their homes because they didn’t want to shovel snow or start the interior spiffing-up needed to properly market their property.

A study conducted by the online real estate site Trulia in 2012 found that while prices on closed sales peak in May and total sales peak in June, there are significant differences geographically. According to Trulia, prices tend to peak in the South in March and April, with the exception of Florida, where the high point comes in May. Prices in California, Virginia, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts also hit their statistical peak in May. But the peak occurs later — between June and August — in Oregon, Illinois, Connecticut, Washington and West Virginia.

A scholarly study published in the Appraisal Journal, a professional quarterly, covering valuations and sales in 138 large and small metropolitan areas found that local “seasonality factors” subtly affect what buyers pay. Using a statistical analysis technique to control for differences based on size, age and other property characteristics, researchers found that time of year definitely affects price.

By how much? It depends on location, but it’s probably more than you’d guess. The researchers created “adjustment” factors that can be used by appraisers to eliminate seasonal variations from their reports.

In the Los Angeles area, for example, the adjustment in February, the low-price point there, is a minus 2.5 percent. In June, on the other hand, the seasonal factor is a plus 1.7 percent. In Miami, the adjustment is a negative 2.4 percent in January, a plus 1.3 percent in July. In Boston, it’s minus 4.4 percent in February and plus 4.5 percent in June.

Should the season influence whether — and precisely when — you list your house for sale? Sure. But other, more personal factors should get higher priority: Is your house ready to list and show? Have you interviewed multiple agents to get comparative market analyses on your home’s probable selling price range? Are you prepared to do what’s necessary to sell at maximum price, which may include staging the interior and completing fix-ups and improvements?

Answer those questions, and price your property realistically based on the market analyses you’ve received from professionals — analyses that may include advice on timing — and you should have a good shot at a successful sale.

Ken Harney’s e-mail address is kenharney@earthlink.net.

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