A Winter's Tale

A Winter's Tale
(By Paine Proffitt for The Washington Post)

By Dina ElBoghdady
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 23, 2006

Home sales dip in the winter, especially during the holiday season. But they don't stop, as Ray Hrabec has learned over the years.

Hrabec and his wife, Paula, sold two of their past homes between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, most recently a townhouse in Old Town that they had yanked off the market several times before they found a buyer several years ago.

"Our agent told us if the house ever sold it would sell around Christmas and it did," said Hrabec, 57. "My wife does such a beautiful job decorating. We had trees on two floors beautifully decorated with porcelain ornaments, not the tacky stuff. We had lots of greens and lights. It looked bright and festive and of course, the evergreens made the place smell terrific."

The seasonal nature of the housing market is so well-documented that key data used to measure the market's health are seasonally adjusted. The patterns change little year to year.

Typically the winter months are not nearly as robust as the spring ones -- particularly April, May and June, when plenty of houses are listed and house hunters are out in force. That's when the bulk of the year's contracts are written; they close a month or so later.

But plenty of real estate agents also note that winter can be a great time for sellers to unload houses and for buyers to find bargains.

For sellers, that's because homes show well when they're dressed up for the holidays and because only the most serious buyers bother to look toward year's end.

Sellers are also serious -- a plus for buyers. "People who put their houses on the market in the second half of December or the first two weeks of January are usually doing so because there's a real need," possibly a job transfer that requires an immediate move, said David Kolakowski, a broker at Buyer's Edge, a buyer brokerage in Bethesda.

"So buying during down times can offer real opportunities," Kolakowski said. "Buyers should not assume the market dries up and goes away at this time of year."

This year in particular, with slower home sales, the inventory has not dried up at all, agents said.

In the District, for instance, the number of homes for sale was 31 percent higher in November than at the same time last year, according to a report released this week by Peter Clute, an agent in the Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in the Georgetown office.

"The inventory will most likely come down a little bit in December, but it should still be high," Clute said. "There's still four months' worth of inventory out there."

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