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It’s not too early to get your home ready for a spring sale

(Steven Senne/Associated Press)

Jon Coile, chairman of Rockville-based multiple-listing service MRIS, writes an occasional column on the Washington-area housing market.

After a choppy start to the year, we are beginning to see an equilibrium come back to our local housing market which will have implications for both buyers and sellers.

A few years ago homes weren’t selling very quickly so things were strongly in the buyers’ favor. But then the pendulum swung the other way and we had about a year and a half of strong housing demand when very little inventory was available so sellers were at a tremendous advantage.

This year, however, things were not as off-kilter as they have been and the predictions for 2015 all suggest the same pattern will continue. As a result, buyers will have more options so any homeowners who are thinking of selling next spring should take steps now to make sure their home is the best it can be as early in the selling season as possible.

The very first priority before we get any further into fall is to take exterior pictures while leaves are still on the trees and the sun is still high enough in the sky to get decent lighting. For the Washington area, the “spring” market actually starts in the third week of January.

It’s like a light switch coming on as new listings flood onto the market, usually peaking in March. Many sellers of those homes have to resort to taking pictures when the trees are bare and everything looks dreary because the skies are persistently overcast. In a number of cases, homes will have photos where the ground is covered in snow, which makes it hard to showcase the spaciousness of a yard or nice landscaping. Take shots from several different angles, front and back, and from up close and far away so you have plenty of options when it comes time to chose the best one as the lead photo. Similarly, if there are outdoor neighborhood amenities you want to highlight — such as dog parks or playgrounds — take photos of them now while they look good.

It is worth the time to devote a few Saturdays to the exterior maintenance of the house before winter so it looks its best when the “For Sale” sign goes up after the holidays. This can mean planting winter grass so what is there now isn’t completely thinned out by March and removing dead shrubs or tree stumps so the ground has a few months to reclaim the bare patches of land.

Re-sealing the driveway or porch steps can stop any existing cracks from getting bigger and repairing gutters can prevent new cracks from occurring, if they hang over pavement or wood. Also, blocking off the places rodents like to build nests could keep them from getting inside and causing damage you might not even know about until prospective buyers come looking high and low for potential problems.

When it comes to the house itself, one of the most important things you can do in advance of the cold weather is try to prevent it from getting in. Many older homes, especially row houses, are drafty and poorly insulated that heating bills can be one of the considerations for buyers deciding which home to bid on. Replacing storm windows, adding draft protectors to sills and thresholds, and plugging up any places where the cold gets in will not only lower your heat bills for the winter but give you a few months’ history of bills lower than a similar home whose owners didn’t take the time to winterize. This could tip the balance in your favor, particularly with the first-time home buying set.

However, if your home is already listed and you’re thinking of taking it off the market for the holidays – don’t. Showings will decline in the winter, but buyers looking for homes now are serious buyers.

Anyone who has worked in this industry will say that many sellers are caught by surprise at how much work their home needs before it is market-ready. It can take a few months to bring a house up to top condition so that it commands the highest possible price without a long lag time.

Often sellers will list their house anyway so they get a jump on the market, but have to settle for lower sales prices because the house needs some maintenance.

Take the time now to address the winter-related obstacles so come springtime your home is in tip-top shape for all the interested buyers that come and see it.

Previously from Jon Coile:

Online listings breathe new life into open houses

Easy upgrades sellers often overlook

Short sale sellers need a sense of urgency

Tips for boomerangers who want to move from their parents’ basement to their own home

 Despite rising rates, now is the time to buy. But maybe not for everyone.