Winter can be a particularly challenging time to buy or sell a house.
If you’ve spent a year or more in Washington, you are familiar with the seasonal swings we experience — from sweltering heat and humidity during the summer, to the dark and dreary days of winter.
With each season there are home-buying patterns and trends that directly affect our local real estate markets in a very real way. Let’s be honest about one thing — the winters here in Washington can be less than invigorating; they can be brutal. Yet in all 12 months of a year families grow, professional promotions and subsequent transfers occur, and many other life-changing events happen — all of which require people to buy or sell property.
In the decade I’ve worked in D.C. real estate I’ve seen a lot of winter markets. And so there are several key points and approaches I can pass on to buyers and sellers to help you maximize your chances of being successful over the next few months.
Here’s the reality for home buyers in the winter. You may have fewer options as inventory levels diminish considerably from November to February, but of the available properties listed for sale, you have the leverage.
What does that mean? Simply put, properties that are for sale during the holiday season and ahead of the spring market are often those properties that must be listed for sale and can’t wait — job changes, inherited property, etc. Yet we can empirically prove that the number of home buyers ready to move during the cold months is in short supply.
When the supply is higher than the demand, the deals tend to get better, which can put you in the driver seat during the negotiations. I often advise my clients who have flexibility in their moving time frame to take a hard look at making a purchase the week before Christmas, or right after the new year. Deals get done all months of the year, but being a buyer when there’s less competition combined with eager sellers is an ideal place to be when negotiating.
So you’ve been transferred and need to make the move now, or perhaps you’ve had a new addition to your family and need to sell your one-bedroom condo to move into a larger space. While buyers can have an advantage in the winter market, sellers also can be successful by avoiding a few common mistakes. Here’s how:
• Make sure the interior is well-lighted: Outside it’s dark, cold, wet and dreary. Make sure the interior of your property stands in stark contrast. Obviously, we cannot control the weather and it’s more than likely the buyer just ran from the car to your front door through freezing temperatures and overcast skies.
Buying a home is an emotional experience. Our goal in the winter months is to create an incredible emotional experience for the buyers who tour your listing. Most houses lack natural light, and in the winter this can become incredibly obvious and work against you. By installing recessed lights throughout the dark “walk-through” rooms in your home, the goal of brightening the showing will go a long way. Perhaps add some lamps on a timer, too. Either way, brighten up everywhere possible. It’s simple yet effective.
In the summer you may get away with the lighting that nature gives you, but if you take this extra step in the winter months your property will sparkle in comparison to the competition.
• Do not turn off the heat: This especially applies to those who are selling a vacant property. Put your heating system on a timer if you want to reduce your costs but whatever you do, make sure that when showings occur your property is adequately heated (68 or more degrees). I can’t tell you how many showings I’ve been on where the house was overall a good fit but it was 50 degrees. Needless to say, the buyers didn’t want to spend more than a few short minutes exploring, and they overlooked all the good features while focusing on how cold they were. A classic wasted opportunity just because of temperature.
• Get the property professionally staged: Adding that lived-in home feeling to a well-lit and cozy property is a powerful tool for creating that emotional response that will compel a buyer to pick your property over the others.
Focus on staging the master bedroom and the rooms you spent the most time using and enjoying. If you want an idea, a small breakfast table in the kitchen staged with coffee cups can go a long way to transforming a kitchen space.
• Display pictures of the exterior when your plants and trees are in full bloom: You can do this by leaving an opened album on the dining room table showing off your foliage or garden. Don’t allow the buyer’s only impression of your yard or facade to be the barren and gray landscape of the winter months. This is a small and easy trick that can make a big difference and get you closer to winning over that eager buyer who can’t put off a home purchase until spring.
Jonathan Fox is principal at the Fox Group with Compass in D.C.’s Logan Circle neighborhood.