Jenn Carr Elmas and her husband, Ish Elmas, listed their Colonial-style home in Vienna this week, and they’re interested in selling it fast.
But now it’s summer, and they know that summer is a time when the real estate market slows considerably. Listings tend to languish as buyers turn their attention from interest rates and open houses to cookouts and lounging on the beach.
So the Elmases aren’t taking any chances. They’re attempting to ratchet up their Virginia home’s appeal.
They’re making their already lavish back yard — which has a swimming pool, a pond with a fountain, an outdoor bar and kitchen, and several patios — even more attractive to the dwindling supply of buyers.
“We’re power-washing everything, including the retaining walls and the patios, and we’ve added an outdoor TV to the bar,” Carr Elmas says. “Besides putting out all the umbrellas and cushions for the chairs, we’re putting potted flowers on the tables to match the cushions, and we placed some potted hibiscus trees around the pool. We’ve got a drinks setup on the bar and added throw pillows to the outdoor couch.”
Generally, home sales peak in spring, with a second rush of sales in the fall. Although sales may not be quite as slow in summer as in the doldrums of January and February, typically fewer homes go under contract in July and August than in the spring.
Selling in summer requires a slightly different strategy, experts say.
“August is the slowest of the summer months in real estate because people take family vacations, Congress is out and even the president goes on vacation,” says Barbara Ciment, an associate broker with Long & Foster Real Estate in North Bethesda.
Michelle Morris, a real estate agent with Re/Max Gateway in Chantilly, says seasonal market shifts are more pronounced in the suburbs, because parents tend to be sensitive to the school calendar.
“Parents want to make sure their kids are settled into their new home before school starts, so they try to find a home in the spring and move in the summer,” Morris says. “At the very least, parents want to have a home under contract before July Fourth, which means that sellers have a very short window of time for a summer sale.”
Laura McCaffrey, an agent with Evers & Co. Real Estate in Bethesda, says the lack of inventory this year may change the dynamic of the summer market.
“Traditionally, the housing market slows down after Memorial Day because people [go] on vacation and kids are in camp and parents are more distracted,” McCaffrey says. “The only homes still on the market in summer were considered ‘leftovers’ that hadn’t sold in the spring because they were overpriced or had something wrong with them. But this year, because so few homes are on the market, we may actually see more buyers out in the summer and, hopefully, more sellers will decide to list their homes.”
Adam Gallegos, a broker with Arbour Realty in Arlington County, expects the summer market to be about as busy as the spring market was this year.
“Buyers who can’t find anything in the spring will just keep looking all summer,” he says. “A lot of buyers are flexible and can move at any time of year. At the same time, buyers are distracted in the summer with vacations and a busier social calendar, so they’re less focused on buying a home.”
A slower market isn’t the only challenge that homeowners are likely to face if they want to sell in the summertime.
“If you have kids, then the reality is that there are more bodies in the house more often than during the school year,” McCaffrey says. “Even if your kids are in camp, they tend to get home a little earlier than during the school year, and your schedule is more complicated.”
Morris says that in the summertime, kids tend to sleep later, and the home may get messier because they are around more.
“You need to create a game plan with your kids,” Morris says. “Show them the photos of the house the way it looks on your listing and tell them that’s what it needs to look like every day. They need to make their beds and pick up their clothes. If you have to, buy them something or promise a trip to an amusement park to get their cooperation.”
Morris says kids, even teenagers, shouldn’t be left in the home when buyers are visiting. She suggests sending the kids to visit grandparents for a week or two when the home first goes on the market and has the most visitors.
Another challenge for Washington area sellers is the notorious heat and humidity.
“Make sure your air conditioning is working really well,” says Brandon Green, founder of Brandon Green Cos. in Washington, who is affiliated with Keller Williams Capital Properties. “You need to set the temperature lower than usual to give a good impression to buyers and to make it refreshing. Also, do what you can to even out the temperature differences between different levels of your home because that’s even more noticeable in the summer.”
Ciment acknowledges that it’s tempting to turn up the thermostat when you leave for work, but she says a cool house is inviting to prospective buyers.
“Don’t think twice about your electric bill when you’re selling your home,” McCaffrey says. “It’s a huge turnoff to buyers if they go to the third floor of your house and it’s stuffy.”
A hot house will also make odors, particularly pet odors, even worse, Morris says. She says sellers need to be extra conscientious about taking the garbage out and keeping it tightly sealed because even in the garage, it can smell terrible in summer.
Morris also counsels buyers to resist the temptation to shut out the sun. “Even though you may want to close the drapes to keep the sun from heating up your home, you should open them to let as much natural light in as possible,” Morris says.
And Ciment points out that it’s especially important to keep your windows clean in the summer when the light is brighter. She adds this advice: “If you have heavy drapes, take them down and leave the windows bare if you can. Pack away your winter clothes, along with your drapes, so your closets look as large as possible.”
Take advantage of the summer season by having bowls of fresh fruit on the counter, Ciment says. Consider having chilled bottled water or fresh lemonade available for prospective buyers, too.
Although curb appeal is always important, during the summer, potential buyers are more likely to linger outside and pay more attention to outdoor living spaces.
“Hopefully, you started working on your lawn in the spring so it looks lush in the summer,” Gallegos says. “It helps to pick the right flowers, too, that will be in bloom right around the time you’re selling your home.”
Gallegos recommends keeping your lawn mowed and the edges trimmed so it looks manicured. “You should stage the outside of your house as an extension of your indoor space,” Gallegos says. “Even if you own a condo and just have a balcony, make sure your blinds are open and you have a chair or a potted plant to make it look inviting outside.”
In addition, Gallegos says, take advantage of community assets. “Provide a list of summer events, local farmers markets or some brochures on your dining room table or even just a list of local swimming pools,” he says. “This is so helpful to buyers who are new to the area to let them know about the community.”
McCaffrey says sellers need to keep their plants watered and alive without letting them become overgrown. Buyers, he says, will look at exterior maintenance as an indication of how well the home has been cared for inside.
And Morris suggests being proactive about drawbacks. “If you have noise or traffic issues, think about getting an inexpensive trickling fountain and maybe putting a screen on your deck to make it seem quieter and more secluded,” Morris says.
In summer, buyers are more likely to be out in the evening, so sellers should be prepared for more evening showings, Gallegos says. He also says they should leave strategically located inside lights on so that buyers who drive by to check out the neighborhood get an inviting impression of the home.
Michele Lerner is a freelance writer