So you've begun thinking about selling your house and you figure: Let's wait until the spring or early summer before listing. The yard will look its best and potential buyers will be out in force. And everybody knows that winter is dead time for real estate.
Right? At least that's the widely held belief. But national statistical studies suggest it's not necessarily the case. Winter — officially Dec. 21 through March 20 for the upcoming season — can be a surprisingly advantageous time to list, shop, negotiate and buy. Consider some findings by researchers at Redfin, the online realty brokerage.
Real estate website Redfin has studied home listing, sale price and time-on-market data from 2010 through this past October from around the country, updating a two-year analysis it completed last year. It concluded that if you want to sell for more than your asking price, listing in December, January, February and March gives you a better chance on average than if you list any time from June through November. During the last three years, listing during those four months has produced higher percentages of above-asking-price sales than listing during any months other than April and May. In 2012, as the housing market rebounded, December listings produced the highest percentage of above-asking sales for the entire year — 17%.
If your goal is to sell relatively quickly, February "is historically the best month to list, with an average of 66% of homes listed then selling within 90 days," according to Redfin. In the two-year study completed last December, researchers found that in each of 19 major markets, including cold-weather cities such as Boston and Chicago, "home sellers were better off listing their homes in the winter than during any other season."
Researchers are quick to note that the advantages of listing in winter compared with other seasons are not huge. But the fact that winter produces at least competitive or better results by some measures should encourage some potential sellers to get into the game sooner rather than later.
Nela Richardson, chief economist for Redfin, said houses "that are priced right and show well can sell any time" of the year. What many potential sellers may not know, however, Richardson said, is that shoppers who are active during the winter months "are serious buyers. Most people are not window-shopping" in December and January, as many do in the spring months.
Also, some sellers pull their unsold houses off the market during the winter, hoping for better results in the spring. By doing so, they leave a smaller inventory of active listings — lessening the competition among sellers who list in January and February, ahead of the pack.
Winter-season buyers may find some sellers more flexible about negotiations over prices and terms than they would be during the middle of the spring. Mary Bayat, a broker active in the Washington, D.C., market and chairwoman-elect of the Northern Virginia Assn. of Realtors, said that in the last few weeks she has participated in three deals involving sellers who were far more open to negotiations than they had been months ago.
"People get more realistic at this time of the year," Bayat said, especially when their properties haven't attracted serious offers during the summer and fall. So it's a good time for smart shoppers as well.
Paul Stone, an agent in Redfin's Denver office, said many large corporations in his area transfer employees and hire new ones early in the year. That creates opportunities for wintertime listers who opt not to wait for the spring.
Bottom line: Real estate does not hibernate from December through March. More than 5 million homes typically are resold annually in the U.S., and many of them are listed and sold during the winter months. In strong local housing markets such as Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Seattle, Austin, Boston and Washington, D.C., the likelihood of selling your home within 180 days is highest when you list during the winter months compared with any other season, according to Redfin's 2013 study.
Winter is warmer for real estate than you might think.