Editors' pick: Originally published Dec. 6.
New data from Redfin shows selling a home in the winter months is actually a good idea: fewer homes are on the market, they sell faster and sellers get more money.
The Redfin numbers are based on the percentage of homes that sell for more than asking price and go under contract within 30 days.
What exactly do they show?
Plenty, it turns out.
For instance, the percentage of offers above the asking price in winter are higher than summer and fall, and are competitive with highly-touted spring home purchase offers. Also, homes sold in the winter don't last as long on the market as homes in the summer and fall; 46.2% don't last 30 days on the market. Yet only 23.7% of U.S. homes for sale are on the market during the winter months, compared to 32.6% in the spring and 26.7% in the fall.
Those figures don't see to square, do they? After all, if you can make more money, sell your home faster, and have the whole deal wrapped up by St. Patrick's Day, what home seller wouldn't take that deal?
It's a question industry experts are asking, too.
"Winter is often seen as a bad time to list a home, but that's not always true," says Michelle Leader, a Redfin real estate agent in Oklahoma City. "You may have fewer people looking to buy, but those who are looking are serious. Buyers that time of year often need to move, so they're much less likely to make a lowball offer and they'll often want to close quickly - two things that can make the sale much smoother."
While the conventional wisdom has it that the spring homebuying boom is far and away the best experience for both buyers and sellers, real estate professionals don't necessarily see it that way.
"I have always been amazed at the frenzy around the spring market," says Denise Supplee, founder of SparkRental.com, and a realtor based in Hatboro, Pa.
On one level, Supplee says she gets it. "Yes, the weather is more conducive to traipsing around and looking at homes, and getting into the home before school starts for school-age parents is important," she says. "But I never really understood the hoopla around it. It almost reminds me of when a snow-storm may be in the forecast and everyone runs the grocery store to stock up on eggs, milk and bread."
Supplee says that view is misguided. "My take is this," she notes. "Winter or off-season purchasing makes for a motivated seller. Because onlookers may be fewer, homes can sit longer. This makes for itchy sellers, and that's always a good thing for a buyer. And as a realtor, in cold-weather areas, I want to see how a home fares in the weather conditions. It's the best time to test the heating."
That's not to say the winter selling season is a no-brainer - there are factors in play all cold-weather sellers need to consider.
"There are pros and cons to selling a home in the winter," says Annie Ives, CEO of TheMLS.com, a real estate services located in Beverly Hills, Calif. "There does tend to be less competition around the holidays, but it could work to sellers' advantage in that their property may have more interest than when the market is more saturated with other homes."
Ives also says real estate agents often have more time to devote to clients so they may be more dedicated to selling the property. "In addition, some buyers may be more motivated at this time to move out of necessity (such as a new job), which can help speed up the buying process and help with negotiations," she adds.
If you do plan on selling your home in the winter months, especially if you live in regions where temperatures really plummet, choosing the best time in the roughly 12-week winter season is paramount.
"It has been our experience that there is generally very healthy sales activity as inventory diminishes in October, resulting in strong posted sales in December," says Nick W. Glant, president and founder at NWT Residential, a real estate firm in Seattle. "However, it is generally a penalty for a seller to be on the market in late November through the early part of January in the Seattle market. Many buyers have year-end fatigue and focus on year-end initiatives and family while the properties themselves do not show particularly well in stormy conditions."
The "sweet spot," Glant says, is after New Year's Day. "As many sellers circle the spring market as their target date, buyers are already eager for options well before March or April," he notes. "We have found that early February listings have performed extremely well with low inventory and a great supply/demand imbalance. This has been true of most markets."
Think of it as a traffic light situation, where there are two distinct winter sub-markets. "Before and during the holidays is a 'red light,' and after January 15 is a 'green light,'" Glant says.
The bottom line is this - if you need to sell in winter, don't let the season stop you, says Bill Golden, an independent real estate agent with RE/Max Metro Atlanta Cityside, in Atlanta, Ga. "Everyone assumes winter is a bad time for buying or selling a home, but a lot of that depends on where you live and what winters are like. Obviously, in an area with severe winters, the time of year would have much more impact on selling than somewhere with a milder climate."
"But for most areas, although properties may not look as green and appealing as other times of year, that's not the whole picture," he adds. "For both buyers and sellers, the competition is usually quite diminished, which can certainly work to your advantage. For buyers, less competition means they have a greater chance of getting the home they want without getting into a bidding war."