Experts: Homeowner can gain a significant advantage by putting their house up for sale during winter
By Ken Sturtz
When the leaves change color it’s a reminder that winter isn’t far off. For the real estate industry, it signals the beginning of a self-imposed hibernation until the market bursts to life in spring.
The winter months are viewed by the public as one of the worst times of year to sell a house in Central New York, but according to real estate experts the savvy homeowner can gain a significant advantage by putting their house up for sale during winter.
“People think winter’s not a good time to list, but there’s no bad time to put a house on the market,” says Andrew Azzarello, president of the Greater Syracuse Association of Realtors and a broker with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Select in North Syracuse. “Things do slow down in the colder months, but since the pandemic things haven’t slowed down much.”
Although the coronavirus pandemic put a crimp in real estate activity in 2020, it led to a flood of buyers looking for homes later in the year when things picked up. Intense buyer demand coupled with low interest rates and low housing inventory turbocharged the market, sending prices soaring and giving sellers a decided advantage.
For a time, sellers were routinely receiving multiple offers well over asking price as soon as they put their homes on the market.
While the market has since cooled somewhat, real estate experts say it’s merely become less frenzied and that the underlying factors that have driven the real estate market for the better part of two years remain largely unchanged.
“It’s been quite the year and we’re still busy,” says Christopher Teelin, of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services in North Syracuse. “It’s a healthy market, but it’s manageable for the people who work in it.”
So what accounts for the tepid interest in real estate during winter?
To be sure, there is a degree of seasonality to the market.
But Teelin says customs have developed in the Central New York marketplace over many years. Realtors and consumers got in the habit of avoiding doing business in winter in large measure because of the unpleasant weather.
That in turn can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Winter isn’t perceived as a good time to list so sellers tend to wait until spring to put their homes on the market. Buyers hold off on house-hunting until the flood of new listings in the spring. Realtors often block out a large chunk of time for vacation.
Deciding when to list a property for sale can be a tricky decision. Teelin says that instead of trying to time the market he advises clients that it can be less stressful to proceed based on the needs of the household.
“What is it that has you moving and let’s use that as the barometer for the strategy we put together,” he says.
For example, sellers with children often try to list their homes for sale so they can move and settle into a new house before the start of the school year in the fall.
If a seller is considering listing their home in winter, they should give it extra consideration, Teelin says. This winter is likely to be better than past winters for sellers. There simply aren’t enough houses coming up for sale to meet demand. Low housing inventory, one of the advantages of selling in winter, has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
“People who list in winter are often shopped heavier because there are fewer listings,” says Jeffrey Tonkin, of Century 21 Galloway Realty in Oswego. “You have a better chance of getting a good price when you’re competing against fewer listings.”
In addition to less competition, Tonkin says the buyers in the market tend to be more serious and very motivated. While there are buyers year-round, a larger share of winter buyers need to find a house and aren’t in a position to bide their time for months. That’s often the case when someone relocates for work and needs to find housing.
Most houses can sell as easily in winter as other times of the year, Tonkin says, although there are a few exceptions. If a listing has a significant amount of land and it’s necessary to walk the property, it might be worth waiting until spring. Properties with seasonal access — such as hunting cabins and waterfront homes on roads that aren’t maintained during winter — is another example, Tonkin says.
Even with the advantages associated with selling in winter, many homeowners wonder whether to list during the holidays or wait until January. It’s a common question asked of realtors.
Selling during the holidays
The period from Thanksgiving through New Year’s is one of the least convenient times to buy or sell a house. People are busy with the holidays and often are trying to finish work before using vacation time at the end of the year. There are still several reasons to consider listing during the holidays, Teelin says.
During the holiday season homeowners typically give their house a thorough cleaning in anticipation of putting up decorations and entertaining guests. That means the house is likely going to look its best. And a seller still has the option to limit showings to certain times so as not to interrupt the festivities. But the biggest plus to listing during the holidays is buyers.
“The buyers that are out during the holidays when it’s busy, they’re probably exceptionally serious buyers,” Teelin says. “They’re doing it because they have a need.”
Before someone can sell their house, however, they have to line up a place to live. That simple fact has proven to be the Achilles’ heel for many sellers during the pandemic who have struggled mightily to find a new house to buy once they’ve sold theirs.
Amanda Kennedy dealt with this issue over the summer. She and her husband are moving with her mother from Oswego County to North Carolina to be closer to family. Kennedy says they planned to put their home — a 3-bedroom, 2-bath in Albion — on the market in the fall once they’d found a place in North Carolina. That turned out to be more challenging than they imagined.
They spent the summer house-hunting, but the market there was so hot that some of the houses they were interested in sold before they had a chance to look at them. They finally closed on a house in North Carolina in mid-October.
Kennedy says readying their house for sale has taken longer than planned. In addition to painting the inside, replacing a sliding glass door and installing French doors, they’re waiting to replace a window pane that’s on back order. Even fixing up the yard and removing leaves has been hampered by the heavy rainfall this year.
“Trying to work and trying to get the house ready to sell is crazy,” she says. “It’s time consuming that’s for sure.”
Kennedy said she and her husband were hoping to list their house before the end of November. They want to be here through the holidays so they aren’t planning on moving until January.
Kennedy isn’t concerned about selling during the colder months. She thinks the fact that the house sits on a 3.5-acre lot and is a 25-minute drive to Syracuse will be selling points.
She says she’s more concerned that interest rates will rise soon, cooling the market. It’s not an uncommon concern among sellers eager to take advantage of the hot market. But realtors are already predicting a busy market in the spring.
A more immediate concern among realtors is homeowners who insist on listing their house for an unreasonably high price, Azzarello says. Many have watched others cash in by selling their homes at the height of the pandemic and are eager to do the same. But as the market has calmed it’s become increasingly unrealistic to do so.
“Don’t get caught up in the craziness,” Azzarello says. “Yes, it’s a seller’s market, but no, you can’t price it $40,000 over.”
While sellers are still getting multiple offers and some are receiving offers above asking price, things have slowed down.
Tonkin advises sellers to consult with their realtor about what a realistic price for their home is. He says realtors are relying on market data that includes higher sales prices from the pandemic.
Even with that caution, it remains a seller’s market, he says.
“They’re still selling, but it might take a few weeks instead of a few hours.”