Waiting until the Spring to put your house on the market can be a missed window of opportunity. Contrary to popular belief, many homes also sell between November and January every year. In fact, more than one million homes get sold every winter. The U.S. real estate market experienced $1,368,000 million home sales between November 2021 and January 2022. While there are more listings in the spring and early summer, winter buyers are highly motivated to make an offer.
“Life events trigger someone to buy or sell,” says Rick Ruiz, a 20-year veteran Realtor® who sells homes 47% quicker than the average Las Vegas agent.
“Someone is having a baby, someone is getting married, getting a promotion; somebody is outgrowing their home or needs to downsize [after retiring],” explains Ruiz. “Any life event that triggers someone to move happens year round and also during the holidays; it’s all about when somebody has the need and when that’s going to happen,” says Ruiz.
We dug into the research and tapped Ruiz for his insight about why it can make sense for owners to sell a home during the holidays, and how to position their sale for success.
Reduced inventory means less competition for sellers
Traditionally, the holiday has been a slower selling season than other times of the year such as spring and early summer. People in the Northeast take vacations to second homes in warmer climates. Others who aren’t in a hurry to sell opt out because they don’t want buyers and agents interrupting their holiday festivities or tracking mud, snow, and sleet throughout the house.
However, listing a home during winter can work to your advantage because competition is lower. It’s important to note that real estate has seasonal preferences that vary by region. For example, when you look at HomeLight’s Best Time to Sell Calculator, you’ll find that the best time to sell a house in San Diego, CA is between June and December. However, if you own a home in Chicago, Illinois, you’ll likely have more offers between April and August.
This doesn’t mean you cannot sell your house during the off-season in Chicago. If you position your house for success, you can find a buyer any time of year.
However, in the current market we’re going to experience a period of seasonality that we haven’t in over a decade, that has nothing to do with seasonality as much as it has to do with the market, ” says Ruiz. “[Currently, we’re seeing a slowdown not because of the season but because of the interest rates.”Winter attracts serious buyers
In winter, you typically see around 66% of sales activity in a four-season climate like the Northeast than you would in spring and early summer, however, buyers looking during the holidays tend to be highly motivated and ready, willing, and able to make an offer.
Who exactly are holiday buyers?
Buyers during the winter months are willing to take time out from holiday festivities and face icy roads, muddy walkways, and inclement weather to find that perfect home. The following buyers are likely who you’ll meet at showings around the holidays.
Buyers experiencing major life events
Important life events cause people to move at all times of the year, says Ruiz. Life events that spur buying or selling could be divorce, a layoff, or [losing a loved one] and a property goes into probate, says Ruiz.
Other reasons for selling or moving include:
Millennials and single women are big buyers
Two demographics of people that Ruiz has come across lately are millennials and single women. Statistics show there are more millennials than baby boomers, so that’s not unusual. [“Millennials are starting to put their footprint on the market of homeownership which is expected and well-celebrated, says Ruiz. He’s seen all types of millennials, including childless couples and millennials with families.
But a factor in the market that wasn’t as expected, says Ruiz, is the purchase of homes by single women. “We’re seeing a huge rise in homeownership by single women.”
Buyers who want year-end tax breaks
Buyers who purchase a home by the year’s end can take advantage of 14 tax breaks. This makes buying a home during the holidays a sound financial decision. Tax incentives for winter home buyers include deductions and credits, including but not limited to the following:
- Mortgage interest deductions: Buyers who are married filers can deduct a mortgage interest deduction of up to $750,000. Single filers, or married couples who file separately, may deduct up to $375,000 off the interest of a new home purchase.
- Real estate tax: The IRS allows most homeowners to deduct their property taxes for the year.
- Mortgage points deduction: Buyers can deduct their mortgage points in the year that they’re paid.
- Home Improvement Tax Credit: When a buyer takes out a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC), they can deduct the interest. However, the home improvements must add value to the home or be medically necessary to qualify for the credit.
Buyers who lost bidding wars in a hot market
Another major type of buyer we’re seeing in winter is buyers who couldn’t compete in the recent housing boom that occurred after the pandemic. This buyer got pushed out of the bidding wars. Perhaps because they didn’t have the capital for escalation clauses, appraisal gaps or have the cash to compete with multiple offers.
“The buyer who was getting their butt kicked by cash buyers and investors, and couldn’t compete, it’s now their time,” says Ruiz. “Those buyers who were at the back of the line before, they still want to be homeowners; people who have been planning and saving for a long time don’t want to hesitate.”
“What we’re seeing right now is a lot of first-time home buyers, a lot of VA, buyers, a lot of downpayment assistant buyers because now it’s their turn; they would not they have their offer declined or laughed at [like they would] six, 12, 24 months ago, says Ruiz. “But now these first-time home buyers, it’s their time to shine, and they’re taking advantage of it.”
Types of homes that sell well during winter (and those that don’t)
Detached single-family homes continue to be the type of home that sold the most going into winter at 79%, mobile homes followed at 8%, and condos and townhouses at 7%, according to a November 2022 report by the National Association of Realtors. The report concluded that 88% of buyers purchased pre-owned homes while only 12% purchased new construction.
Consider waiting until the spring to sell your second home
During winter, you see a slow down with second home purchases such as vacation residences, says Ruiz. “This is the time that people are enjoying them; they travel to their beach houses and mountain cabins; right now you don’t see a lot of those destination houses go on the market, ” says Ruiz. “Those tend to slow down during the winter and during the summer when they’re being utilized.”
Holiday pricing strategies
How you price your home any time of year will always depend on how other homes are selling on the market, says Ruiz. “In a declining market, seasonality is out the window.”
“Right now the urgency is, if you need to sell, sell now because yes there are fewer homes on the market, but your home is going to be worth less in the next three to six months than it is worth now.”
Ruiz recommends setting pricing at a competitive rate. “Especially in a market like Las Vegas where we’ve got $10,000 homes for sale and only $2,000 are selling per month, so only one out of five homes is selling per month. “So, more than anything, price is the biggest driver in selling a house quicker than the neighbor,” says Ruiz.
Staging, curb appeal, lighting, and safety tips
Staging and curb appeal can always give a home that extra polish and presentation to make a home stand out from other homes on the market. In winter you also need to consider lighting since it gets darker early. “No matter where you live, during wintertime it gets dark around 4:45 p.m. so lighting is a big deal,” says Ruiz. Have lit walkways, have easy-to-find light switches, especially lighting in the backyard (we have a lot of pools in our market); it’s very important to have ample lighting in the backyard.
Create an emotional connection with holiday decor
Sixty-five percent of top agents agree that implementing some holiday spirit into your decor around the holidays attracts buyers. Even if you’re not festive, adding some decorative touches around the holidays will make your home stand out on the market.
“What we do differently is to encourage those people to decorate, to put up the Christmas tree, to maybe purchase a few extra decorations, to put stockings up on the mantle for [people to see] when they walk in. Ruiz explains why.
“When someone’s purchasing a home, they’re envisioning themselves in this home; they’re looking forward to creating memories; they’re looking forward to their kids’ Christmas or having their grandkids over for Christmas.”
Buying a home is an emotional experience, so for you to connect with people by making your house warm and festive is going to make it feel like a home to them, says Ruiz. “In my experience of working with buyers over the last 20 years, people feel like a house has a soul, has a feeling, and has a way to connect with people, so we’re making it very homey.
“We’re putting the fireplace on during showings and decorating to make it feel very warm and inviting, especially in a market like now when only one in five homes are selling, you want to separate yourself and have [your home] feel warm and have that experience when the consumer walks onto the property.”
During the holidays you’ll likely have Christmas presents under the tree as well as personal items, old pictures, and heirlooms. But it’s important, especially during the holidays, to reduce clutter. “If you’re one of the Clark Griswolds that overdo it during the holiday season, I’d probably tone it down a couple of notches,” says Ruiz.
“There’s a thin line between making [your home] look warm, homey, and festive and making it look like a Christmas flea market. Be strategic, advises Ruiz. “Make it look like a home, Have those memories on the wall. At the end of the day, this is an emotional experience for people; it’s okay to have a couple of trophies sitting on their dresser but let’s not overdo it.”
Work with a top agent
Partnering with a top agent for your holiday sale can make the home selling process easier and more strategic. Agents have more time to spend with you during the holidays and can advise you on how to position your home for a well-prepared, well-maintained, and well-presented home, says Ruiz.
“Fewer people sell during the holidays because kids are entrenched in the holidays and activities,” says Ruiz. “Even the busiest agents slow down and have more time and bandwidth to spend with clients.”
Holiday challenges that agents can help with
Clients count on agents to be their eyes and ears, says Ruiz. There are a number of things that a top agent can help with during the winter. The following are ways agents help:
- Schedule initial showings on weekends when there’s plenty of daylight to see the roofline, roof tiles, stucco, the exterior, and concrete.
- Advise sellers on how to have your home properly prepared, which can include upgrades painting, or purchasing a dishwasher when one’s outdated or doesn’t match, says Ruiz
- Recommend upgrades that increase home value
- Suggest mechanical and plumbing systems serviced so they pass inspection
- Provide tips for curb appeal, including lighting, the biggest issue during winter, pressure washing decks, walkways, driveways, and the exterior walls
Final thoughts on selling a home during the holidays
While selling a home during the holidays is not for everyone, for some sellers it makes sense. With the right pricing strategy, holiday decor, staging, and curb appeal tips, owners can have a successful sale.
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