The old adage that winter freezes the real estate market has lost some credibility as buyers increasingly peruse homes online and sellers take advantage of less competition.
A winter transaction still can be a tough sell when the elements are working against a home’s landscaping and natural lighting, but presentation goes a long way.
Robert and Nancy Whitson listed their home on Kingfisher Court in Durango the week after Thanksgiving.
“I think in winter, you can get more serious buyers,” Robert Whitson said. “You might get a lower price but sell quicker, and that’s our priority.”
The Whitsons considered downsizing for three years, but, fearing a shrinking buyer pool, finally listed their house when interest rates began to rise after the November election.
The home’s exterior and interior were repainted and the deck upgraded, and the house exemplifies the seller’s rule of thumb: de-clutter.
“We’ve tried to get things as clean as possible,” Nancy Whitson said. “You don’t want much to be in the living space or a lot of decorations.”
Listing agents say they take clients on a walk-through before listing to identify issues that could besmirch the house for buyers: overstuffed closets, busy kitchen countertops, cluttered pantries or other rooms that give the impression of not enough space.
“Less is more,” said Jarrod Nixon, an agent with Coldwell Banker. “If you’ve got a shrine of family photos on the wall, by all means, take it down a notch and make that as generic as possible. You want them (buyers) to visualize their own things in the home, so you want to neutralize decor that’s over-the-top.”
Sellers should assume prospective buyers will want to scrutinize every room, but the presentation should focus on the master bedroom and bathroom, living room and kitchen.
“The kitchen should reflect cleanliness,” said Karen Overington, a real estate agent at Keller Williams. “I tell people to hire someone to come in and do a deep clean or do it themselves so it really sparkles. The same thing with the master bath. And if there is an item in the house that should be fixed, go ahead and fix it so it’s not a point of contention on the price.”
Overington said moving boxes get a free pass when it comes to de-cluttering and she doesn’t discourage sellers from keeping them out in the open when buyers drop in; they indicate to buyers that the seller is ready to move.
Because home buying is partly an emotional decision, some inspired decorating around Christmas can work in the seller’s favor and help a buyer imagine celebrating the holidays in the house. And, agents say, there’s no need to skip the inflatable yard Santa.
“I think homes actually show better because they offer a warm, inviting feeling when they’re decorated,” Nixon said. “I encourage clients to proceed as they normally would. It’s not a drawback. And showing the house in winter after the holidays – you just have to play with the hand you’re dealt.”
“I never worry about holiday decorations. It’s Christmas,” Overington added. “Buyers have their own houses decorated, and they would expect the seller to have some decorations, although not so many that you cover the house up. If I were selling, I’d put a third to half of what I normally decorate with.”
But, if there’s a Christmas tree in the house, it should be placed where there is sufficient floor space so the tree doesn’t overwhelm the room.
Mary Rigby, broker-owner at RE/MAX Pinnacle Durango, advises placing a small evergreen bush in a pot on the porch or some greenery on the front door to lure in buyers when flowers aren’t in bloom.
Sellers also can display photographs of landscaping, blooms and foliage taken in spring and summer when they look their best.
Rigby said buyers form an immediate impression when they open the door to a house, and a lack of light is among the most effective deterrents.
“If you walk into a house with all the shades and blinds closed, you get more of a negative impression,” Rigby said. “Have as much light coming in as possible. Natural light is fantastic, but if you don’t have it, have the brightest bulbs you can get for the showing.”
Roaring wood stoves and fireplaces heighten a house’s appeal, and rugs on wood and tile floors can add additional warmth.
Because homes are typically closed off from fresh air during the winter, a diffuser is recommended to get a fresh scent moving through the house – but sellers should avoid plug-in air fresheners or candles that are too strong.
And if you’re inviting buyers into a home nestled in snow – make sure they can get to it.
“We need to have access to the property, so plow the road, the sidewalk or the driveway,” Rigby said. “And clear the snow off the deck.”