Tis The Season: Winter

Winter is a notoriously quiet time of year for the real estate market.  The holiday season has most of us thinking more about gift shopping,  party planning and quite frankly, hibernating than it does making a big move. For many New Yorkers looking to buy or sell property, winter should simply be renamed ‘that season before spring’.    If spring is where it’s at, where traditionally inventory peaks, buyers are motivated to pull the trigger and mother nature shakes her tail feather so that everything just LOOKS better in those listing photos – hello magnolias and cherry blossoms! goodbye slushy street corners! – then winter is the time to get prepared for that, so you’re not left in the starting gate while others snag their perfect homes.

However, there are a number of very good reasons why buying or selling in winter makes perfect sense.  As a recent New York Times article reported, since digital marketing of property has become mainstream, rules about timing a sale have changed so “the right time to sell can be anytime”.  Plus, there are always going to be times in life when you NEED to move, whether you want to or not –  maybe you’re moving for a new job or you find yourself in a changing family or financial situation.  We’ve all been there.

So, whether you’re looking to buy, sell or rent, and you’re wondering if doing that at this time of year will impact on your chances of success….fear not!  I’m going to make you feel better (you’re welcome!).

Here’s a look at why winter can really be the season to make or find a great deal…

Sellers

As inventory is typically lower in the winter months, sellers will have less competition. Work with your real estate professional to develop the best timing and marketing plan for your sale (newsflash – listing your property during Christmas or Hanukkah is probably not the best plan) and always make sure to price right.

An overpriced home will sit on the market without selling regardless of the season and will look like a stale listing come springtime unless you drop the price.  While buyers are still willing to pay for quality, recent market data is increasingly showing that they’re not willing to overpay.  However, buyers looking  this winter may want to take advantage of lower interest rates, as  there is a widespread expectation that they will rise this year and may therefore be more motivated.  This will particularly be the case if they missed out on a sale in the summer or fall.

While motivated buyers are good news for sellers, with less buyers in the mix, bidding wars are less likely.  Pricing low to encourage one – a classic spring sales strategy – is not therefore, a smart winter move.  Ask your real estate agent to share a comparative market analysis with you and price your home realistically.

Pricing right will also attract the highest number of buyers to your open house, instantly creating a buzz and increasing the level of competition among them. A great agent will advise and help with making sure that your property is professionally staged, photographed and marketed,   but there’s some front of house maintenance that you can do too to show it in its best light and ramp up your curb appeal.   Clearing leaves and snow from your front path or garden, washing windows and staging your stoop with potted shrubs or winter garlands can make your home stand out on a cold day and make that open house feel more welcoming.  Make sure that your home is warm too.  There’s nothing worse than viewing a cold house on a colder day, so keep the heat on.

Lastly, highlight seasonal attributes in your home.  If you have a working fireplace make sure you have it lit if your open house or showings fall on a cold day; stage family rooms with comforting accessories like soft wool throws and textured area rugs.  Consider the light – if it’s cloudy and grey outside, use lamps and accent lighting to create a warm glow within.

By giving potential buyers a glimpse of how warm and inviting your home can be in the depths of winter, you’ll encourage them to make an emotional connection to your home – an important step for anyone when choosing a property to buy.

Buyers

Many New York buyers ‘down tools’ during winter and give up their StreetEasy and Open House addictions in lieu of weekends out of the city or cosy Sundays at home with a good Netflix binge.  That’s good news for you if you’re motivated to make a deal as you’ll have less competition when it comes to making an offer.

Some sellers will also need to move, or have already closed on their purchase, so may be more willing to make a deal.  How you identify those sellers from the fold will largely depend on how smartly you and your broker negotiate the deal. A good real estate agent should be able to recognize the signs of a seller who needs to make a deal fast. Oftentimes the sellers themselves will convey their desire to close quickly – a clear sign that they may be under the gun in terms of how long they can hold out to close on their sale.

While interest rates remain at a record low, they are expected to rise this year and at the very least will not be going down any time soon.  Buying this winter therefore enables you to finance at a lower rate than you might be able to secure in the spring or summer, making you significant savings over the term of your mortgage.

Ultimately, with lower inventory, even if you don’t find something that works for you, your time viewing and researching properties over winter will be well spent as you’ll be much more prepared for the busier spring market.

Renters

Do your homework and talk to a good rental agent. As many rental moves take place during the spring, summer and early autumn, landlords with properties that haven’t rented may be willing to make a deal. You may be able to snag a reduction in overall rent, or negotiate a free month. You may even be able to negotiate a lease that renews in Spring or Summer.  This could be a better situation for both you and your landlord when your lease comes to an end as there’s more movement in the market at those times of year.

Your rental agent will be aware of listings that may be overpriced or have failed to rent. They’re also likely to have good relationships with landlords in the area and can negotiate a deal on your behalf.

So, the moral of the story is don’t discount winter.  It may be cold outside but there’s always the opportunity for a great deal and that really does make it the season to be jolly.

If you’d like more information on listing, buying, renting or leasing in winter or any season, you can contact me here or register for a free valuation and market evaluation here.

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