Making the Most of a Cold Market

Most people would say the best time to look for a new home, or to put one on the market, is in the spring. With the flowers comes the warmer weather, which entices buyers to open houses. But just because colder temperatures are right around the corner it doesn’t mean the real estate market grinds to a halt.

It’s true that buying and selling slows down around the holidays. There are fewer homes on the market and fewer buyers out looking. But sellers are more likely to find determined buyers and those buyers can often find better prices. “In general, we have our second wave of the market right after Labor Day,” said Mary Alice Ruppert, the branch manager for Coach Realtors in East Islip. “Once the kids go back to school and summer’s over, we see an upsurge in the marketplace that generally takes us all the way through the holidays.”

There is less inventory on the winter market for a variety of reasons, such as families not wanting to interrupt the school year, heightened traveling, the holidays and weather (especially when it comes to moving, a challenge even in the best of conditions). But for those brave enough to try the winter market, there are benefits.

Buyers who are out in the winter tend to be more serious and more likely to move quickly once they find a house. And sellers who list in January face much less competition than in May. “When companies relocate their employees, they’ll tend to send them on their search trips during a holiday period because business is usually on a slowdown,” said Ruppert. “If the buyers are out and looking that time of year, it’s because they have to buy.”

Buyers need to be careful in the winter months, though. Snow can cover problems with a roof and make it hard for inspectors to get to everything. In-ground pools can’t be inspected and central air units and irrigation can’t be run to ensure they’re functioning properly. Plus, snow mutes the landscape, meaning the yard might not look exactly like the pictures of the listings on the website. “If we are selling a home during the winter and it has central air or an in-ground pool, [the buyer’s] attorney would make certain there is language in the contract where money might be escrowed until it can be turned on or opened up so it can be inspected,” Ruppert said.

It’s always important sellers keep the house clean, but all the more so in winter. Make sure the inside is painted and de-cluttered, because prospective buyers will be spending less time evaluating decks, patios and lawn spaces. And curb appeal is just as important during the winter. Driveways and sidewalks should be cleared of snow and ice. In the garden, pull spent plants and take down holiday decorations once the season is over.

“Clean the windows,” said Matthew Arnold, associate broker for Netter Real Estate in West Islip. “People do that in the spring and it’s great. But come wintertime and things are kind of gloomy, there’s nothing better than being able to look through a window and not see the streaks from the November rain.”

Sellers also have a few advantages that they don’t in summer. “Get into the festivity of whatever the upcoming holiday is,” Ruppert said. “Dress it up a bit. Make it feel inviting and festive for the buyer. People will burn candles or have great aromas in the house. Once you bring in the Christmas tree, you have that fantastic pine smell. You want to create that kind of environment if you can for buyers. It takes all the senses to really capture someone’s interest.”