A holiday surprise, homes can sell; here is how to do it

Wednesday, November 23, 2011   /   by Justin Hoffmann

A holiday surprise, homes can sell; here is how to do it

The real-estate market really slows down over the holidays, but some say it actually can be a good time to sell a home because of the lack of competition. You just have to do it right.

Every year, there's a huge drop in real-estate inventory during the holiday season.

One of the main reasons: Sellers would rather take their home off the market than weather the seasonal slowdown and run up the number of days the home stays on the market.

"As that 'days on market' clock gets run up, your house gets a bad rap and it invites low-ballers," said Trevor Smith, an agent with Redfin, aSeattle-based online brokerage. "If they pull it off the market and keep it off for 90 days, it will come up as a [new] listing on the MLS [the Northwest Multiple Listing Service]. It's like a brand new, fresh start for them in the spring time."

Busy time of year

Not to mention there are cookies to bake, dinners to host, presents to buy and a to-do list that never seems to end from the days leading up to Thanksgiving through New Year's Day. For many, the idea of keeping a home clean and presentable for potential buyers on top of all of that seems daunting.

"People don't want to be interrupted during their holiday traditions," said Kari Scott, an agent at John L. Scott Real Estate's West Seattle office. "There's enough going on with the holidays. I think it gets to be a point where there's overload with too many things to do."

But despite the hubbub of the holidays, it's not impossible to sell a home during that time. In fact, some real-estate professionals look at it as an opportunity to break away from the crowd.

"You can either be in a big pool of sellers come the first of the year because everybody's waiting for that," said Jill Sjolin, an agent with Windermere Real Estate's Woodinville office. "Or you can stand out and have fewer homes as competition during the holidays."

Scott agrees. One year, she sold 10 houses during the month of December, including a property on Christmas Eve.

"A lot of agents don't work in December, they just take the time off," Scott said. "But those that work are busy."

Local real-estate agents say there are two specific demographics that show up in force in November and December to look at houses: Business executives traveling through the area and want to check out perspective places to relocate; and folks visiting family members over the holidays and are interested in returning to their roots.

"They may be less serious buyers, but buyers nonetheless," Smith said of the latter group. "They will go out and look at homes as they consider that move back home."

Home at center stage

Sjolin, who has worked in real estate for about eight years, said there are several easy ways sellers can help their home take center stage during the holidays. For example, simply adding a wreath and some greenery at the front door can make a big difference in that ever-important first impression.

"It puts people in a buying mood; it puts people in the holiday atmosphere," Sjolin said. "That's why they do that at department stores."

If their home is a great place to entertain during the holidays, sellers can use that as a marketing point and invite agents and their clients to a holiday-themed open house.

"Twilight opens are fun," Sjolin said. "You can do cookies, hot cider or sparkling cider."

If there's a piano in the house, Sjolin recommends hiring a pianist to play holiday music during the event.

And since this is the Northwest, why not hire a barista to serve up piping-hot eggnog lattes and other popular espresso drinks?

Here are some more holiday dos and don'ts for home sellers:


• Create warmth: "If you have a gas fireplace, make sure that's on," Smith said. "Even for showings, it creates a nice ambience."

And if the home is vacant, keep the thermostat set at a comfortable heating level.

"Buyers won't stay in a house if it's cold," Sjolin said.

• Bring in the light: Winter days are short enough. Take advantage of all available natural light by keeping curtains pulled back during daytime showings.

If the home is vacant, use automatic timers on lamps inside the home, both for security reasons and to create a better curb appeal for potential buyers.

Consider using solar walkway lights and a timer for your front-porch light, as well.

"There's nothing worse when you're trying to find an address and you can't see it, and you're walking up stairs and it's dark and you could trip and fall," Scott said. "It just really needs to be light, bright, warm and inviting."

Soft incandescent light bulbs may not be as energy efficient as compact fluorescent, but they create a nicer, warmer look for a home, Smith said.

"People really like that softer feel during the wintertime," he said.

• Accommodate appointments: After comparing your home with scores (possibly even hundreds) of others in the same size and price range on the Internet, a potential buyer has probably driven by and checked out your home from the curb. Next, the client will want to schedule an appointment to view your home. And, no, he or she probably won't want to wait until your out-of-town guests leave, or when you're finished sewing costumes for the church's Nativity play.

"A lot of folks will shut their house down during the week of Christmas or Thanksgiving or New Year's, and people can't get into their house," Smith said. And when that happens, those buyers usually move on to other properties.

It can be a hassle to maintain a home's presentation, especially during the holidays, but sellers should keep the big picture in mind, said home-staging professional Patty Bonnell, owner of Set the Stage in Seattle.

"Maybe the best holiday gift we can get this year is a buyer," she said.


• Overdo holiday décor: Whether you celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or another faith-based holiday, prominently displayed menorahs, angels and other religious symbols can be a distraction for potential buyers.

"There's a small percentage by the population who could possibly be offended by that, or might not share your belief," Bonnell said. "But that being said, it's the holidays and everybody understands that."

For those who can't resist the urge to decorate for the holidays, she recommends confining all of that energy into a festive tree.

"Make it a gorgeous tree, but then maybe ease up on everything else," Bonnell said. "Maybe this isn't the year to put all the striped candy canes up and down the walk."

Fresh Christmas trees and wreaths smell great and look beautiful, but they're also high maintenance.

"Go, perhaps, with artificial to keep it fresh all the time," Sjolin said. "And you don't have to worry about that unexpected showing when you haven't vacuumed that day."

Additionally, the holiday season is a popular time for collectors to display their prized possessions. But collections equal clutter.

"Please keep your nutcracker collection safely packed for your new home," Bonnell said.

• Go overboard with holiday aromas: From candy-cane hand soap to gingerbread candles, there are dozens of ways to bring the scent of the holidays into your home.

But a potential buyer may not share your passion for pine, peppermint or the ever-popular orange-clove-cinnamon trio.

In addition, competing scents from candles, room sprays, potpourri mixes can overwhelm the olfactory bulbs.

"It's nice to have some nice holiday scents in the house, but you don't want to go overboard," Smith said. "People might think you're trying to cover up things like pet odors."

• Be a Scrooge: With less competition during the holiday season, some might assume it's easier to command a higher price on a property.

But that probably won't work, especially since home values have fallen considerably in the last year. Price and presentation are the two main pillars in real estate, and that's especially true for sellers who want to stay competitive this holiday season, Scott said.

"You have to have a compelling price," she said. "If you are overpriced, it will be a long, dark season."

By Lisa Pemberton-Butler

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