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In a nightmare winter, no dream houses

Spring frenzy on hold for real estate market

Real estate agent Lara Gordon found this week that just putting up a sign for a Cambridge home on Franklin Street was a challenge.
Real estate agent Lara Gordon found this week that just putting up a sign for a Cambridge home on Franklin Street was a challenge.Lane Turner/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The record snowfall has claimed another victim: the boundlessly optimistic real estate agent.

Early March is usually a hectic period for the state’s realtors, as they field calls from homeowners eager to sell and they walk potential buyers through remodeled kitchens, rolling backyards, and marble-tiled bathrooms.

But with spring approaching, “For Sale” signs have been as rare as daffodil shoots. The blizzards and snowstorms that began battering the Boston area weekly in late January have prevented owners from putting homes on the market, squeezing an already tight supply of properties for sale and delaying the usually bustling spring housing market by weeks, real estate agents said.

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Agents report that the number of properties for sale in the second week in March is down anywhere from 18 percent in Sudbury to nearly 60 percent in Somerville and Cambridge, compared with the same time a year ago.

In Greater Boston, early March listings were down 15 percent from a year earlier and nearly 30 percent from 2013, according to MLS Property Information Network Inc., a real estate listing firm.

Even holding an open house is a trial as buyers must maneuver around streets blocked by dunes of snow, park blocks away, or tag-team with one member of a couple sitting in the running car, while the other dashes in for a peek inside.

“It’s a disaster,” Heidi Zizza, an agent with Framingham-based MDM Realty, said about the weather. “It’s making buyers nervous. It’s delaying closings. It’s affecting new construction. I think people need to see the snow is gone.”

With unemployment dropping to prerecession levels and buyers scrambling to take advantage of low interest rates while they last, real estate agents and analysts were projecting an upbeat year for home sales — before the 105 inches of snow fell.

Those projections might yet come true, but real estate firms are losing precious weeks of the spring market, defined by the industry as a five-month period from March to July.

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Remnants of this winter’s historic snow obscured this sign on Spafford Road in Milton. Some owners have delayed the listing of their homes until they can clear the driveways or remove ice dams from  roofs.
Remnants of this winter’s historic snow obscured this sign on Spafford Road in Milton. Some owners have delayed the listing of their homes until they can clear the driveways or remove ice dams from roofs.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Home sales typically pick up steam in March and peak in June and July, according to the Warren Group, a Boston real estate tracking firm.

But putting a house on the market has been particularly challenging in recent weeks. For most area residents, digging out driveways and ensuring that roofs are cleared of snow have been priorities.

Many homeowners also have decided to delay putting homes up for sale until they fix ice dam problems, put fresh coats of paint on their shutters, and spruce up the yard.

“Everybody wants to wait until the grass is green and the crocuses are out,” said Laura Cahill, a realtor with Cahill Properties-William Raveis Real Estate in Milton. “Everybody thinks the houses are going to look better with flowers.”

Homeowners who, out of courage or necessity, have already put homes on the market have had to be creative.

Dr. Matt Ruble and his husband plan to relocate to Dallas in early April, so they put their Milton home on the market at the beginning of this month, even though they ditched the "For Sale” sign because it wasn’t visible in the mountain of snow.

After clearing snow off the roof to prevent ice dams and shoveling the driveway so the house looked presentable, they included lots of photos of the property in the summer and spring in a PowerPoint presentation that played throughout the open house.

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Ruble said he was surprised by the turnout. Families were in the driveway before the scheduled starting time. The couple received four offers this week, all but one above the $649,000 asking price.

Realtors said that homeowners who are close to putting their homes up for sale should do so now. With plenty of buyers out there, they can extract the top price before a flood of listings arrives once the snow melts even more.

“Those places that have come on the market despite the weather have done very well,” said Lara Gordon, an agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Cambridge.

It’s unclear whether the advantage will shift to the buyer if many homes go on sale at the same time, or whether the winter has any long-lasting effects on local real estate.

Timothy Warren Jr., chief executive of the Warren Group, said he expects home sale trends to reflect last year’s, despite the slow start. A lack on inventory last year was blamed for disappointing sales, which declined 2 percent statewide. The median price rose 2.5 percent.

The improving economy could boost sales, Warren said, but the challenge, as it was last year, is getting more sellers into the market. The inventory of homes for sale has declined on a year-over-year basis for 51 consecutive months, according to the Massachusetts Association of Realtors.

“There is an outside chance it could be a very good year,” Warren said, “but it would depend on more homes coming into the market.”

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Related:

Car sales down as winter continues to take its toll

Steps to take at your home before the snow melts

Why properties sit on the market for months


Deirdre Fernandes
can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.