The inviting glow of a well-lit entryway. A home’s welcoming warmth enveloping visitors as they escape winter’s bluster. The soothing crackle of a fireplace.
Selling a house in the wintertime in New England can have its advantages, said decorator and home stager Christina Wikman of Christina Marie Interiors. “You can definitely make a home for sale in the winter feel cozy and ready to move in.”
Although New England’s coldest season can put a chill on the housing market, there are several advantages to striking while the iron is, well, not hot.
“There’s less inventory, which means less competition—that’s great for a seller,” said Liz Goodwin, co-owner of Goodwin Rollins Real Estate in Melrose. “If you wait until spring, a lot of times there are more options, which means people may take more time putting in an offer.”
Eager to make that sale? A few tips from Wikman . . .
“Lighting candles and the fireplace makes it seem like you’re having friends come to your home,” even if potential buyers are just walking through for an open house, she said. “You transition from those cooler summer blues to accent with warmer colors such as reds, deeper blues, and greens.”
Wikman even encourages homeowners to leave decorations out after the holidays, so long as they’re more seasonal than spiritual. (Think white birch wreaths and decor with silver or gold accents, perhaps green arrangements to spruce up outdoor spaces like the front or back porch.) “It’s important to address areas that may not be used in the season but still add value to the house,” she said. “It’s not the season for flowers, but potted greenery with the right lighting is a welcoming first impression.”
These Norman Rockwell-esque moments do inspire some people to buy, according to Goodwin. “If a house is warm and inviting with the fireplaces and candles, it looks really phenomenal.
“With snow outside, it can be gorgeous.”
Just be sure to keep the driveway clear and the walkways shoveled.
Wikman prefers ice melt to sand, saying it doesn’t tend to stick to shoes as much. (Note: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals suggests finding a pet-safe ice melt.) “It is important to have a nice door mat at the front entry and also another one just inside the door,” she added, noting that realtors sometimes offer potential buyers cloth booties to put over their shoes. “It is a good idea not to have potential buyers wearing shoes through the house, especially in wintertime because of obvious reasons of scratching wood floors and staining carpets.”
Goodwin said the house-hunters she works with in winter are some of her best clients. “These are your real serious buyers,” she said. “They’re not out just looking. If you’re out looking at a foundation when it’s 20 degrees, you’re motivated to buy.”
And for buyers, having a smaller selection of homes can be less overwhelming, Goodwin said. Because there are typically fewer house-hunters and sellers in the winter, each party may get more attention paid to their needs than during the spring and summer frenzy, she said.
Jordan Fox, 38, purchased a condo in Medford around Thanksgiving. He said house hunting when the cold was settling in was advantageous for him and his wife, Rachel Whitkin Fox. “There may not be as many options and new things coming onto the market, but in our case, that made our search shorter,” Fox said.
The couple also lucked out with the timing; because the property had been on the market for a few months, they were able to successfully offer $30,000 below asking price for the three-bedroom, two-bath condo.
But prices are not necessarily higher in the spring and summer months, some analysts say.
It’s a misconception that houses can be sold for more money during these months, said Timothy M. Warren Jr., chief executive officer of The Warren Group , a realty-tracking firm. Deals that close in June and July, he said, were typically brokered in the springtime. The median price, he said, probably reflects homes sold to families with school-age children—the more square footage, typically the higher the price. These families are one of the main drivers of the hot summertime market, he said.
“The people who are closing on homes over the summer might be people who are dependent on school calendars and don’t want to move in the middle of the school year. . . . There’s no indication that the same home sold in the summer would be more expensive than in the winter,” he said.
The Fox family’s purchase, however, was not predicated on the school calendar. A new engineering job is just one of the reasons Fox said now was the time for him and his wife to buy — next month, they will welcome their first baby into their new home.
Warren said he’s far more likely to pin a healthy sales forecast on a healthy employment report, like the state’s December figures, which indicated that 13,500 jobs were added in November — the biggest monthly job gain in more than three years.
“Massachusetts did very well, and I think that makes a difference — people are feeling as though they can make a lateral or upward move, and that job market might inspire them to buy a house,” he said. “Or they might have to move in order to get to that job. That could stimulate the [housing] market.”
The market is showing signs of improvement. The number of home sales in January 2014 were nearly 30 percent higher than they were in 2010, according to The Warren Group. In February, they were roughly 14 percent higher. “I think it is fair to assume that the sales that closed in any given month went under a purchase-and-sale agreement 30 to 60 days earlier. So in November/December, a lot more people were shopping and making deals in 2014 than in the same months in 2010,” Warren said.
Buying a new home in wintertime is a mind-set, Goodwin said. “People really want a place to call ‘home’ for Christmas. A lot of people also have family around for November, Christmas, February [school] break—it’s a positive thing, because I’ve seen a lot of them excited to show family what may be their new house.”
For buyers, there are pros and cons to buying this time of year when it comes to the home inspection. “We really get to see how the heating system functions, how good the insulation is, and how good the windows are,” Goodwin said.
Poor winter weather can also be a seller’s best friend—particularly when it comes to homes that need repairs, said Scott Vesey of Above & Beyond Home Inspections . “Snow and ice limit every aspect of the exterior inspection,” he said. “We do a visual inspection, but our hands are tied if most of the roof is covered.” Vesey said he recommends in his report that the roof be looked at after the snow and ice have been removed, “but that doesn’t do you much good if you’re closing in two weeks.”
Another big problem that’s tough to detect in the wintertime? Foundation cracks concealed by snow, he said.
Although this winter is off to a dry start, sellers with poor curb appeal could actually benefit from a few inches of the fluffy white stuff. “For certain homes, we actually hope for it,” Goodwin said.
Her advice for winter sellers is to remember that the grass isn’t always greener in the summer.
“It’s really hard when conversations have to be done indoors and you can’t go outside to discuss what you think or have to sit inside a car—but the same goes for summer. If it’s 100 degrees outside, we’re in the same boat.”