Homeowners should buck the conventional wisdom about selling in the spring.
Putting a home on the market in this grim real-estate climate might seem like lunacy considering how heavily the market favors buyers. Home prices are down 28% from their national peak in the second quarter of 2006, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home price index, which tracks sales in 20 major housing markets. Still, listing a home during certain months can improve a seller's odds.
Late spring and summer are usually thought of as the best times to put a home on the market because buyer demand builds steadily through spring. Sales then peak during the warmest months, when it's easiest for families to move without uprooting their children from school. But this year, experts predict that the selling boom, which normally starts in spring, will hit at a different time than it has in the past. Sellers with flexibility should market their homes earlier in the year.
According to data from Zillow.com, an online real-estate database, the volume of home sales was highest in June, July or August every year since 2000. This year, however, an $8,000 credit for those buying their first home--that expires on June 30, 2010 and requires buyers to have closed on a home by April 30, 2010--will force buyers to speed up their decisions. Historically low interest rates also suggest that sellers will face a busier market as early as February.
"This year, we're anticipating sales will peak earlier," says Nicole Hall, editor in chief of Lendingtree.com, an online mortgage comparison service. "The best time to get your house on the market will be February or early March, and maybe even earlier if you want to avoid competition."
The Economy Upsets Seasonal Trends
House hunting may have traditionally sped up after March, but nothing about the last few years in real estate has been traditional. In 2008, sales failed to pick up with their usual gusto in late winter because the financial crisis cast a shadow of fear over buyers, and lending seized up.
"Between the fall of 2008 and March of 2009, there was a long dead period in real estate," says Ken Shuman, spokesman for the real estate Web site Trulia.com. "You don't want to buy a house if you don't have job security, and a lot of people had jobs but didn't feel too secure about them."
2009 didn't follow typical trends, either. Fall, when sales usually plummet, saw more sales activity than usual this year because of the introduction of the government's tax credit, which was initially set to expire on Nov. 30, 2009.
Improving the Odds
Granted, some sellers have no choice but to sell at a slow time of year. Job relocation and the need to free up assets are facts of life that can deprive families of the luxury of waiting until the peonies bloom to put their homes on the market.
But Hall says that there are ways to improve your chances of a sale if you have to list your home late in the year, like playing up holiday decorations and shoveling walkways to maximize curb appeal. She adds that selling at this point in the cycle isn't always the worst fate.
"Look at how you can turn it to your advantage. Maybe because you're forced to sell at a different time, there will be less competition," she says. "Also, be realistic about your price. If you know you're selling at a tough time, it can be a tough call, but you might have to drop that price a little."
Shuman and Hall agree that the season shouldn't be the only factor homeowners consider when getting ready to sell. Paying attention to the vagaries of the local real-estate market, where inventory and prices can fluctuate week to week, will offer more guidance to sellers than simple seasonal trends.
"Check out your local inventory," says Hall. "Read the housing-market blogs, follow the local market really carefully, and look at the unemployment rate. That will make a big difference."
For smart sellers, Shuman and Hall agree, taking a chance and starting the sale process earlier will reap distinct benefits in 2010.
"The beginning of the year is going to be make-it-or-break-it," says Shuman. "If you're a seller, get your property listed as early in the year as you can."