Winter Real Estate: A Time For Hibernation or Not?

Everybody knows that winter is a dead time for real estate. Or is It?

At least that’s the widely held belief. But national statistical studies suggest it’s not necessarily the case. Winter can be a surprisingly advantageous time to list, shop, negotiate and/or buy.

According to real estate website Redfin and their two year study if you want to sell for more than your asking price, listing in December, January, February and March gives you a better chance on average than if you list any time from June through November. In 2012, December listings produced the highest percentage of above-asking sales for the entire year — 17%.

If your goal is to sell relatively quickly, February “is historically the best month to list, with an average of 66% of homes listed then selling within 90 days,” according to Redfin. In the two-year study completed last December, researchers found that in each of 19 major markets, including cold-weather cities such as Boston and Chicago, “home sellers were better off listing their homes in the winter than during any other season.”

Researchers are quick to note that the advantages of listing in winter compared with other seasons are not huge. But the fact that winter produces at least competitive or better results by some measures should encourage some potential sellers to get into the game sooner rather than later.

Nela Richardson, chief economist for Redfin, said “that shoppers who are active during the winter months are serious buyers. Most people are not window-shopping in December and January, as many do in the spring months.”

Quick Tip: Some sellers pull their unsold houses off the market during the winter, hoping for better results in the spring. By doing so, they leave a smaller inventory of active listings therefore lessening the competition among sellers who list in January and February.

Winter-season buyers may find some sellers more flexible about negotiations over prices and terms than they would be during the middle of the spring. Mary Bayat, a broker active in the Washington, D.C., market and chairwoman-elect of the Northern Virginia Assn. of Realtors, said that in the last few weeks she has participated in three deals involving sellers who were far more open to negotiations than they had been months ago.

Quick Tip #2: Real estate does not hibernate from December through March. More than 5 million homes are resold annually in the U.S., and many of them are listed and sold during the winter months.

In strong local housing markets such as Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Seattle, Austin, Boston and Washington, D.C., the likelihood of selling your home within 180 days is highest when you list during the winter months compared with any other season, according to Redfin’s 2013 study.

Winter is warmer for real estate than you might think.

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