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4 tips for holiday-season home sellers

Conventional wisdom says the holidays are the worst time of the year to try to sell your home. But a new survey suggests this so-called wisdom might be wrong.

In fact, 60 percent of real estate agents polled by Realtor.com said they advise homeowners to sell during the holidays. Another 30 percent said they recommend a December sale if the seller is motivated to move quickly.

Motivated buyers

Why do so many agents favor December sales? A cynic might say they're eager to encourage any home sale at any time, regardless of the seasonal pros and cons.

But the Realtors themselves cited other specific advantages:

  • Seventy-nine percent said wintertime buyers were more serious about purchasing a home
  • Sixty-one percent said December listings faced less competition from other for-sale homes, and
  • Seventeen percent said cold weather made for-sale homes seem more cozy

Lane Tharp, a sales associate at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Dunwoody, Ga., says December's motivated buyers are a prime opportunity.

"The people out looking at homes during the holiday season are pretty serious buyers," she says. "You don't have a lot of the tire-kickers that you might have in the spring and summer."

Matt Phipps, a Realtor at Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I., says winter isn't the ideal choice for sellers who have flexibility. But for those who need to move in hurry, a winter sale certainly is doable with the right conditions in place.

4 tips for December home sellers

1. Price to sell. Perhaps the most common advice agents offer sellers today, regardless of the season, is to price their homes realistically. Phipps certainly believes this advice holds true in December.

"Don't play around with the price," he says. "If you price it correctly, you can absolutely sell it. It's not like it's impossible to sell during the wintertime."

But you should act fast. Tharp says waiting can expose you to price depreciation. Every month you delay in a declining market means your house might be worth less.

2. Focus on photos. High-quality, online photos of your home are especially crucial in December because even serious buyers will draw a line at how many houses they want to see in cold weather. If your house stands out photographically, agents say, it's more likely to make the buyer's list of visit-in-person properties.

Phipps says season-specific photos are a must to prevent any perception that your house has languished unsold for many months.

"You don't want a picture that looks like the middle of summer," he says. "In the consumer's mind, naturally or automatically, they'll assume [your house] must have been on the market forever."

3. Stage as usual. The traditional rules of home staging still apply during the holiday season, Phipps says. That means no clutter, no personal items, neutral paint colors, and clear pathways through all the rooms are a must.

Curb appeal still counts, too. While December isn't traditionally a big month for new plants and fresh paint, Tharp says a few flower arrangements around the front door can make any property more appealing to buyers.

4. Decorate sparingly. Staging guidelines generally discourage religious décor that might distract buyers from a home's highpoints. But realty agents say tasteful holiday decorations, within reason, are an exception.

"Most people, if they put up Christmas decorations, their houses look really warm, cozy and welcoming," Tharp says. "Assuming they don't go overboard."

One final tip from Phipps: If you have a traditional Christmas tree, sweep up fallen pine needles and stack gifts where prospective buyers won't trip over them.

With all these tips in mind, your home might well be sold before the new year begins.

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