Ask Brian: Tips for Selling a Home During the Winter



Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Question. Elizabeth from Nevada asks: Brian, I just got a job offer out of state that I’m going to take and I have to be there by the middle of February. I need to sell my home right away but I’m really concerned about selling during the winter. I’ve heard it is the worst time of the year. I’d like to hold off for spring or summer but I can’t afford two house payments. What are your thoughts?

Answer. Hi Elizabeth. A lot of people think that selling a house in the winter is a bad idea but that isn’t necessarily true. Take yourself for example, you didn’t say if you plan to buy another house right away at your new location but I’d guess that you’ll at least start looking shortly after you settle in. People have many reasons to sell and buy during the winter. Although the market is usually a little smaller, it is still plenty active.

In fact, in today’s world, the winter market is more active than historically. A big reason for this is the internet and smart phones. It probably isn’t obvious but some of the many people you see mesmerized by their smart phones while standing in line and waiting around are looking at homes for sale. Different studies show slightly different numbers of how many people start their home search on the internet but every study shows it is more than 90%. And winter can be your friend on the internet. There are fewer listings during the winter, which means your listing is going to be closer to the top of search results.

With your house rising to the top of search results, the other thing to know about selling in the winter is that buyers that are looking are serious. Just like there are fewer winter sellers, there are fewer winter buyers (fewer looky-loos). People looking at houses during January and February are looking for a great house that isn’t going to break out into a bidding war. They want to complete the purchase before all of the other buyers show up in the spring. Elizabeth, you may only have 7 or 8 people look at your house the first couple of weeks but they’ll be more interested than 20 people that are out when the weather gets better just to see what is on the market.

Something else to keep in mind is that the winter market attracts different buyers than the spring market. Your real estate agent should know the winter market. A big difference is that families with kids don’t want to move during the school year. That means the marketing plan needs to focus elsewhere. One thing to keep in mind is that many people just got Christmas bonuses from work. The bonus could be what puts them over the top with a down payment to qualify for a mortgage. Here are some things to think about when marketing your house during the winter.

  • Walking into a warm house on a cold winter day is welcoming. Keep the house a little on the warm side so that it feels cozy.
  • When you know someone is coming to look at the house, light a fire in the fireplace if you have one. Fresh baked bread or cookies are always a good idea to make a home feel cozy. If you have a hot tub, take off the cover and turn up the temperature.
  • The holidays are over, so make sure you take down the decorations. Still having decorations up can make people think you don’t take care of house chores in a timely manner.
  • On darker days, turn on the porch light even during the day. If you have yard lights, turn these on also. You can also use higher wattage bulbs both indoors and outdoors. Light is your friend in the winter.
  • For marketing photos and videos, try to avoid snow in the yard. It does make the inside look cozy but people want to see yard and exterior details that aren’t covered by a blanket of snow.
  • People don’t take as much time off from work during the winter but there are some holidays that working people do get off. Something you want to do is make sure your house is ready for viewing on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Valentine’s Day, and Presidents Day.
  • Keep the driveway and sidewalk ice free. The last thing you want is a potential buyer slipping and falling on the ice.
  • Marketing materials should put more emphasis on energy efficiency that your house includes (extra insulation, a high efficiency furnace, triple pane windows, etc.)
  • You should also expect more attention from your real estate agent since fewer houses are being marketed this time of year.
  • Also, keep in mind that you’ll probably receive fewer offers, so take any offers that you receive seriously.

There might be fewer buyers but in January and February but they are more motivated. They are looking in winter because they need to move, not because they’re just looking to kill a Saturday afternoon. Selling in the winter is a little different than during the better weather months. However, it doesn’t take much to make a winter listing work to your advantage. 

What tips can you add for selling during the winter? Please leave your comments.

Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Author bio: Brian Kline has been investing in real estate for more than 35 years and writing about real estate investing for 12 years. He also draws upon 30 plus years of business experience including 12 years as a manager at Boeing Aircraft Company. Brian currently lives at Lake Cushman, Washington. A vacation destination, near a national and the Pacific Ocean.