‘Tis the season… to sell?
Conventional wisdom goes like this: There are times to list your property (spring, fall) and times to sit and wait (summer, deep winter) but there is no worse time to sell your home than the weeks stretching from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. For consumers bombarded with Christmas music, flooding to airports, hitting the highways, nervous about year-end financials and completely tapped financially after Black Friday visits and endless Amazon clicks, the last thing on their lists is “buy a new house.”
This is why you’ll notice the number of properties on Zillow shrinking throughout the holidays. Potential sellers acting under advisement from their agents are sitting tight, homes prepped and ready to list but waiting for the year to click over, making it safe to put their homes on the market.
Per MLS data, residential inventory drops by about 20 percent between October and November and then another 20 percent for December. This year, the number of available homes (571) is also down sharply year-over-year (737 in December 2018). According to the National Association of Realtors, only 19 percent of Realtors suggest December as a “good time to sell.” That’s the least of any month, significantly lower than the next lowest, July, when only 26 percent of agents think listing is a good idea. December’s potential pratfalls for sellers are legion: You’re looking at holding open houses during Christmas, agents (and buyers) who are on vacation and lowball offers from sly buyers who assume anyone listing their home during the holidays must be desperate.
This, as I said, is conventional wisdom — but is it actual wisdom?
“There’s no such thing as a bad time to sell or buy,” says Luba Muzichenko, a Realtor with Zephyr in San Francisco. “We do have ‘slow seasons,’ but there are still buyers out there looking to buy. Supply and demand will exist regardless of the timing of the market.”
Dale Boutiette, an agent with Compass, agrees, and adds: “When a seller follows the herd and lists when everyone else does, it dilutes the seller’s ability to stand out in a crowded field.”
This last point is key for those willing to go against the grain. All of the reasons listed above for not selling during the holidays are indeed true; it can gum up your holiday plans and you may run across buyers who assume you’ll take a bag of beans and a few shiny beads for your property. But unless you truly are desperate to sell (which does happen, and is its own animal), you can slough off that type of vulture buyer with ease, and you’ll stand out in an uncrowded field.
There are advantages to selling during the holidays, when your new home can stand out among legions of tired of listings on Redfin and the lookie-loos have packed off to Grandma’s house for holiday cheer. End-of-the-year is a common time for job transfers, for one, which creates a class of potential buyers that don’t exist in April. It’s also an attractive time to buy for those looking to squeeze a big purchase in under the wire before the new tax year begins.
And there are other, less quantifiable advantages as well. Imagine your December open house, during that rare San Francisco rainstorm. Potential buyers enter to find your drafty Victorian transformed into a cozy holiday retreat, with a perfectly-trimmed Christmas tree, a fire roaring away in the working living room fireplace and the aroma of cookies wafting out of your recently-remodeled eat-in kitchen. It’ll be easy for any potential buyer walking into this tableau to feel at home, even though the rest of the house is possibly staged in the most bland manner possible.
Make no mistake; the caveats mentioned above are not imaginary, nor is the noticeable dip in market activity during November and December. But neither are the advantages, esoteric or otherwise. The bottom line, say both Muzichenko and Boutiette, is whether a seller is ready to sell and if they want to go out during these traditionally fallow months. “There are minor pauses around the holidays,” Boutiette says, “but in general sellers should list when their homes are ready for the market.”
“It comes down to the seller needs,” adds Muzichenko. “The market will do what it’s going to do (regardless).”
And what is the market doing?
Well, as of early December, pending sales in San Francisco were up 13 percent year-over-year, despite inventory dropping 13 percent year-over-year. Someone is out there buying homes.
Maybe rather than treating the holidays – and summer – as “dead periods” in real estate, we should look at them as unique periods, different from the sweet spots of spring and fall, perhaps more challenging times to do business but still valid and maybe offering opportunity for certain sellers willing to buck conventional wisdom and buyers ready to find their dream home, regardless of what the calendar says.
The Market Musings real estate column appears every other Wednesday. Larry Rosen is a San Francisco-based writer, editor, podcaster and recovering former Realtor. He is a guest columnist and his viewpoint is not necessarily that of the Examiner.