The Best Time to List a House is in the Winter and Here’s Why
Prices may be the highest (and hottest) in the summer, but the best time to list a house is actually near the end of winter. Strange as it may seem, and even counter-intuitive for sellers, buyers are more active and eager to close deals in the winter.
Before we dive into our argument, let’s look at the mindset of a seller.
First, with colder temperatures and school enrollment cycles to consider (which, contrary to popular belief, aren’t actually based on agrarian harvesting cycles but based on inner-city heat waves), many sellers want to transition into a new home without interrupting their children’s learning. Second, sellers see a national average increase in prices peak around June and July.
According to a study from NerdWallet analyzing listings and final sale prices over two years using data provided by Realtor.com, houses cost 8.45% more on average in the summer months than in the dead of winter.
Lastly, sellers see shorter days on market in the summer than in the winter. Looking at the data provided by Realtor.com, days on market for the months of May and June topped out at a median of 73.2 days, compared to 105.5 days for January and February.
Wait, this sounds like a great argument to keep listing in summer. What makes the winter so special?
In short, less competition, longer days on market, and saturated supply compared to the buyer pool size all favor listing in the winter. Here’s why:
According to a study by Redfin, February is the best month to list a house. An average of 66% of homes listed in February sell within 90 days.
Longer days on market tie in with less competition. With fewer buyers shopping around, houses stay on the market longer (around 33 days longer compared to the summer months), which gives the few buyers shopping more leverage and negotiating power.
Looking at the same NerdWallet study, which found that houses cost 8.45% less on average in the winter months than in the summer peak (excluding outliers Connecticut with a season low in April and New York-New Jersey with a low in March), housing prices are primarily attributed to higher demand and a more active buyer pool.
Jonathan Smoke, Chief Economist for Realtor.com, says there is “50 to 60% more inventory relative to the number of buyers, so there’s basically more options per buyer, and that translates into less competition.”
Buyers are encouraged to shop in the dead of winter to beat the summer rush, “ideally in January or February, right before the [market] starts to heat up,” says Smoke.
Looking at the asking price versus the sale price reveals a similar dynamic aiding the seller.
Although home sale prices are on average 8.45% lower in the winter, the spread between the listing price and the actual closing price is more stable. Listing in the winter nets sellers higher above-asking prices (almost) across all markets, and the winter months bring out the most serious buyers.
Compounding on Redfin, Realtor.com, and NerdWallet, Zillow found the best time to first list a home was early May. Unlike NerdWallet’s study examining Realtor.com’s data, Zillow looked as far back as 2008 (compared to NerdWallet’s 2012–2016 window) to see which market performed the best each month.
Using their own Zestimate tool, Zillow discovered that most major markets benefited from a May listing with an average .9% premium nationwide. Zillow also discovered homes listed in May sell 18.5 days faster than the national average.
However, like NerdWallet found, statistical anomalies occur trying to normalize for all zip codes: Both Washington, DC and Miami-Ft Lauderdale see significant changes in late-April, Houston in June, and San Diego in March.
With shorter daylight hours and lower temperatures, listing homes in the winter can be a challenge to the unprepared. Here are a few quick tips guaranteed to make a listing more attractive to winter buyers.
Stage It. Although homes in the summer months can get away without any furniture, the truth is summer listings have an upper edge over their winter counterparts: Amble, rich light and open windows with crisp air. Stage the listing with warmer colors (yellows, ambers, and reds), add photos reminding prospects of summer, and make sure to stage the outside of the listing with potted plants and outdoor furniture. You want to give prospects an idea of what the home may look like in the summer. Lastly, light the fireplace!
Shoot It. Real estate photography is a different beast in the winter than in the summer. To avoid spoiling a listing (and turning away the serious winter buyers), make sure to read up on real estate photography tips. Charlie Borland of Digital Photography School suggests shooting the same side of the house as the sun.
Smell It. Instinct tells us to follow our nose, but for listing a house in the winter, it’s best to minimize fragrances. Although you can stage the listing with plenty of decorative candles, hold off on lighting them to fill the room. Instead, consider bringing in freshly baked cookies. The smell will populate the living areas with pleasant underlying tones without having to use the listing’s oven. Prospects will be encouraged to grab a treat, which increases your pipeline.
Holiday networking tips to increase prospects:
Once you’ve exhausted your cookie supplies, your leads don’t need to die. The winter months are the best times of the year to network.
Zach Wade with Inman suggests great tips for networking, including the optimal time to send a follow-up email, but we’ve decided to put together our own list to master the art of holiday networking.
Holiday parties are a prime opportunity to network and build your business. Every gathering will have a room filled with potential valuable connections and prospects, so RSVP to every event. Office parties and industry events can be useful for reinforcing and expanding your professional network, while school and neighborhood parties can help pave the road into a community.
Be prepared with conversational topics. Don’t arrive unprepared hoping to rely on small talk. Organic conversations build rapport and leave lasting impressions.
First impressions always matter yet begin well before you start speaking: Pay attention to dress codes and if necessary, and bring a change of clothes or accessories to help transition from event to event. Remember, it’s better to overdress than arrive underdressed.
Come prepared with your business cards. While nobody wants to be sold at a party, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be excited about your business our your industry. Save the sales pitch for a later day and instead use this time to discuss how the market is performing or share any personal anecdotes.