Jan
09

Warm Up to Winter Homes Selling

January 09, 2014

Selling in winterWhen Rahul Dhawan and his wife, Bela, found an incredible city property for sale in 2012, they knew they had to act right away. The timing, though, was less than perfect. It was the week before Thanksgiving, and the seller wanted to close the sale before year’s end.

That meant putting their residence at the time, a South Loop town house, on the market in mid-December, a time when conventional real estate wisdom says buyers are in hibernation. The Dhawans weren’t enthused about their prospects, but the new home was too good to pass up. So they plowed ahead with help from their real estate broker, Cheena Chandra, of Chicago’s Related Realty.

After a couple of weeks of prep work, including some cleanup on a dead front lawn, the Dhawans’ house was ready for sale. Two days later, they had two sets of interested buyers. A week later, a firm offer for a satisfactory price was in hand.

“We were concerned about the number of potential buyers we’d get right before Christmas,” Rahul Dhawan said. “But Cheena encouraged us to give it a shot. It turns out the (buyers) had been looking for a house in our neighborhood for five or six months.”

The dark days of winter are sometimes seen as a real estate no man’s land. Buyers are too busy with turkeys and trees, this line of thinking goes, to be bothered with house hunting. Gray days and snowstorms keep people shuttered away. Open houses are sparsely attended.

It’s no coincidence that the prime homebuying season, March through September, echoes children’s school schedules. Many families prefer to move after the academic year has concluded, said James Votanek, senior sales support manager with Baird & Warner’s Glen Ellyn office and president of the board for the North Shore-Barrington Association of Realtors.

But for people who are unaffected by school schedules or who simply must sell for any number of reasons, winter offers many advantages, he said. And serious buyers are unlikely to be deterred by snow or sleet.

“It’s a perfectly good time to have a house on the market,” Votanek said. “Winter buyers tend to be more motivated.”

Those who list homes in fall and winter are likely to benefit from decreased competition from other properties. They are also likely to find serious buyers who, spurred by job transfers or family changes, need to buy right away.

Yet those who brave the elements are likely to notice some differences from fair-weather selling. Here are some seasonal tips from local real estate brokers.

Make the price right. It’s imperative that listings be priced appropriately in winter, said TJ Rubin, managing broker with Chicago’s Fulton Grace Realty. Avoid too-low prices, since bidding wars are unlikely to erupt. Too-high prices are also a turnoff to the limited pool of winter buyers.

Showcase the yard. When the perennial garden is blanketed in snow, Fran Bailey, a broker with Baird & Warner’s Gold Coast office, suggests displaying full-bloom shots of the yard on the dining room table during viewings, or including them with your home’s online listing.

Seek the light. Pre-dinner sunsets mean many potential buyers will view your home when it’s dark out. Consequently, good lighting takes on added importance. Evaluate overhead and task lighting, making sure it spotlights your home’s best features. Turn on lights before you vacate for a showing so you don’t leave potential buyers in the dark. If you own a high-rise with a spectacular view, schedule showings during daylight, when possible, so visitors can see what all the fuss is about.

Mind the elements. The importance of curb appeal is not limited to summer. Keep driveways, walks and patios clear of snow. Make sure exterior lights are working. Seasonal displays should be tasteful and current.

Keep it warm. As a seller, you want potential buyers to linger, something they are unlikely to do if they are uncomfortable. Now is not the time to save on the heating bill. Keep your place toasty, and you are more likely to clinch a sale.

Be flawless. “Because you are selling in winter, people might assume that you need to sell or are very motivated,” said Terri McAuley, a broker with Koenig & Strey Real Living’s Gold Coast office. “People might think they are going to get a deal.”

To counteract that perception, McAuley suggests going over the property with a fine-tooth comb, paying special attention to paint, furniture arrangement and clutter. Since windows often appear dirtier in winter, make sure to keep them clean.

Brian Donlan, who sold his two-bedroom Andersonville neighborhood condo in January 2010, repainted with a lighter color palette to counteract darker days, on the advice of his broker, Baird & Warner’s Bailey.

Remain flexible. Though it’s generally true that this time of year has fewer buyers, that’s not always bad. Open houses and showings are less likely to attract “looky-loos” — not-so-serious buyers who just happened to be out for a bike ride or Sunday drive and saw the property. That can save sellers time and effort.

On the other hand, you will want to be more accommodating to the serious buyers you do encounter, Chandra said. When possible, be flexible with showing times and closing dates.

This article was originally published on ChicagoTribune.com on Jan. 4, 2014.

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