Cover story: Make home a hot prospect as cold reigns

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Tradition and market statistics tell us that homebuyers and sellers are far more active in the spring than in winter, but not everyone thinks it’s a bad idea to sell your house in winter. That may be particularly true during the upcoming winter season in the D.C. area, where inventory is increasingly low and many buyers are frustrated with the lack of choice of properties.

“Home sales definitely slow down between Thanksgiving and the Super Bowl, but how much of a lull we experience depends a lot on whether we have a lot of inclement weather,” said Andy Alderice, a Realtor with W.C. & A.N. Miller, a Long & Foster Real Estate company in Bethesda. “Some clients consider taking their home off the market during the holidays just because of the inconvenience of having showings at that time of year, especially if they have no immediate need to sell.”

Ms. Alderice said that even with fewer homes on the market, there are different pockets and price points: Some homes are selling with multiple offers while others languish on the market for weeks at a time. She said, however, that the Washington area is very transient, with people needing to move into the area at all times of year.

“Buyers who are out in the winter looking tend to be more serious,” said Liz Bucuvalas, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Alexandria. “That may be especially true this year because there are so few homes on the market. Buyers are eager to take advantage of low interest rates, too.”

Christopher Suranna, a Realtor with Real Living at Home in the District, said most people who put their homes on the market in the winter have a strong reason for selling, such as a job transfer or an estate sale.

“We’re lucky in D.C. that we don’t usually have a lot of snow, so even though the spring market may be a little better, it’s not terrible to try and sell in the winter, Mr. Suranna said. “The important thing is to be aware of your competition.”

Mr. Suranna said sellers need to put themselves in the shoes of buyers to understand the market, particularly during a slower sales season like winter. He recommended that sellers in the suburbs take a radius from their home of a half-mile up to as much as three miles and look at all of the comparable homes on the market in that area.

“You don’t necessarily just look at homes in your development, because buyers will be looking at everything in your price range,” Mr. Suranna said. “If you are selling a two-bedroom, two-bath home and there are 24 other similar homes in your general area, you don’t want to be the highest-priced one.

“If you have the highest-priced home, then you’ll be number 25 on their list of choices. Buyers naturally want the best house at the lowest price.”

Listing agents should follow up on every visitor to the property to get feedback, Mr. Suranna suggested.

“You need to know why someone doesn’t like your property, whether it’s because they think it’s overpriced, it smells funny or it’s painted like the inside of a circus tent,” he said. “You can take it off the market to fix it, and sometimes it will sell right away when you list it again.”

Mr. Suranna said it is even more important to have your home in tip-top condition when you are selling in an offseason.

“As always, a house that looks good and is properly priced will sell quickly,” Ms. Bucuvalas said. “Even when the market is more robust, your home still has to look good on the first day it goes on the market. You can’t put it on the market and think you’re going to paint it in the spring.”

Homeowners need to pay careful attention to both the interior and exterior of their home when selling in winter.

“You need to start with a really good fall clean-up after the leaves stop falling,” Ms. Alderice said. “You need to trim and edge everything and add a fresh layer of mulch because it’s important that your home look neat and clean, especially when you don’t have the option of a lot of flowers.”

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