Should You Wait Until Spring To Sell Your Home? No Way! Why Winter Listings Rule Today

home selling

By Erica Sweeney

Winter is typically a slow time for home sales, when sellers might wonder if they have any hope of finding a buyer. But will that be the case this winter?

“Normally this is a boring question, but this year it’s anything but,” says Danielle Hale, chief economist of Realtor.com®. Although the housing market tends to freeze up once snow falls, Hale predicts that this post-pandemic winter season will be different: “Sellers can expect to see plenty of buyers.”

“Compared to other past winter seasons, this winter season’s sales activity will be stronger,” agrees Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors®. “This winter, there will be more sales compared to pre-pandemic winters going back all the way to 2006.”

This optimism stems back to (you guessed it) the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, which created a pent-up demand for homes throughout much of 2020 that completely swamped the usual spring rush, winter lull rhythm of the real estate cycle.

And that overwhelming demand for housing is still going strong today.

“We had unusual seasonality in 2020 due to the pandemic shifting timing around for many buyers and sellers,” explains Hale. “While 2021 had much more normal seasonality—homes sold fastest in summer and slower in fall and winter—this year has been a standout for its own reasons.”

So what makes 2021 so special? For one, consider that, from March all the way into October, “homes were selling faster than the fastest-selling months in any previous year,” Hale says. That demand won’t just suddenly dry up once the temperature drops below freezing, or even once the holidays kick into high gear.

“Although there are fewer buyers in the winter months than in the competitive spring and summer period, all signs suggest that housing demand remains high,” Hale says.

Another factor is that, with supply chain issues slowing new home construction, many buyers just couldn’t find their dream homes in the spring, summer, or fall—and will still be looking into the cold winter months.

Due to this high demand and limited inventory, “Winter is likely to be a better time to sell than winter typically is,” says Kelly Mangold, principal at RCLCO Real Estate Consulting. “Many sellers should not feel the need to wait until spring, especially in high-demand areas.”

So if you’ve all but written off the idea of selling your home until spring ’22, think again! Here are a few things to know about selling your home this winter.

Inventory is low—and homes are selling fast

Although the number of homebuyers house hunting this winter may be slightly lower than during the busy spring and summer seasons, these homebuyers mean serious business. As such, Hale says, “Sellers can expect to see homes sell quickly.”

How quickly are we talking about? In October, U.S. homes spent an average of 45 days on the market—eight days fewer than the previous year, according to Realtor.com data. In the 50 largest metros across the U.S., homes sat on the market for just 39 days. In the hottest and most competitive towns and cities, it was substantially less.

Home prices may have peaked

Another reason sellers may want to list their homes now is that prices are at an all-time high. According to Realtor.com data, median home prices in the U.S. now hover at $380,000, up 9% from a year earlier.

But there are signs that these high prices are leveling off.

“The days of fast price gains are over,” Yun says. “There will be few pockets of the market where bidding wars do occur, but sellers should expect much less than what was occurring the past 12 months. Home prices generally will be higher price compared to one year ago, but maybe a bit lower compared to what occurred in the summer.”

Given that prices seem to be softening, Yun advises sellers to check their local market to see if other homes are lingering on the market a little longer than in previous months, and to talk to their real estate agent about adjusting their price accordingly.

Hale agrees: “A greater share of sellers may find that they have overreached on their initial asking price and need to adjust lower.”

Interest rates are creeping up

The all-time-low interest rates of the past 20-plus months inspired many buyers to shop for real estate. As of Nov. 10, interest rates were 2.98% for a 30-year fixed-rate loan, according to Freddie Mac. But these rates may be going up.

The Mortgage Bankers Association estimates that rates will rise to 3.1% by the end of 2021 and 4% by the end of 2022.

These increasing interest rates could discourage buyers from being as bullish going forward.

“Sellers should be aware that higher mortgage rates mean reduced purchasing power for buyers and may eat into potential buyers’ ability to offer top dollar,” Hale explains.

More homes should hit the market by spring 2022, Yun says, but buyer demand will partly depend on where interest rates go next. If they’re up, that “spring rush” of buyers may have their hands tied in terms of how much they can pay for your home.

But wait, where will you live?

According to a recent Realtor.com survey, 36% of home sellers plan to buy a new home after they’ve sold the one they have. Yet if this is your plan, be warned that you may find yourself in the same hot seat: scrambling to buy a home amid limited inventory and high prices.

So you’d better have a game plan of where you’ll move once your home sells.

Yet here’s some good news on this front: “Inventory will still be lower this winter compared to one year ago,” says Yun, “but down around 10% rather than the 20% or 30% declines we have witnessed since the onset of the pandemic.” In other words, the homes are out there, which should give you options.

Another strategy to avoid selling your home without a place to live is to add a “home of choice” contingency, also known as a “suitable property” contingency. This where your sale depends on your ability to find a new home within a certain time frame. If you can’t, you can call off the deal. Just know that this contingency isn’t used that often, since few buyers may be willing to be left hanging like this. Still, in a strong seller’s market—particularly during winter when no one may feel like moving in a blizzard—you might just have a chance.

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What Sellers Should Look For in an Offer: 4 Factors Other Than Money To Consider

what sellers look for

By Tara Mastroeni

re you selling your home and reviewing several offers? Congratulations! You’re well on your way to getting as much as possible out of what is likely your largest asset.

But when it comes to picking an offer, sometimes it’s important to take a step back and recognize that your bottom line shouldn’t be your only consideration.

In many instances, the terms a potential buyer includes in the offer also play an important part. They can underscore how many hurdles you’ll have to clear to reach the closing table in a timely matter. So every seller should carefully review an offer—beyond the dollar amount—before settling on a buyer.

To help you navigate all this, we’ve outlined four important factors that home sellers should look for in an offer. Here’s everything you need to know about choosing the best one.

1. Research your preferred financing method

As a seller, you probably have an offer amount in mind that you would like the buyer to meet or exceed. But remember, a buyer needs to prove that he can afford to make the purchase—no matter what numbers are thrown around in an offer.

“If the buyer intends to get a mortgage, there should always be a pre-approval letter included in an offer on their lender’s letterhead,” says Don Norris, an agent with Keller Williams Realty in Ocala, FL.

And if a potential buyer makes a cash offer, ask for proof of funds before accepting it. This proof will usually come in the form of a bank or investment account statement. Each should show that the buyer has the funds necessary to complete the transaction.

Need to sell your home in a hurry? Then you may prefer an all-cash offer. This type of offer usually involves less risk and a shorter escrow period as cash eliminates waiting for a buyer’s full mortgage approval.

But seller beware: All-cash buyers have negotiation power. And they will generally want something in return for bringing a bag of money to the sale. For instance, they could offer you less than the asking price. So be sure to weigh the cons against the pros before accepting an all-cash offer over a buyer with a mortgage.

2. Look for a larger earnest money deposit

Next, you may want to pick an offer with a sizable earnest money deposit, also known as a good-faith deposit. This is a sum of money that a buyer entrusts to the seller’s brokerage firm to prove that he is serious about purchasing the home.

“A deposit that’s worth 1% to 2% of the sale price is normal,” says Kseniya Korneva, a real estate team leader of the Korneva Home Group of Pineywoods Realty in Tampa, FL. “But the higher the deposit, the stronger the offer.”

The buyer’s earnest money deposit goes toward the down payment if he eventually closes on the home. On the other hand, if the buyer breaks the contract and walks away from buying the home, you can potentially keep the deposit as a consolation.

3. Consider fewer contingencies

In real estate, contingencies are benchmarks buyers set that need to be met for the transaction to continue moving forward. For example, many buyers will want to include an inspection contingency in the purchase contract. This means the buyer will need time to have your home inspected. And if any issues are found, a buyer might ask you to make repairs before he will close on the home.

With an appraisal contingency, a satisfactory appraisal of your property must be conducted. If the appraisal doesn’t match the agreed-upon price of the home, you and the buyer will have to reach a new number before settlement.

The caveat here is that anytime a contingency can’t be satisfied, the buyer has a chance to walk away from the purchase with his earnest money deposit in hand.

Obviously, from a seller’s point of view, the fewer chances the buyer has to exit the transaction, the better. With that in mind, it’s a good idea for you to select an offer that has the fewest contingencies from the start.

“Choosing an offer with minimal contingencies is just as important as the sale price,” says Link Moser, a broker and owner of Experience Homes Group in Loudon, NH. “That’s why cash offers are often accepted, even at lower sales prices. Sellers see a cash offer as removing a lot of the risk of the transaction falling apart due to a buyer’s inability to get financing or the appraisal value coming in below the sale price.”

4. Opt for an ideal closing timeline

Finally, consider your optimal timeline for heading to the settlement table. Moving out is a lot of work, especially if you’ve lived in the home you’re selling for a while. To that end, you’re going to want to ensure that you choose an offer with a closing date that suits your needs.

“Timing is everything,” says Lauren McKinney, an agent with Beverly-Hanks Realtors in Asheville, NC. “While a quick closing is desirable to many sellers, some need more time to move. In that case, even an offer that has a lower sale price may be more desirable if the timing works better for them.”

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Hands Off What Stays With a House When You Sell It?

home inspection

By Wendy Helfenbaum

When standup comedian Nathan Brannon moved into his newly purchased home in rural Washington state, it seemed the joke was on him: The previous owner had left the pegboard on the garage wall, but had taken all the pegs.

“When I first saw the pegs were missing, I was super confused; I mean, what are you going to do with just pegs?” Brannon recalls. “Now I have a pile of yard tools on the floor in front of the pegboard.”

“What do I have to leave when I sell my house?”

Brannon isn’t the only home buyer to discover that sellers sometimes take the strangest things with them when they vacate a property. We’ve seen home buyers ranting on social media about missing doorknobs, toilet paper holders, and even trees from the front yard.

But it can be far beyond merely annoying for the buyer. If you take something you haven’t negotiated to keep, you could tank the sale—or even face a lawsuit.

Not sure what you’re allowed to take with you when you move? Here are some rules to keep in mind before—and after—closing the deal.

1. If it’s nailed down, bolted, or mounted, it probably stays behind

When Laurel-Ann Dooley walked through a vacation property she was purchasing, there was a glaring hole where a storage shed had recently stood.

“The previous owner had sold it, even though it was supposed to stay,” recalls Dooley, who’s an attorney and Realtor® at PalmerHouse Properties in Atlanta.

While most buyers and sellers probably know that “fixtures”—immovable elements of a home such as built-in furniture, fences, or, yes, a storage shed—must stay behind, there can still be some confusion, saysBill Gassett, a Realtor® with Re/Max Executive Realty in Hopkinton, MA.

“Probably the No. 1 gray area that I’ve found is the mounting mechanism for big-screen TVs,” Gassett shares. “Obviously, it’s attached, so it’s supposed to stay with the house. But commonsense says, ‘Well, if somebody has a $3,000 TV hanging on the wall, unless they’re including [the TV] with the house, [the mounting mechanism] doesn’t stay.’”

“It becomes a real battling point with buyers and sellers if it’s not specifically referenced,” he adds.

Generally, Dooley says, if a house has been modified for an item, it’s probably a fixture.

“If an air-conditioning unit is placed in a window, it’s arguably personal property and the buyer can take it with them,” she says. “But if a hole has been cut in the wall to accommodate the unit, then it’s most likely a fixture.”

With that said, you want to avoid “arguably”, “probably”, or “most likely” when it comes to selling your home, Dooley cautions. Be specific and firm.

“If you want it, say so upfront,” Dooley advises.

2. Leave Mother Nature alone

Unless the property listing specifically mentions that you intend to take the prized rose patch your Aunt Zelda gave you, sellers cannot remove any landscaping, Gassett says.

“I’ve had sellers with specific requests to take certain things that might have been a special gift,” Gassett says. “Otherwise, you can’t just dig up a plant and take it with you; it’s part of the property.”

3. Hands off anything anchored in the ground

Other backyard items are also potential sources of misunderstanding between buyers and sellers.

“Technically, if a basketball hoop is cemented into the ground, then it’s considered to go with the house. Freestanding ones sitting on the lawn, however, would be something buyers could take with them,” he says.

Ditto for swing sets: If it’s anchored in the ground, it stays.

4. Let go of your lighting fixtures

Even if you’re attached to your show-stopping dining room chandelier, don’t pack it up and leave electrical wires hanging when you leave. And if you’re thinking about swapping out that chandelier right before closing—and hoping the buyer won’t notice? Forget about it, Gassett says.

“When you buy a property, you’re buying what you saw the day you saw the property and wrote the offer on the house, so for sellers to change something out after that date is illegal,” Gassett warns. Yes—illegal. 

You can declare your intention to remove it, Dooley says, but be aware that excluded items often become sticking points between buyers and sellers.

“Instead, take that chandelier out before you list your house, and put something else there,” she suggests.

5. Do you leave curtains when you move? Yep, window treatments stay, too

You may have spent a fortune on those custom blinds in your living room, but technically, you’re supposed to leave ‘em hanging, Gassett says.

“Curtains are always considered personal property, because they just slide off,” he says. “Rods and blinds, on the other hand, are considered part of the house because they’re affixed and attached.”

Mirrors are another murky area, he adds, but pretty easy to figure out: If they’re hung like paintings on a wall, they’re personal property. Bolted to the studs? They’re fixtures.

Don’t be petty—or you might tank the sale

Often, the littlest things cause the most heated debates, or even the derailment of the sale itself.

Sometimes, as in Brannon’s case of the missing pegs, sellers remove things from the house that aren’t worth chasing after, but are incredibly annoying nonetheless, Gassett says. For instance, he recalls a seller who took the control box for an underground dog fence.

“In real estate deals, some people take it out on the buyer by nickel-and-diming on stuff,” he says. “Especially if they don’t feel the sale has gone exactly the way they wanted it to, or they have resentment towards the buyer.”

Dooley heard of a seller who removed all the lightbulbs in the house before moving.

“With the amount of money you’re talking about on the sale of a home, I can’t imagine attaching sentimental value to your 60-watt lightbulbs,” she says. “It’s kind of silly.”

 

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7 Living Room Tips To Help Sell Your Home

living room

By Lauren Sieben

The kitchen may be the heart of the home, but the living room is the hub. It’s where everyone convenes to relax and enjoy quality time with each other (or with the TV). If you’re preparing to list your house, you need to go the extra mile to help prospective new owners see your living room’s full potential.

Today’s buyers expect spaces that are equal parts inviting and updated. We spoke with real estate experts around the country to learn about the living room fixes that can help you attract top dollar in today’s housing market.

1. Let the light in

Forget moody color palettes and heavy window treatments in the living room.

“Buyers want to see homes that are bright, spacious, and inviting, with natural light,” says Tamara Moritz, a Realtor® at Coldwell Banker Realty in Austin, TX. “I always advise my clients to thin out these rooms, open all the blinds and remove darker solar screens, to invite more natural light into the home.”

One of the best living room upgrades to make before you list is new light fixtures, Moritz adds—you can’t go wrong with something bright and simple.

Donna Incorvaja, a Realtor associate and licensed broker at RelatedISG Realty in South Florida, agrees: “The living room should be balanced with a neutral, light, color palette, which will make it easier for the buyers to visualize themselves and their style in your home.”

2. Neutralize the wall colors

At this point, it should go without saying: A fresh coat of paint in a neutral color works wonders to freshen up a dated space and help buyers see its possibilities. White or off-white is a perennial safe bet, but it’s not your only option.

“Buyers in my area are still loving light gray,” says Tracy Jones, a real estate agent with Re/Max Platinum in Sarasota, FL, and Re/Max Oak Crest Realty in Elkhart, IN. “It’s a safe choice for sellers, as it appeals to almost everyone, and sellers can use bold colors to accent with.”

3. Open up the space

If it’s within your budget or skill set to create an open floor in the living room, this project is worth the effort.

“Sellers can remove walls if possible, and barriers such as pony walls,” says Suzi Dailey with Realty ONE Luxe in Dana Point, CA. “Sometimes, near the front door, you see false walls to create a foyer, but removing excess walls is a popular trend today, and it bears good fruit.”

Today’s buyers aren’t interested in their grandma’s stuffy living rooms, so don’t let old-school conventions limit your vision for an open space.

“Formal living rooms are more uncommon nowadays,” Incorvaja says. “It’s very important that the main living room is big and open enough for the whole family to gather together.”

4. Streamline and stage thoughtfully

Once you’ve opened up your space, don’t let a busy room full of furniture and tchotchkes detract from the appeal.

“One of the best tips to increase the living room’s appeal is to declutter furniture,” Incorvaja says. “Keeping the decoration simple and staged well helps buyers visualize their furniture in the home.”

If you’re not sure how to scale back, choose just a few focal pieces to anchor the room.

“I always recommend keeping it simple, with a great piece of art—it doesn’t have to be expensive. A nice plant, and just a few pieces of furniture,” Dailey says.

5. Remove dingy carpeting and replace with wood or tile flooring

Old carpeting is an instant turn-off to prospective buyers.

“Renovations that definitely add value to a home include tile or wood flooring,” Incorvaja says.

If you don’t have the budget for brand-new hardwoods, don’t despair.

“Wood-look vinyl is not only affordable but easy to maintain, and has become an appealing option in lots of price points,” Moritz says.

In some parts of the country, tile is even preferable to wood flooring.

“In Florida, tile is always a popular choice,” Jones says. “Homeowners have been opting for tile that looks like wood. It doesn’t scratch, and holds up well to kids, pets, and wet feet coming in from the pool.”

Whatever you choose, resist the temptation to replace old carpet with new carpet.

“Replacing carpet is not money well spent,” Dailey says. “Most buyers would prefer engineered wood.”

6. Show the room’s versatility

Pre-pandemic, a living room might primarily have served as a hangout spot. These days, it probably pulls double duty as a gym, office or classroom.

“These rooms have evolved into multipurpose rooms that are being furnished to accommodate offices or virtual classrooms during the day, and media rooms or game rooms in the evenings,” Moritz says.

You can set up a nook with a desk and laptop in the living room, or take advantage of extra living spaces like sunrooms or large foyers to stage different options for multipurpose spaces.

“If a rec room is in the basement, use the lack of windows to your advantage,” Dailey says.

She suggests creating “a media/theater/virtual reality type of room, or a hip gym.”

7. Incorporate extra shelving or storage

Storage is always a bonus for buyers, especially in a living room where they may want to hide away blankets, toys, or electronics.

“When there are interesting angles or niches, I recommend adding built-in shelving with lights and accent paint color, to add interest to a room,” Moritz says. “These touches don’t cost a lot, but add character and interest to buyers.”

Don’t overlook dead space around the house that could be transformed into storage.

“If there is an entry staircase, adding a cut-in under the stairs for shelves creates an appealing use of what would otherwise be a blank wall,” Moritz adds.

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8 Crucial Kitchen Improvements You Should Make Before Selling Your Home

kitchen improvements

By: Lauren Dieben

Preparing to list your house? If you want to get top dollar, start sprucing up your kitchen now.

“The kitchen is often the centerpiece in a home and the place where most of the entertaining happens,” says Tony Rodriguez-Tellaheche, owner and managing broker of Prestige Realty Group in Miami. “Sellers should not cut corners.”

A killer kitchen is one of the best ways to sell your home. Before you list your place, start making some of these improvements to help swing buyers in the right direction.

1. Refresh your cabinets

If your cabinets are looking drab and dated but are still in good shape, you don’t need to replace them. Instead, pick up some good paint and brushes or a paint sprayer.

“Sometimes a quick ‘face-lift’ to the kitchen cabinets can go a long way,” Rodriguez-Tellaheche says. “Refinishing existing cabinets is more cost-effective than replacing them completely, and can make a big difference when updating a kitchen.”

Before you start putting down the dropcloths, be mindful of your color palette—you’ll want to stick with neutrals to appeal to most buyers.

“If cabinets are darker natural wood or a polarizing color, we recommend painting either soft white or greige,” says Julie Busby, founder of the Busby Group in Chicago.

2. Upgrade to quartz countertops

Today’s buyers aren’t so keen on granite, and they’re definitely not looking for laminate. If you splurge on one upgrade in the kitchen, make it quartz countertops.

“I recommend using quartz in the kitchen,” says Brad Whittaker, an agent with Realty ONE Group Pacifica in Longview, WA. “It is always a nice, hard surface, and there are so many designs and colors to choose from.”

Plus, quartz is more durable and environmentally friendly than other materials, which is especially important in a busy kitchen.

“More sellers are incorporating quartz into their kitchens than traditional material like marble, because it is less porous and therefore less likely to stain,” Rodriguez-Tellaheche says.

3. Update the lighting

If your light fixtures are old enough to vote or order a beer in a bar, it’s time to replace them (or at least give them a very thorough dusting).

Swap in new fixtures over the island and kitchen sink, or increase your kitchen’s appeal by installing recessed lighting on a dimmer.

“Under-counter lighting also adds a nice touch,” Rodriguez-Tellaheche says.

4. Invest in a good (quiet) dishwasher

If your appliances have seen better days, replacing them with midrange stainless-steel appliances is a safe bet, Whittaker says. Top-of-the-line appliances might not be worth the splurge—you won’t always see a return on that investment.

The one appliance that’s worth spending a little more? The dishwasher.

“Always spend good money on your dishwasher—$700 plus to make sure that it is quiet,” Whittaker says.

5. Bring in a crisp, new backsplash

Installing a neutral, clean backsplash can win you points with prospective buyers.

“Backsplashes can make a huge difference,” Busby says. “If the current one is busy or dated-looking, we recommend going with a classic white subway tile or any other neutrally colored tile.”

Plus, a new backsplash paired with upgraded countertops “can even make dated appliances look more current,” says Simon Isaacs, broker and founder of Simon Isaacs Real Estate in Palm Beach, FL.

6. Brighten up the color palette

“Dark kitchen cabinets with dark granite is a thing of the past and can make a home hard to sell, especially to millennial buyers,” Rodriguez-Tellaheche says.

Aside from painting dark cabinets and replacing countertops, choose a bright, neutral paint color for the walls. A light color can also help make modest-size kitchens look a little more airy and spacious.

7. Add premium touches

Quarantine has turned many of us into home cooks, and that means buyers are looking for luxe touches throughout the kitchen where they’re spending more time than ever.

“Most of today’s buyers are self-proclaimed foodies and expect a well-thought-out kitchen,” Isaacs says. “Sophisticated wine fridges, filtered water spouts, and pot fillers are becoming the norm nowadays.”

Busby agrees: “If you have space for a beverage or wine cooler, buyers love this added bonus.”

8. Give the kitchen a serious deep clean

Nothing turns buyers off quicker than a kitchen with the “yuck” factor: food stains, filthy fridges, and even junked-up baseboards.

“Keep it clean, bright, and shiny,” Whittaker says. “There are lots of gloss surfaces in a kitchen, and to see them dull, scratched, scuffed, or chipped is a turnoff to most buyers.”

A sparkling-clean oven is also non-negotiable, Whittaker adds.

“No one wants to bake inside your gunky oven,” he says. “Remember, if you want top dollar for your home, you need to sell it as if you have taken top-dollar care of it.”

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