Happy Martin Luther King Day!
Our housing tribute to the good Doctor!
Happy Martin Luther King Day!
Our housing tribute to the good Doctor!
When it’s time to sell your house, conventional wisdom says selling in the prime season, which begins in spring and lasts through summer, is the best way to go. But what if you wanted to wait until the off-season—is that a savvy move, or would you be leaving money on the table?
Spring marks the beginning of the busiest home-selling and home-buying season in most areas. With the warmer weather, more daylight, and the impetus to get a new house in order before the next school calendar begins, buyers are more likely to shop during this time of year, with home buying peaking in June.
In some parts of the country, the buying seasons are different or less pronounced, as areas with more temperate weather and fewer buyers with children can have more balanced buying seasons.
In other words, the on- and off-seasons can change—both in timing and overall demand for houses on the market—depending on where you live. If you’re not sure of what it’s like in your area, check with a real estate agent; that’s what they’re there for.
OK, let’s get to it—is it really that much better to sell in the prime season?
Pro: Bigger sale price
Unlike other markets, where more inventory means lower prices, the housing market works the opposite way: Prices are highest in the prime season, when the most homes are listed.
“It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s a function of demand being very seasonal, driven by weather and school year,” said our chief economist, Jonathan Smoke. There are also more buyers in spring and summer, as this is the most convenient time for most people to move. So relative to demand, the supply of homes is actually tighter in spring and summer than in fall and winter.
Pro: Better valuations
When your house is being valued, the appraiser will look into data for comparable homes sold in your neighborhood. But if the most recent data is from a home that sold for cheap in the winter, it can hurt your valuation. Having only bits of comparable housing data “kind of holds you hostage,” said Dana Hill, vice president of Buyer’s Edge Realty in Bethesda, MD.
With more homes selling in the on-season, the comparable data (or “comps”) are more accurate. Hill recommends waiting to be the second or third person in your neighborhood to put your house up for sale to take advantage of those comparable sales. While you’re at it, be sure your appraiser knows your neighborhood. If a home recently sold for $600,000 but it was a tear-down, while normally prices are $1.2 million, you’ll want an appraiser who understands that, said Hill.
Either way, the more data the better—and the prime season is when the data are most robust.
Pro: Homes look better, days are longer
There’s no doubt spring is when properties shine. The flowers are in bloom and buyers are out. Daylight saving time also gives buyers more time to look at houses, which means your property can be seen by more buyers during the day, said Hill. That means a bigger chance for more interested buyers.
Con: Buyers are pickier
With more houses on the market, buyers can afford a bigger wish list. If your home needs repairs, buyers might simply pass. Add in the fact most buyers aren’t shopping under pressure (as they might be during the off-season), and you have a pool of selective shoppers.
“Buyers aren’t as pressured [during the on-season], so there’s no reason they would take a house that takes $15,000 to $20,000 worth of work. I think the time factor plays a big role in necessity,” said Gregory Gronbacher, a Realtor® with Keller Williams Realty in the Grand Rapids, MI, area.
Pro: Sellers can be picky, too
With more buyers come more options for potential new owners. Don’t want your childhood home razed to the ground for a new McMansion? You have a better chance of finding a loving couple looking to start a family during the on-season.
Pro: Bidding wars
Bidding wars are a headache for buyers but a big plus for sellers. Smoke said you want to “put your home on the market pretty near when inventory is at a high. There’s more chance for bidders and multiple offers.”
Bidding wars mean more money in your pocket. They also usually mean buyers are less likely to make repair requests or other demands. Additionally, cash buyers are some of the more aggressive bidders, so you might find a buyer with a fistful of dollars with a fast lane to closing day.
Con: Thrift shoppers
If you have to put your home up for sale in the off-season, it’s probably because of an extraneous factor—such as a death in the family, layoff, or short sale—and you can get buyers looking for a good deal above all else.
“You get a different sort of buyer, someone who is more sensitive to price, who is intentionally buying at that time of the year,” said Smoke. Investors looking to buy property at a discount do so around this time, he notes.
You may have to accommodate buyers’ wants, like making certain repairs or eating some closing costs in order to sell your home quickly, if that’s a motivating factor.
Pro: The motivated buyer
While you may have to field lowball offers from thrifty home shoppers, that doesn’t mean the motivated buyer is an endangered species in the off-season.
Gronbacher has found that “off-season buyers are more focused and serious about finding the right home in a short amount of time. In many cases, they are involved in a relocation or facing a situation that is requiring them to move.”
Adam Kruse, a Realtor with the Hermann London Real Estate Group in St. Louis, MO, agrees.
“If a buyer is out looking at houses the day before Thanksgiving in six inches of snow, you know they are serious,” he said.
Con: Less curb appeal
If you’re selling in winter, especially in snowy areas, your house will have less of that colorful “pop” it might have in spring.
“There is no real curb appeal as there is in the spring. We miss the beauty of green lawns, flowers, and in-ground pools,” said Linda Mossman, a Realtor with Realty Executives Boston West in Boston.
To offset the blandness of winter, Mossman said to keep the driveways and sidewalks as clear as possible, and provide your agent with pictures of your home in the spring for reference.
Con: Homes sell for less
When there are fewer houses on the market, it means homes will sell for less.
You may, however, be able to negate this con by raising your price. It’s a common tactic, said Hill. She calls it “winter pricing,” which makes it easier for the seller to accommodate a lower offer.
OK, so conventional wisdom does get it right, according to our experts: Sellers who have a choice in the matter wait until the prime season starts so they can reap the benefits.
“If you’re a seller,” said Smoke, “this is the optimal time.”
Homebuyers may spend as much money on their real estate agent as on their car, but many will choose their agent in less than an hour. According to a California Association of Realtors report, nearly half of all homebuyers hire the first agent they meet.
This is probably because most of us would rather reject a car than a person. And some people just don’t know what to ask when evaluating an agent. As agents ourselves, we know what we’d ask. Here are our top suggestions.
Every agent has clients he served well. But the best agents serve nearly all of their clients well. Getting an agent’s last five clients will give you a more balanced picture of his service than letting him choose his most favorable references. Call at least two of the five, asking clients some of the same questions you asked him. Look closely at these last five deals to see how they compare to similar sales in the neighborhood. Did he negotiate a good price for each customer?
Prepping and staging a house. Every seller wants her home to sell fast and bring top dollar. Does that sound good to you? Well, it’s not luck that makes that happen. It’s careful planning and knowing how to professionally spruce up your home that will send home buyers scurrying for their checkbooks. Here is how to prep a house and turn it into an irresistible and marketable home.
Pack up those personal photographs and family heirlooms. Buyers can’t see past personal artifacts, and you don’t want them to be distracted. You want buyers to imagine their own photos on the walls, and they can’t do that if yours are there! You don’t want to make any buyer ask, “I wonder what kind of people live in this home?” You want buyers to say, “I can see myself living here.”
People collect an amazing quantity of junk. Consider this: if you haven’t used it in over a year, you probably don’t need it.
Buyers love to snoop and will open closet and cabinet doors. Think of the message it sends if items fall out! Now imagine what a buyer believes about you if she sees everything organized. It says you probably take good care of the rest of the house as well. This means:
Almost every home shows better with less furniture. Remove pieces of furniture that block or hamper paths and walkways and put them in storage. Since your bookcases are now empty, store them. Remove extra leaves from your dining room table to make the room appear larger. Leave just enough furniture in each room to showcase the room’s purpose and plenty of room to move around. You don’t want buyers scratching their heads and saying, “What is this room used for?”
If you want to take window coverings, built-in appliances or fixtures with you, remove them now. If the chandelier in the dining room once belonged to your great grandmother, take it down. If a buyer never sees it, she won’t want it. Once you tell a buyer she can’t have an item, she will covet it, and it could blow your deal. Pack those items and replace them, if necessary.
These days there are a lot of different ways that you can save money. Some people like to cut coupons, some like to sign up for deal websites. However, there are some things you can easily do around the house to save money and lower your bills. These changes will help make your home more energy efficient and help keep money in your wallet.
If you’re looking for ways to make your money go further, the best place to start is at home. It’s possible to streamline your budget and increase your monthly savings by making some simple lifestyle changes around the house. The first step is to identify the major money-wasters that are eating into your bottom line. Once you know what your biggest household expenses are, you can begin making taking steps to reduce your spending and put more money back into your pocket.
One easy way to lower your electric bill is by sealing up any holes or leaks where air might be able to escape. This may be around doors, windows, and even electrical outlets and switches. To seal up your door, you can simply take some weather stripping around the door frame to create an air tight seal. You can also look at the calking around doors and windows to see if any of it needs to be replaced or touched up. While a small hole may not seem like a big deal, it is still a space that cool air seep in or out. You can also seal electrical outlets or switches, which isn’t something people normally think about. Outlets and switches that are on outside walls can slowly seep in cold or warm air. You can seal these by taking off the face plates and adding some low flow foam around the casing. Before you put the face plate back on you can add a foam seal to help insulate and reduce air leakage.
Since energy bills mainly reflects our A/C use, changing out your old thermostat for a programmable one is probably one of the easiest ways to cut down your electric bill. Having a programmable thermostat will let you set up the temperature for times that you aren’t home, on vacation, or asleep. This will help ensure that you aren’t cooling an empty house in the middle of the summer. There are several different types of programmable thermostats. Some let you program just Monday through Friday, some let you program every day of the week, and others are learning thermostats. The Nest is a learning thermostat that is designed to learn when you are gone, when you are home, and what temperature settings will be the best setting to save you money. You don’t have to hire someone to come out and install a new thermostat; there are many different kits that make it easy for you to change them out on your own. Something else you can do to keep costs down is to do annual checks and maintenance on your air conditioner and heater. By keeping these in good condition, you will reduce the chance of it braking in the middle of a chilly night and costly repairs.
Food costs can be a major budget buster, especially if you have a larger family. These costs are easily inflated if you eat out frequently or you regularly purchase pre-made meals because you didn’t have time to cook dinner. One of the easiest ways to keep your food costs down is to cut out take-out meals or fast food.
The best way to keep grocery costs down is to plan your meals ahead of time. You can create your menu plan a week at a time or for the entire month. Before you get started with your meal plan, take some time to review the sale ads for your local grocery stores. Try to plan meals based on what’s on sale whenever possible. Avoid overstocking on items that can spoil or go bad, since food waste can end up costing you hundreds of dollars each year. Buying items on sale is also a good way to maximize the value of coupons. Coupons can be found in newspaper inserts, magazines and store sale papers. Digital coupons are also available through a number of websites and can be “clipped” directly to your grocer’s customer rewards card.
Utility bills are another big budget drain and cutting back on your energy usage can help to keep costs down. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends doing a complete assessment of your home to identify your biggest energy wasters. This means checking for possible leaks around windows and doors which can inflate your heating a cooling costs; making sure your appliances and HVAC system are properly maintained; and checking the quality of the insulation in your walls, ceilings and floors.
There are also several small things you can do to cut energy costs that can result in big savings. For example, exchanging your standard light bulbs for energy-efficient ones can cut your electricity bill by hundreds of dollars each year. Minimizing hot water usage and installing a programmable thermostat can also keep electricity costs down. You may also consider looking into renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind energy, to power your home. While solar and wind energy systems can be expensive to install, they can save you thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
If you’re committed to cutting costs at home, then reduce, recycle and reuse should become your new mantra. While adhering to this philosophy may require a little creativity on your part, it can ultimately help you to keep more cash in your pocket. Rather than purchasing items new, take a look around the house to see if you already have something similar that will meet your needs. Before you throw something away, consider whether it can be re-purposed and used for something else.
Another way to keep costs down is to implement a sharing system. For example, if you and your neighbor both need a new lawnmower, you could purchase the item together and share its use. It may also be worthwhile to organize a neighborhood swap meet where you and your neighbors can trade furniture, tools, household goods or other items. Doing so allows you to clear the clutter from your home and possibly pick up some of the things you need without costing a dime.
When cutting household costs, it’s important that you be able to distinguish between your needs and your wants. Go over your budget and look for expenses that are unnecessary or inflated. For example, you may consider dropping your landline telephone service if you have cell phones. If you have cell phones, you should regularly review your plan to make sure you’re not paying for services you don’t need. If you have cable television or satellite, ask yourself if you can do without the premium package or eliminate the service altogether. You may also consider consolidating your Internet, cable and telephone services at a discounted rate.
Go over your insurance coverage to make sure that you’re not paying too much for your homeowner’s or renter’s policy. Take some time to shop around for better insurance rates and ask your insurer about discounts for making certain home improvements, such as installing a security system or weather-proofing. You may also be able to get a discount if you purchase your car insurance or other policies from the same insurer.
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