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Realities of Real Estate: Home for the Holidays

When we get to this time of year, there are sellers who start talking about taking their house off the market for the holidays.

Some sellers think that all the buyers go into hibernation during November and December. Others just don’t want to be hassled with showing their house during the holidays. There are a number of reasons why people believe putting house selling on hold is the smart thing to do when the snow starts to fly.

Well, you might be surprised to find out that taking your home off the market could be a mistake. Here are the four most common reasons people suspend selling during the end of the year, and why you might want to reconsider such a strategy.

-There aren’t any buyers out there: During this time of year, it’s true that many of us get focused on family and turn our thoughts to a great turkey dinner and eggnog in front of the fire, with football games on the big screen. Slogging around in the snow to look at a bunch of houses is clearly a lot less desirable than slipping off your shoes and leaning back in the easy chair.

And, it’s true that the number of contracts written on houses falls off a bit in November and December. But, the idea that real estate agents sit around twiddling their thumbs during the end of the year isn’t entirely accurate.

Some people think that house selling all but stops. In reality, the number of homes that go under contract in November and December is only about 25 percent lower than the monthly average for the entire year. So, that would suggest that three quarters of the buyers are still out there looking around.

Another important consideration is the “quality” of the buyers you get this time of year. If someone’s out in the cold looking for a house in November and December, they’re usually “serious” about buying a house.

Any real estate agent will tell you that, especially in the current real estate market, we get a lot of “lookers,” people who can’t seem to make up their mind. Most all agents have the horror story about going through three oil changes and two sets of brakes with the miles they pile up showing a bunch of houses to an indecisive buyer.

Conversely, if someone calls us on the day before Thanksgiving to go look at a house, you can bet that buyer is on a mission, and they’re serious about writing a contract on something. If you’ve taken your house off the market, you’ll miss out on these opportunities. There may be fewer buyers on the hunt for a house this time of year, but the ones out there are usually excellent prospects.

-I’m worried about a lot of days on the market: Many sellers believe that if their house is on the market for too long, buyers will think there’s something wrong with it, and the potential sales could be negatively impacted. As a result, sellers think that the holidays are a good time to take it off the market and avoid racking up a lot of days on the market. In today’s real estate market, that strategy could work against you.

Back when we were in a sellers’ market, and houses were selling quickly, it’s true that if a house was on the market a long time it could become stigmatized, and that might hurt your ability to get top dollar. Today however, the mindset of buyers has changed.

Buyers still ask us how long the house has been on the market, but for entirely different reasons. Now, a new listing is frequently viewed as a house where a seller lacks the proper motivation to make a deal. Many buyers are more interested in a house that’s been around for a while, as that may signal a seller who’s getting a bit anxious and will be more willing to negotiate.

Consequently, keeping your house on the market during the holidays could actually help you. First, you won’t be inconvenienced with a lot of showings (except for serious buyers), and adding a few days on the market to your listing may actually help inspire buyers to make an offer.

-Prices will be higher in the spring: Many sellers get discouraged and think this is a good time to take their house off the market, hoping for better times to come. There are a couple of problems with this.

First, prices might not be higher in the spring. According to the trends we’re seeing, what’s more likely to be higher in the spring are interest rates. And, if mortgage rates go up, the number of buyers willing and able to pay for your house may go down.

Second, a lot of new listings come on the market in March, April and May. The additional competition and buying options can make for a tougher sale in the spring. Third, and most important, predicting the housing market or the economy in general, is risky business at best.

Plus, unless you’re going to live under a bridge somewhere, most home sellers are also home buyers. In that a rising tide lifts all boats, the conditions that might help you get more for the house you’re selling will also increase the price of the house you’re looking to buy.

If the price of a $500,000 house goes up 2 percent in the spring, that’s an extra $10,000 in your pocket. But, if you’re moving up to a $750,000 house, that 2 percent bump will cost you an extra $15,000, making the choice to wait cost you an extra $5,000.

-My house will look better in the spring: When the leaves come off the trees, and the grass turns brown, it’s easy to conclude that the old homestead will show a bit better when the weather warms and the azaleas are in bloom.

But, a holiday house also has a certain special appeal. When the plastic Santa and the icicle lights go up, homes exude a unique charm that’s like no other time of the year.

As agents, it’s great fun showing homes during the holidays. Digging the key out of some lockbox, buried in a snow bank isn’t our favorite thing to do. But, once you go inside, there’s nothing like getting that punch of pine from a newly decorated Christmas tree, or seeing a partially finished Dear Santa letter firmly secured to the fridge with a bunch of magnets.

For buyers, it reminds them of the real reason they’re looking for a house. It isn’t just shelter or some kind of financial investment. For many, it’s the place they call home, the place they raise a family, and especially this time of year, those are powerful motivating forces for most home buyers.

So, don’t underestimate the appeal of a house decorated for the holidays. The green grass and blooms of spring are nice, too, but those clove seeds stuck in an orange, a table set with the good dishes and all the other festive stuff we pull out of the attic this time of year can also go a long way toward making a buyer say, “this is the place for me.”

In sum, if you leave your house on the market during the holidays, it might not sell. But, if you take your house off the market, it definitely won’t sell.

As a result, there’s little or no downside to keeping the faith. Remember, it only takes one buyer, and you don’t want to yank that “for sale” sign the day before that buyer comes along.

Bob and Donna McWilliams are practicing real estate agents in Maryland with more than 25 years of combined experience. Their email address is