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Realities of Real Estate: In selling cycle, it’s already spring

This week, much of America became familiar with a rare climate phenomenon, the polar vortex. The name itself gives you a chill, and albeit brief, the freezing cold that spilled out of the Arctic makes spring seem far off indeed.

According to the calendar, the first day of spring, March 20, isn’t exactly just around the corner; we’re probably still in store for a snowstorm or two. But with respect to real estate, spring is here, and now is the time to get it in gear if you want to be part of the peak selling season.

So, what constitutes spring when it comes to real estate? There are two major events in any real estate transaction. The first would include getting the house under contract. The second is when you go to settlement.

The time from contract to settlement is usually 30 to 60 days, and the average time it takes to sell a house is two to three months. As a result, it would be typical for it to take four or five months from the time you put the sign in the ground to the time you sign on the dotted line at settlement.

In 2013, the seasonal patterns for real estate sales were fairly normal. Settlements are highest in May, June and July and August, with those months accounting for over 40 percent of the settlements for the entire year. The single month with the most settlements is June. However, the months where most of the contracts are written include March, April and May.

Right now, the average time it takes to get under contract is 70 days. Consequently, if you work the calendar backward from those dates when the bulk of buyers are out there writing contracts, the best time to put your house on the market is anywhere from now to early February. Polar vortex or not, if you’re a seller looking to be ready for spring, you should be talking to your agent.

For those of you getting ready to sell, these cold, dreary days are a good opportunity to work on the inside of your house. In with the new and out with the old is a phrase we hear a lot of this time of year. As we have mentioned in previous columns, the big three for getting a house ready to sell include clean, paint (and carpet if necessary) and declutter. Those things will give you the biggest bang for your buck and often require little more than some elbow grease. The activity will not only pay off in a higher selling price, but it’s also a great way to work off those holiday cookies.

But if you’re not quite ready to pull the trigger on selling, don’t despair. Spring isn’t the be-all, end-all for selling a house. Although spring is a busy time, sales are still pretty evenly split between the first half and second half of the year. In 2013, 48.4 percent of homes sold were in the first half of the year, leaving 51.6 percent for the second half.

Plus, selling in the spring can be a bit of a two-edged sword. On the positive side, everything looks great in the spring — the grass turns green and the flowers bloom; it’s an uplifting time of year where home buying dovetails with a natural nesting instinct.

On the flip side, spring is also the time when sellers will have the greatest amount of competition. Even though the number of contracts written is highest in March, April and May, the number of homes that come to market during that period is even higher. The result can be a condition where supply exceeds demand, and that can put downward pressure on prices.

For most of 2013, inventory was below normal, but toward the end of the year, the number of homes available for sale began to tick up. The primary reason for this is rising prices. For a long time, many people have wanted to sell, but their house was worth less than they owed on the mortgage. As prices improve, an increasing number of homeowners are released from that nasty situation, and when the numbers finally work, they get on with selling.

Finally, buying or selling a house is a big deal. It’s the greatest financial transaction most of us will ever experience. And more important than that, our house is our home. So, don’t get too worried about trying to coordinate with general market trends. The best time to buy or sell is when you’re ready.

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