But don’t despair, selling your house to the tune of “Jingle Bells” isn’t necessarily going to be a slog. Although there will be fewer homes on the market, which means less competition for sellers, the idea that all activity stops during the holidays is a misnomer, says Birdie Holmes, broker-associate at Big River Realty in Mendocino, California.
“Things do slow down, but people are still looking at property,” Holmes says.
And the people looking for property during this busy time of year are likely serious buyers, which is another plus for folks who have to put their home on the market.
If you plan to sell your house in the off-season, here are the essential things you should do.
1. Find a reliable real estate agent
A good real estate agent can be important when you’re buying or selling a home; but, during the holidays, it’s practically essential.
Like many of us, real estate agents are also juggling their work and personal obligations during the winter months — from school plays and cookie exchanges to holiday parties and gift shopping, the dance cards are full.
So, it’s important to talk to your agent about their schedule and whether they’ll be able to devote their attention to helping you sell your house. Part of an agent’s job is to schedule tours, host open houses and field phone calls from agents and buyers. It’s a time-consuming effort and the last thing you want is an agent who’s overcommitted, thus neglecting your listing.
“You have to have good communication with your agent. Find an agent you feel comfortable talking to,” Holmes says. “Ask them about their holiday schedule and if it will conflict with selling your home.”
2. Don’t let holiday hours affect your closing
Some businesses stay open longer during the holidays, and some close earlier. For home sellers, it’s key that you know the holiday hours of the businesses you’ll need to sell your house. For example, home inspectors, title companies and banks might close early, which could affect your timeline.
“It could be that you go into escrow in December, so you might want to shorten your investigative period to accommodate schedules; instead of 17 days, do it in 14 days. Be aware of everyone’s schedule, so your transactions aren’t postponed. Timing is important,” Holmes says.
Your real estate agent will likely have the inside scoop on timelines and office hours, so talk to them about scheduling so everything goes as smoothly as possible.
3. Add warmth, comfort and light to wintry showings
It might be tempting to rush through an after-work or pre-party house showing during the holidays. And it’s even easier to overlook minor (and major) details, especially if it’s a last-minute request.
But, keep in mind that buyers are trekking through bad weather (ice and snow in some parts of the country), increased traffic and lower temperatures to see your home. So, as a seller, make the experience as inviting as possible.
The first step is to make the house safe and accessible. As the days get shorter, darker and colder, that might include plowing the driveway and clearing snow from the sidewalk. If the outdoor lighting is nonexistent or inadequate, add lights to the front yard so people have a clear path to your front door. The same goes for the backyard. Even simple LED string lights can give a darkened patio a festive look, and a chance for buyers to see what they might be getting.
It’s also important to make sure your home is warm enough, Pennie Carver, real estate agent at Keller Williams Spokane Real Estate Group, points out.
“It doesn’t need to be overly heated, but people won’t stay in a cold house very long and that won’t give them time to look at the house,” Carver says.
Curb appeal — even in the depths of winter — is also still important, according to experts.
“Adding some color with seasonal potted plants, such as poinsettias, can help bring the front of the house back to life,” says Beatrice de Jong, consumer trends expert for Opendoor.
Likewise, painting the front door can take the focus off a dead or dry lawn. “Black is the new ‘it’ color for front doors,” Carver says.
4. Avoid overdoing the holiday decor
Like fruitcake, people have strong opinions on what’s tasteful when it comes to holiday-themed adornments. There’s the “more-is-better” camp and the “less-is-more” camp. And, certainly, the “none-is-best” folks. Many homeowners wonder if they can decorate without turning off potential buyers.
The expert consensus is: it’s okay to decorate, just leave some room for the buyer’s imagination. Treat holiday decorations like you would any kind of adornments when you’re selling a house, which is to say simplicity rules, says Alison Bernstein, founder of the real estate group Suburban Jungle. DeJong agrees, adding that holiday decorations shouldn’t overwhelm a space.
“Sellers should make sure their home feels warm and inviting. Festive decorations can be lovely, but I wouldn’t recommend overdoing it if efforts make the home look cluttered or small,” De Jong says.
What buyers should do is evoke the cozy, inviting spirit of the holidays in other ways, such as lighting candles or even baking cookies.
“Make the home smell good. Holiday treats always do the trick if you can hack that,” Bernstein says.
During the holidays all the classic home-selling principles remain: declutter your space (both indoors and outdoors), give the walls a fresh coat of paint, make minor repairs and do a deep cleaning before you start showing.
Create a free Bankrate account to get expert advice, personalized lending offers and other resources tailored to your unique financial goals.