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How to Handle Real Estate Transactions During the Holidays

November 28 2013

This post comes to us from the Market Leader blogMarket Leader blog:

ml holiday transactionsWhen it comes to putting a home on the market during the winter holidays, conventional wisdom says: "Don't do it." Inventories are lower during the holidays, and folks are distracted or out of town. Other agents, title reps and lenders are either busy trying to wrap up business to take some time off or they're already gone.

What if your client doesn't have a choice but to sell during the holidays? Will you counsel her to turn down the dream job in Boston because conventional wisdom says it's not a good time to sell her Minneapolis home?

Of course not. You'll put on your super-agent cape and brave the elements to ensure that your listing client sells quickly and for top dollar or your buying client gets the home of her dreams.

Buyer's Perspective

If you're representing a buyer, know at the outset that your client will have far fewer homes to view than he would during other times of the year, especially late spring. The flip side to this bad news is that homeowners on the market during the holidays are typically far more motivated to get the home sold.

Be ready to counter the misinformation that your buyer client may be getting from someone else – such as homes are less expensive during the fall and winter holidays. Yes, this little tidbit is actually being touted as advice on some non-agent websites.

Explain to your client that home values have nothing to do with seasons and everything to do with the economy and supply and demand. If there are lots of buyers in the market and few homes, prices may rise. If, on the other hand, there are many homes and few buyers, you may end up with a bargain. Business may be slow in December, but the value of homes is still based on what others have sold for over the past couple of months.

That doesn't mean that buyers can't find the occasional bargain during the winter holidays, but if they do, it will probably have more to do with seller motivation than the season.

Seller's Perspective

"Houses show better when they're decorated over the holidays." Yes, a real estate agent actually said this.

The truth is, overly decorated homes may be a turnoff for some buyers. Since the buyer pool is smaller during the holidays, why would any homeowner want to scare off even a fraction of the few that are out there?

Here are some stats to share with your clients:

  • 95 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas, according to a Gallup poll.
  • Of those that celebrate Christmas, a little over half have strong religious beliefs tied to the holidays.
  • 3 percent of Americans celebrate Hanukkah.

While it's easy to look at these statistics and feel safe counseling your clients to leave up the nativity scene while the house is on the market, keep in mind that nine million Americans celebrate the Jewish holiday. Your client's best bet, if they must decorate for the holidays, is to keep the décor somewhat neutral.

Decorating ideas you might want to suggest to your clients include:

  • Less is more. Avoid making any room appear cluttered.
  • Use a small tree instead of one that reaches to the ceiling.
  • Incorporate nature, such as boughs and pine cones, instead of glass balls, angels or dreidels.
  • Avoid covering the best features of the home with decorations. This includes the fireplace mantle and decorative windows.

Additional Considerations

If you practice real estate in an area that experiences a winter wonderland, your client has a bit of extra work to get the house ready for the market.

Have your client do the following:

  • Use photos or draw a diagram of where bulbs and perennials are planted so buyers get an idea of what the yard looks like when it's not covered in snow.
  • Lighting is always important when showing a house, and in winter it's even more so. Counteract the gloom outdoors by leaving all the lights on indoors. Suggest that they buy small lamps to light up any dark areas.
  • Control the temperature so that it's not too hot or cold but just toasty enough to make buyers want to take their time touring the home.
  • Ensure the safety of buyers and agents by clearing walkways of snow and ice.

Good marketing photos may be a challenge when everything is white. If your clients have photos of the home during other times of the year, use those. Otherwise, consider hiring a photo editor to remove the snow. Some agents may consider this deceptive, but it doesn't have to be if the editor stays true to the home and just removes the winter gloom from the photos.

Working is not the ideal way to spend the holidays, and many agents refuse to do so. If you're not one of those, you may just find that the clients you work with during this period will remember the holiday they spent with a real estate agent – you may end up with clients for life.