Selling or buying in the winter months

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There really wasn’t an option. Their house was under contract after many months on the market (it was a unique house). It was Fall. The family was leaving their urban lifestyle. The spacious lots of the suburbs were calling them. They wanted at least 3 acres of land.

One of the challenges of buying a house in winter is the shorter days. There’s a total of 9 hours 27 minutes and 57 seconds of daylight on the winter solstice—December Solstice in St. Louis is on Monday, December 21, 2020 at 4:02 am CST. Summer solstice 2021 in the Northern Hemisphere will be at 10:31 PM on Sunday, June 20 giving St Louisans 14 hours 52 minutes and 8 seconds of daylight on the next summer solstice. Thanks to Daylight Savings Time, it won’t be until mid-January that St. Louis area residents will see the sun set past 5 p.m.

My clients and I were not going to be able to look at homes until 6 p.m.-after dark- when they got off work. This particular night we decided to look at three homes. The last home was in a very small community. It was pitch dark when we arrived. The street signs and addresses were not consistent (when we could find them). The house we were looking for had the address on a tree. We didn’t see it. We couldn’t see it. There was no yard sign.

We drove around the neighborhood several times and finally pulled into a driveway that looked to be the right house. It wasn’t and the owner had barricaded the last part of the driveway which basically forced us to back up. We couldn’t see a thing. The long and short of it is that we ended up in the middle of the neighbors yard scared to death that we were going to ruin a yard ornament or my car or drop off a cliff (yes it was hilly terrain).

Indeed, it was one of the best days to have a small Smart Car – no damage to the yard. But two nervous passengers for sure. By the way, they bought the house and another point is that the house was vacant.

The point I am making is with this being just one of the challenges of winter, it is evident why there are less buyers and sellers during this time.

Show me the numbers

See the chart below which shows the number of sales in St Louis over the last 10 years. The statistics are by month and show that the variation in the number of closings.

Pros and cons

Our lives have gone through many changes in the last fifty years but some mindsets haven’t kept up with the times. One is that spring is the best time to sell. The lifestyle changes, globalization and demographic changes that we are experiencing have changed our world as we knew it. The definition of family is redefined. One of the influencing factors in Spring sales was the school year. Now family does not necessarily mean mom-dad-kids. That being said, let’s talk about the pros and cons of selling or buying in winter.

Winter curb appeal – mulched, clean, trimmed and a winter flowering tree
  1. Motivation: As the introductory story points out, buyers who are braving weather and daylight hours are MOTIVATED. Sellers who are facing vacant homes and slow showings are anxious to sell. Buyers are not looking at homes for their health and would prefer the convenience of better weather and more daylight hours.
  2. Internet curb appeal: As I say to my clients, your curb appeal is no longer “drive by”. Buyers are looking at photos and information on the internet without doing a “drive by”. If the internet presentation is not good, the home is on the cutting room floor. Sellers it is your opportunity to put your best foot forward. Buyers, if the agent hasn’t given a good presentation, it may be time to take a gamble that it looks better in person.
  3. Less competition: There is definitely less competition. Sellers are reluctant to put homes on the market in the winter months because of deferred maintenance and the curb appeal of the outside in winter. Buyers are not willing to trek through winter weather and look at homes in the dark.
  4. Relocation: People transfer all year long.
  5. Agents are more motivated: Many agents are not as busy with business and family during the winter months and can afford more time for you.
  6. Spring is prettier?: I’m not so sure.

Selling a home in winter

St Louis winters are usually not too bad but that is becoming erratic with global warming. But, seriously, we are not trudging through a lot of snow and ice. January, like December, in St. Louis is another cold winter month, with average temperature fluctuating between 39.9°F (4.4°C) and 23.7°F (-4.6°C). The coldest month in St. Louis is January, with an average high-temperature of 39.9°F (4.4°C) and an average low-temperature of 23.7°F (-4.6°C).

  1. Curb appeal in winter: Use leaf blowers daily to keep leaves and outdoor dirt off the walkways and lawn. Make sure your siding is clean, keep outdoor furniture on your patio or deck, keep the flower beds freshly mulched. Keep the sidewalks clear of snow. Make your outdoor space appealing. Add color and interest to your front porch. Consider adding landscape lighting on the walkway to your front door. It will amplify your home’s appeal.
  2. Let there be light: Open the blinds, especially on south facing windows. Experiment with lightbulbs to find the best hues for your space and natural light. Go for cozy and bright. There is so much you can do with lighting now with the new innovations.
  3. Clean, Clean, Clean: Clean is king. Clean your closets, inside your cabinets and under your kitchen sink. Almost every buyer looks at the plumbing under your kitchen sink.
  4. Maintenance: Many years ago, I sold a house with a malfunctioning front door. Start walking around the house and be mindful of fixing problems that you have been overlooking for years. Contact me for my maintenance check list.

Buying a home in winter

Generally speaking, homes that are on the market in the winter have motivated owners. Many times they are leaving for a job or are downsizing because of a change in familial status.

  1. Sellers are usually anxious to make a deal: Sellers are motivated if they have a house to sell in winter. They are usually very negotiable.
  2. Days on Market: It is good to find out from your agent how many days the house has been on the market. Seller motivation rises with the days on the market.
  3. Less competition: There is less competition and usually no bidding wars. Alleviates a lot of stress with the low inventory times we are experiencing.
  4. Hiring Movers is Usually Easier:  Moving your possessions is a miserable job. It takes a lot of sorting through “stuff” that has been collecting in your storage areas and decisions on move or go to charity. But the logistics are simplified when you aren’t competing with a hundred other moving households. It can also be easier to negotiate.
  5. Attentive Real Estate Agents: Generally speaking, real estate agents are not quite as busy during the winter months. This gives them the opportunity to provide extra service. Also they have more flexibility to take you to see property.

A little piece of advice though: If you are looking at homes after dark, you may want to make sure the area you will be looking in has lighting for signs and home addresses.

Search for homes in Clayton, MO.

Resources: Hgtv, The Spruce.

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