The fall home-selling season is a lot like the college football season — both normally end around Thanksgiving, but a smaller postseason keeps going long after that.
"It used to be that spring and summer were the hot times to buy or sell houses, but people are much more mobile now. If you want to sell your house these days, you don't necessarily have to wait until spring to put it on the market," says Brad Knapp, a National Association of Realtors regional vice president and an agent with Henkle Schueler & Associates in suburban Cincinnati.
True, most would-be homebuyers and sellers in colder climates still call it quits from late November until late February or so.
But Knapp says consumers who face job relocations, divorces or other situations requiring an immediate move keep the market humming all winter long.
"There are fewer buyers and sellers in the marketplace during the winter, but they're all serious buyers and sellers," he says. "They all have a sense of urgency or they wouldn't be in the market at all."
But how can a would-be seller attract a buyer when there's ice on a home's walkway, snow covering the flower beds and little natural light to make a place look bright?
Here are five things Knapp says homeowners must do if they want to heat up the chances of selling a property this winter:
1. Set a realistic price
House hunters expect discount prices in the winter, because they know that any homeowner who lists a property during the period really needs to sell. So Knapp recommends that sellers list their homes at realistic prices to begin with — without any extra "air" for haggling.
"We've been in a buyers market for so long now in most of the country that buyers are trained to lowball," he says. "The best way to avoid that is to price a home accurately in first place."
2. Advertise with snow-free pictures
If possible, you or your agent should commission your home's advertising photos before it snows. If that's not feasible, make arrangements to have a photographer come out the first time the snow melts — even if it's just a brief winter thaw.
You can also have a photographer digitally alter photos to take out snow, but proceed with caution. Too much digital editing can open you or your agent up to allegations of deceptive advertising.
3. Maximize curb appeal
You always want your home to have good "curb appeal" — a nice appearance that's apparent from the moment a would-be buyer pulls up to the curb — but winter snow and gloom make that tough.
To make the most of your home's wintertime look, Knapp recommends making sure all autumn leaves and any dead tree branches are gone. Keep your home's driveway and paths free of snow and ice and put a nice, clean doormat in front.
"You home might not have the same beautiful landscaping that it does in June, but you can at least make sure the property looks halfway decent," Knapp says.4. 'Stage' the interior for winter
A good real-estate agent or professional home stager can help you make your home's interior look warm and friendly no matter how dreary it is outside. Knapp says you should start by decluttering the home, putting as much stuff as possible away — preferably in offsite storage — to make your home look clean and roomy.
Also remove all family photos, sports memorabilia and the like so would-be buyers can picture themselves — not you — living in the home. And don't go overboard with holiday decorations if you're listing your home in December.
"It's OK to put up a Christmas tree, but you might not want the fake reindeer and Santa Claus in the yard this year," Knapp says, adding that you should take all decorations down by Jan. 2.Additionally, make sure to fix broken windows, squeaky doors or anything else that needs repair long before any showings.
Lastly, Knapp recommends baking cookies or an apple pie shortly before house hunters arrive. This will give your home an inviting smell when would-be buyers come in from the cold.
5. Have good interior lighting
You always want your home to look as bright as possible to potential buyers, but sparse winter sunlight can make that a real challenge.
Maximize all available lighting by having your home's windows professionally cleaned — inside and out — before you put your place on the market. Don't forget the storm windows.
Also consider replacing 40-watt bulbs with 75- or 100-watt versions — and put all lights on before every showing. "I know that's going to drive up the electric bill, but you want to make sure there's plenty of light," Knapp says. "You don't want an agent who's not familiar with the home showing it to a client and having to paw around to find the light switches."