If you wanted to put your home on the market in time for the fall selling season, you’ve pretty much missed the boat.

Real estate seasons tend to arrive slightly ahead of the change in temperature. For example, if you want to hit the fall market, have your home listed by July. If you want to take full advantage of the spring market, list your home by January 15.
The fall selling season generally winds down by Thanksgiving. But if you have to sell by the end of the year, all is not lost.

According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the winter holiday selling season has become a niche market for serious buyers and sellers. Just so everyone’s clear, “winter holidays” includes the period of time between Thanksgiving and Superbowl Sunday.

While residential sales hit a high point each June, there are plenty of people out there who need to sell or buy by the end of the year. They may be transferees, hoping to settle in their families before the second semester of school or first-time buyers hoping to find a good deal and maximize their tax advantages.

Whichever the case, business is fairly strong and growing steadily, much to the chagrin of some brokers, who used to use the winter holiday season as a time for vacation and to catch up on paperwork.

If you want to buy or sell successfully during this period of time, there are some specific things you might want to keep in mind.

Sellers should remember that buyers want to see your home, not your Christmas, Hanukkah, or other holiday decorations. Brokers say one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to over-decorate the inside and outside of your home.

How do you know when you’ve overdone it? If your decorations have taken on a life of your own, and cover every inch — and all the best features — of the home, you’re probably crossed into “way too much” territory. And if the outside of your home looks like a landing strip for Santa’s reindeer, you risk that being the only thing the buyer will remember about your home.

Take a sized-down approach to holiday decorations. Instead of spraying the windows with fake snowflake, perhaps hang one crystal snowflake from the window lock. Instead of having an enormous tree hide your fireplace or fill up your charming bay window seat, opt for a smaller tree with perhaps fewer ornaments. Or, choose one major holiday decoration, and pack the rest away for next year in your new home.

Don’t have dangling cords or packages strewn on the floor — someone may trip. Instead, fill your home with the aroma of herbs steeping on the stovetop. Offer hot spiced apple cider and home-baked treats to your buyers who, if you live in the northern half of the country, will appreciate it greatly.

Selling during the winter holidays means having your home available at some of the most intimate times of the year. If you’re having a special party, give your broker advance notice so he or she won’t schedule a showing at that time. If your neighborhood uses lock boxes, remove your key so you won’t have any unscheduled interruptions.

Finally, make sure you’ve priced your home where the market is at, or slightly below. Serious buyers can spot a well-priced house a mile away and if you price it right, you could sell and close within a month.

Because this is such a private family time of year, buyers must also take some precautions when looking. Don’t waste the seller’s and broker’s time if you’re not serious about buying. Brokers caution buyers that seller might expect an offer sooner during the winter holiday selling season than they might at other times of the year.

If both buyers and sellers treat each other seriously and with respect, there’s no reason why a winter holiday sale can’t be a win-win situation for everyone involved.