When I first started writing about real estate, some 20 years ago, there were distinct home selling seasons.
The primary selling season, known colloquially as “spring” ran from the weekend after Superbowl Sunday through the beginning of June, when kids got out of school for the summer. No one worked Easter weekend or Memorial Day.
The second-biggest selling season, which was known as “fall” started in mid-September, when the kids went back to school, and largely petered out by Thanksgiving.
What happened from Thanksgiving to Superbowl Sunday? Not much. Real estate agents and brokers dropped off holiday gifts and went on vacation, while everyone gussied up their homes for the holidays. Summers were spent catching up on paperwork and taking vacations.
But times have changed. The more seasonal nature of real estate has shifted into 24/7/365 mode, changing real estate brokers’ schedules forever and turning the home selling season into a year-round affair.
Real estate agents now work virtually all year and at all hours of the day and night. (No one thinks twice about calling their agent late into the evening.) And while the biggest number of homes sell in Spring (which unofficially starts January 2nd, nearly as many sell during Fall, Summer and the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. These days, it isn’t unheard of for agents to work on major holidays, like Christmas, Easter Sunday and even Labor Day.
All this serves as a backdrop to doing business in today’s perfectly lousy residential real estate market. January and February should be bustling, but instead, we’re just watching as the pile of unsold homes, foreclosures and short sales gets bigger.
If you’re looking for a home to buy over the next six to nine months, conditions may never be better (at least not in your lifetime). Unsold inventory of new and existing homes means you’ll have tremendous selection and what business executives call "pricing power." In other words, sellers may be so desperate to unload properties that any sort of offer may probably be given a serious look.
A few years ago, I wrote a story about how sellers generally fell into one of three categories when it came to pricing property: Either they were “pie in the sky” about what their home was worth; “realist” about what they could actually get; or a member of the “desperate and anxious” where they’d be willing to take almost anything.
Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, most sellers believed they could get pie in the sky pricing for their homes — and they were right. Agents would remark how they could hardly bring themselves to suggest an insanely high price, only to find the seller wanted to go higher. In many cases, the house sold in a bidding war above even the seller’s pie in the sky pricing.
Financial Crisis Makes for Desperate Sellers
Today, I’d say that most sellers are quite desperate and seriously anxious about whether they will be able to sell their home at all, let alone for a price that lets them walk away whole. I’ve received tons of email from sellers who wonder if they can give away their homes and timeshares (answer: possible, but difficult to do) or sell by using a lottery (answer: selling a house via lottery is against the law in almost every state).
Sellers frequently write in to ask what perks will help sell their home faster and for more money (answer: It’s about price, condition and location more than whether you include an all-inclusive vacation to Disneyworld as part of the package).
Buyers today are a sophisticated bunch. They understand that you might throw in an old BMW because you have it and don’t want to get rid of it. But they won’t pay you more for your house because it comes with an old BMW.
For sellers, once you get your home into blue-ribbon selling shape, stage it right, and price it competitively, you’ll just have to take a chill pill and wait. Home selling anxiety isn’t pretty, and it can make you say some things you probably shouldn’t.
Instead, take a deep breath and know that it probably isn’t you, your house or its location. The problem is there are millions of homeowners who stepped onto the path before you, and will do anything to get to the closing table.
Jan. 19, 2009.