A PLAN FOR ALL SEASONS
Is there an optimum time to list a property? Yes and no. Spring is the season of perennial promise when inventory, demand and activity peak. But buying and selling occur year round, and while the seasonal calendar affects the volume and velocity of sales, there are two more important considerations than the time of year a property comes to market—namely the life stages of buyers and sellers defined by marriage, birth, death, and employment and the life cycle of a listing which is shaped by pricing and condition.
During spring, the forces of nature conspire to spike all numbers. Warmer weather and longer daylight hours contribute to increased showings during April, May and June. Lush green lawns, flowering gardens and landscaped terraces maximize curb appeal, so there is greater product and choice. Families opt to settle their children before a new school year begins, so more contracts are signed in spring.
More often than not, however, life gets in the way of making a seasonal move. Couples have babies and need room to raise another child. Professionals relocate to accommodate job losses or position transfers. Estates require money to pay taxes. Overriding the residential real estate calendar, life events can not always be planned.
That’s when the cycle of a listing needs acknowledgement. Nothing quite equals the surge of energy that comes in the first few weeks of a well priced new offering no matter the time of year. This initial period when the savviest brokers and the most motivated buyers come through is nearly impossible to recapture once missed either because of a calendar interruption or because the property fails to show well or is mispriced. The bloom on the rose is transitory. As a result, the critical first three to six weeks of marketing need deliberate planning.
There’s every reason to take the time and spend some money to prepare a property to show to its best advantage. The stage needs to be set not only for the buyer but first for the camera. Today’s purchasers who begin their searches online take little notice of those homes with unappealing settings or cluttered rooms. If a property is uninviting online, it may be overlooked entirely. With home staging, less is more. Most properties benefit from editing out unnecessary furnishings and accessories. Buyers will always walk to a window, so anything that blocks a straight path is best removed and stored. There’s value to painting with neutral colors so buyers can envision how their own possessions will fit in a space. Similarly, there’s a benefit to organizing and uncramming closets and repairing anything broken. Buyers respond to homes that are clean and depersonalized. First impressions are critical, and there are no second chances for sellers. Staged properties sell faster and for more money than unstaged ones.
The allure of freshness that attracts large numbers of lookers to a property’s first few open houses fades with time on the market. A crowd of more than dozens of interested buyers during the first couple of weeks is halved typically in later weeks and trickles down to a mere handful in three months. Always interested to know how long a property has been on the market, buyers today can ascertain “days on market” on sites like StreetEasy with the stroke of a key. Before the advent of these public website portals, brokers responded directly to questions from buyers to explain why a property might be lingering on the market. StreetEasy provides a cold hard number for Days On Market which only resets if the listing has been off the market for six months or more. StreetEasy also features Price Drop alerts which help to bring new attention to stale listings. If after three months, a property fails to attract an offer, a price adjustment is warranted. But rather than chip away with successive small increments, it’s best to reduce by 5-10% to be noticed.
The weather and calendar events impact a listing. Heat waves and snow storms can put a drag on activity, so there’s less competition, and there’s something to be said for encouraging the contrarian off season principal. Thanksgiving causes a slowdown with holiday distractions that extend through much of December and the first week in January. Spring school vacations, Passover and Easter also suspend showing activity more often than not. Another market deceleration occurs before Labor Day when the vacationing real estate community doesn’t usually resume business in earnest until the Monday after Labor Day. In Manhattan, The Jewish High Holy Days influence showings. This year, with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur occurring early and not late, the start of the fall selling season is pushed back. Many sellers will list in October this year so as not to interrupt and thus diminish the initial excitement of their new listings.
October 2012 is expected to be especially busy despite the uncertainty of an election year. Smart sellers and wise brokers will be marketing new offerings that have been staged carefully and priced realistically to capture buyer attention and stimulate early bidding action. If spring brings promise, then autumn conveys wisdom.