by Blanche Evans
Housing markets go which way the wind blows. When the weather’s cold, home sales tend to freeze. Prices fall and supplies of homes for sale increase. Buyers become more demanding. It’s a buyer’s market, but that doesn’t mean you can’t sell your home for a fair price. You just have to work harder to make it happen. Turn the weather to your advantage. There’s a lot about winter that’s fun. If you live in a region where there’s snow, turn it into an attraction. Light the fireplace for showings, and throw a cozy cashmere or granny-square afghan over the chair, whichever suits your décor best. Make your home smell inviting with hot cider spiced with cinnamon sticks simmering on the stove.
It’s harder to keep floors clean when the family tracks in mud and snow, so create your own mudroom or mud nook by the front or back door. Stage your mud area with boot racks filled with all sizes of cute Uggs and Wellies. Hang a sled or snowboard on the wall decorated with sprigs of holly. Next to it, hang a red and black buffalo plaid jacket for that Ralph Lauren meets Paul Bunyan appeal.
Keep snow shoveled on the drive and walkways. Put lights in the trees and bushes that make the snow twinkle. You want to make having a home in the winter appear easy to maintain.
Hire a real estate professional. A buyer’s market is not the time to represent yourself. It may be tempting to recoup some equity by not paying a real estate agent, but you’ll lose more than you’ll gain. A real estate professional can give you an accurate overview of the market, help you with sales and staging strategies, and bring offers from qualified buyers.
Make your home pristine. In a buyer’s market, only location and condition can move buyers to pay more for any home. You can’t do anything about location, but you can certainly improve the condition of your home. There’s a huge difference between a home that “doesn’t need a thing” and a home that “needs work.”
If there are other homes around yours that are “distressed” with homeowners who have lost jobs, or some other hardship, they won’t be in top condition. Show pride of ownership by putting your home in top move-in condition so that your home is more appealing to buyers than any other home in your area and price range.
Price it right. You can expect lowball offers in a buyer’s market, but homes that are priced fairly and in pristine condition will be treated with more respect by buyers. If prices are falling in your area, ask your real estate professional for help. Pricing according to recent sold comparables might not be as smart as pricing to pending sales — those yet to close.
You have to know what your bottom line is, but pricing your home should have nothing to do with how much you owe creditors, how much cash you need to buy your next home or how much you need for your retirement. Buyers will only pay current or pending market value as determined by the most recent market sales.
Keep negotiations pleasant. Negotiation is a fine art, and typically works best when both parties get what they want. For example, you may be willing to take less money in exchange for a cash offer or a quicker closing. Your buyer may be willing to pay your asking price, but they may ask you to pay their closing costs.
You’ll quickly realize if you’re dealing with a sincere buyer. Respond to the buyer’s negotiations with documentation, receipts and other information in a timely manner. If you feel the buyer isn’t negotiating in good faith, simply stop responding. You’re under no obligation to respond to an unreasonable offer. The buyer will get the message and either go away or get real.
It may surprise you to learn that buyer’s markets work for sellers, too. In a perfect world, you’ll get top dollar for your home and buy your next home at a bargain basement price, but that’s rare. Instead focus on the big picture — selling and then buying at a reasonable price. Don’t worry about what you didn’t get or what you wanted for your home. When you buy your next home, you’ll be able to take advantage of falling prices, too. It all evens out. The goal is to get the home you want.