Home & Garden

Selling your home for the holidays

Late last year, an aeronautical engineer was told by his company to take an immediate out-of-state transfer or forfeit his job. Realizing the realities of a rocky economy, he reluctantly agreed to the move.

But the engineer's wife was extremely unhappy about the need to uproot suddenly. She was especially bothered at having to sell during the busy holiday season.

"The winter holiday period is probably the least popular time to sell a home. People don't want all the fuss and bother of home preparations," says Sid Davis, a real estate broker and author of "A Survival Guide to Selling a Home."

Even so, the couple was urged by their real estate agent to quickly prepare their house for sale and to allow for showings throughout the month of December. Their flexibility was rewarded when, on Christmas morning, they received an offer that nearly matched their asking price.

"This let the engineer's family make an almost seamless transition in early January when he had to start his new position," Davis says, adding that "there are fewer buyers out looking between the start of December and early January. But the people who come through at this time are extremely motivated, usually by a job change, or they wouldn't be out kicking bricks then."

Do you have a compelling need to get your house on the market before New Year's Day? If so, these pointers could prove useful:

- Make peace with your need to let go of your home.

Tom Early, a real estate broker and former president of the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents, says many home owners let their emotions get in the way of their selling plans, especially during the holiday season.

If you face a mandatory move due to a financial problem, such as a job loss for you or your spouse, you should seriously consider the risks of delaying your home sale until after the holidays.

"People who have received a default notice from their mortgage lender need to wake up and smell the coffee. They can't afford to procrastinate when the prospect of foreclosure looms. It's much better to sell than to have the bank take away your house and your credit rating along with it," Early says.

- Don't try to second guess the advice of a solid listing agent.

Those facing an involuntary home sale are especially likely to challenge the counsel of the listing agent they hire. Often they want to set a higher price for the property than their agent recommends - on the basis that they can test the market and see how it responds. They're also inclined to question the need to spend for presale home improvements, such as painting or carpet replacement.

But people who face a compelling need to sell should try to avoid such conflicts, Davis says, and the best way to do so is to carefully select a listing agent they trust to give them the best possible advice on their sale.

"Look for an agent who is thoroughly familiar with property values in your area. Try to find someone who's sold homes there for at least two to three years. Also, ask for references and then question former clients about whether the agent's advice proved sound," Davis says.

- Set priorities for your time during the holiday season.

Many people are usually busy in December, when holiday-related activities crowd their already hectic schedules. But because home-sale preparations can eat up many hours, "it's probably a lot better for your pocketbook to put your heart and soul into selling rather than expending all that energy on fancy holiday arrangements," Davis says.

- Don't skip the holiday decor.

For many home owners, one plus to showing their property during the holidays is that it should look especially attractive, assuming it's tastefully decorated.

"Go ahead and put up lights and bring in holly and evergreen bows if that's what you normally do. You can also use a Christmas tree if you'd like, but don't get so big a one that it makes your place seem crowded," Davis says.

- Vow to make your home fully accessible as long as it's on the market.

Nowadays, many prospective home buyers, especially those with an urgent need to move due to a long-distance job change, are able to wrap up their property search quickly because they pre-screened property on the Internet.

Davis says this makes it imperative that your home be available for showings every day and that you don't let holiday activities block access to potential buyers who may be home shopping for just two or three days.

"You've got to keep your home especially accessible during December or risk missing some of the most eager buyers of the year - people who have to make a job move in January," Davis says.