While conventional wisdom suggests the winter months aren’t ideal for either buying or selling a home, it’s more accurate to say this season is simply a less popular time to do so. People are preoccupied with the holidays and the weather can be unpredictable, but there’s also not as much competition. For buyers, this means they might pay less than if they waited for spring or summer; for sellers, limited market inventory might boost buyer interest.
If you plan on buying or selling this winter, here are some things to keep in mind.
Homes look different during the winter than at other times of the year, both indoors and out. There’s not much you can do about a brown lawn or bare trees, but you certainly can make sure the driveway, sidewalk and entry area are clear of snow and ice. Seasonal décor is acceptable, but don’t still be turning your Christmas lights on in February!
Inside, however, there are several ways to make your home look and feel warm during the colder months.
• Consider investing in a few more lamps to brighten the interior. Given the time of year, the sun sets considerably earlier and less natural light likely will be streaming in. What might seem adequate to you likely will appear dim to prospective buyers seeing the home for the first time. Improper lighting can immediately turn off buyers.
• Pay extra attention to the cleanliness of the floors. This is the time of year when residents and guests unwittingly traipse in leaves, pine needles, mud crumbs, snow salt, and other outdoor debris that can hide in carpeted corners or blend into wood flooring grains. (I always ask potential buyers to remove their shoes when entering a home — or don shoe covers I provide.)
• Take a good whiff of your home. What does it smell like? In winter, opening the windows to let in fresh air isn’t a practical way to rid your home of odors such as last night’s burnt dinner, cat urine or other smells that could turn up buyers’ noses. Rather than use plugins that emit cheap chemical smells (and might give the impression you’re covering up something), bake a pie or a batch of cookies before showings. Those are the types of scents that create a feeling of hominess and familiarity that allow potential buyers to envision themselves living in your home.
If you’re in the market for a home in the winter, your strategy essentially should be the same as it is at any other time of year: Make sure you are pre-approved to buy when you make an offer. Whether you are the only person doing so or one of a dozen others, it impresses a seller when a buyer has a lending strategy in place and is prepared to close quickly if necessary.
In other words, don’t get sloppy or lazy simply because you might not be in a highly competitive bidding situation.
If you’re thinking about waiting for the Dane County housing market to change — that is, to self-correct and become more affordable — you might be waiting a long time. It’s highly unlikely it will happen anytime soon, and certainly not in 2024. Which is why whether you’re buying or selling, making the move in winter can make a lot of sense.