Is it true that home sales decline in the fourth quarter? Real estate agent and blogger Elizabeth Elstien surveyed 35 Realtors around the country to find out.
Should you avoid buying or selling a house in fall and winter? Well, it depends. While many sellers feel their homes must be sold by November, a 2011 Realtor.com survey found 60 percent of agents consider the holidays a good time to sell. Additionally, researchers at real estate brokerage Redfin reported that December 2012 listings brought the highest percentage (17 percent) of above-asking-price sales than those in January through November of that same year. That’s significant for a month when moving trucks may need to head out onto icy roads.
I asked 35 Realtors® nationwide about existing home sales in October and beyond; most said October was a good month for selling. “[In] many years, October has been a top-selling month for me,” says Lyn Sims of RE/MAX Suburban in Schaumburg, Illinois. However, she also notes that in her area, a winter slowdown always occurs—no matter how low the interest rate. Real estate agents in the Northeast tend to see the same pattern.
Realtors® in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida tell of autumn as the start of their season, with October being a good month. Ditto in the warmer areas of Arizona, such as Phoenix. “It’s the height of the fall market,” explains Dorie Dillard of Coldwell Banker United Realtors in Austin, Texas. “Anyone expecting to close by the holidays is out looking.” Several California agents claim that in much of southern and central California, there appears to be no slowdown, and October is just another month.
Know the Real Estate Market Variables—Beyond Holidays and Icy Roads
Of course, nothing is clear-cut. Home prices are flexible, and markets vary by location. Some locations, for instance, have more buyers than homes for sale, creating a seller’s market. Economic changes at the national level (e.g., an election) or locally can affect real estate and employment opportunities in your area.
Real estate projections are based on predictions (derived from past statistics), the economy, location, interest rates, housing inventory, loan availability, and qualifications for loan approval. “I always laugh at the ‘should we wait?’ question clients ask, because we don’t have a crystal ball,” says Thomas J. Nelson, Realtor® at Big Block Realty in La Jolla, California.
In the fall, what prompts sellers to sell and buyers to buy? After all, school has already started, buyers are less likely to view homes in bad weather, and holiday travel makes scheduling inspections and closings difficult. Lynnea Miller of Bend Premier Real Estate in Oregon tells me that retirees, second-home buyers, and job transferees are the major fall buyers in central Oregon. “During this time, owners of inventory that didn’t sell during the summer are sometimes more motivated to consider price adjustments to sell faster; this can be a great time to pick up deals,” says Miller. Veritas Prime, LLC broker Olga Simoncelli from New Fairfield, Connecticut, agrees, noting “seasonal specials” are possible.
Always Consider Real Estate Taxes
There are pros and cons to buying in any season, and income taxes are always a factor. For those who need to move by December 31, keep track of all home and moving expenses, especially if remodeling prior to move-in or relocating for business. Showing receipts for capital improvements may reduce the capital gains tax. After closing, keep in mind that any mortgage interest, property taxes, and some closing costs paid before New Year’s Eve may reduce income taxes. Consult a tax professional for your applicable tax breaks.
Overall, October and the following few months appear to be a good season to buy and sell in much of the country. As Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Realtor® Michael Jacobs in Pasadena, California, believes, “Real buyers buy and real sellers sell, and they are doing it year-round.”
So, what does a buyer need to do to purchase a home in the fall? Get pre-approved for a loan before the search starts, so sellers will take you seriously. If the buyer or seller needs to close by December 31, set the closing date for at least a few weeks before then to address any temporary setbacks and still close on time. Scott Godzyk of Godzyk Real Estate Services observes that with fewer homes for sale in the fall in his area of Manchester, New Hampshire, buyers are “ready, willing, and able to work fast and make a good offer.”
Using her 14 years experience as a Realtor®, Elizabeth R. Elstien is a real estate writer, editor, educator, and consultant. Follow her Real Estate News & Views blog at eElstien.com.
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