Should you pull your house off the market till spring?

By Jerry Kronenberg/MainStreet.com

Thanksgiving Day marked the end of the U.S. fall house-hunting season, leaving sellers whose homes didn't attract buyers unsure whether to keep their properties on the market over the winter or pull the plug and start again next spring.

"If you wait until spring you'll probably have higher demand and could get a little bit more for your house, but the question is whether that justifies the time you'll save if you get an offer over the winter," says Jeff Nelson, a National Association of Realtors regional vice president and agent with Keller Williams Sioux Falls in snowy South Dakota.

Winter is the slowest time of year in most U.S. housing markets, meaning sellers face pros and cons if they leave properties up for sale during the cold months.

Nelson usually recommends that his clients keep properties listed for sale all winter long, but admits there are some advantages to wait until spring, which is typically the busiest house-hunting season in most locales.

For instance, some of Nelson's customers spend winters in warm locations and have shut off the water and buttoned up their primary residences for the season. "In that case, I tell them to wait until spring to put their homes back on the market," he says.

Other potential downsides to keeping homes on the market include:

  • Inconvenience. Who wants to keep a place spotless while cooking for the holidays or cleaning up after family members who've tracked in salt and snow? Having your home off of the market in the winter means you can take a break from having your place ready for viewings at a moment's notice.
  • Reduced curb appeal. Your manicured lawn might enhance your property's value in May, but it won't do much good if it's under a foot of snow in January. Short winter days also mean many homes' interiors look darker than usual.
  • Low-ball bids. Many house-hunters assume anyone who's kept a property on the market over the winter is desperate, so they'll price any offers accordingly.

Of course, keeping your home on the market throughout the cold also has some advantages, including:

  • A holiday feel. There's nothing like a warm, friendly residence at holiday time to attract buyers. "People buy on emotion, and if they go to a house that's decorated for Christmas or another religious holiday it can become very emotional for some people," Nelson says. "They think about living in the home the next Christmas, and I think that makes for an easier sale."
  • Out-of-town house-hunters. People who grew up in your community but moved away in adulthood often come back for the holidays -- and sometimes decide to check out local real estate as long as they're around. "If someone has come from out of town to visit mom and dad and are thinking about moving back, you don't want to lose them as potential buyers," Nelson says.
  • Motivated buyers. It's true that some sellers who leave places on the market this time of year are frantic, but Nelson says winter house-hunters are often just as anxious to buy due to job transfers or similar reasons.
  • Potential cost savings. Some people who keep properties listed for sale during the winter have already relocated to new homes, so finding buyers before the spring can save them from having to make mortgage payments on two residences.

Weighing all the factors, Nelson generally recommends that people with unsold homes leave them on the market throughout the winter.

"I tell clients: 'We have to remain optimistic in real estate,'" he says. "'It only takes one buyer to sell a home -- and we don't want to miss them.'"