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January 9, 2013

New year, new home

House hunting, selling in January, February can be a positive experience

By April Lehmbeck
C & G Staff Writer

Kicking off the hunt for a new home or planting a “for sale” sign on the front lawn isn’t just a spring or summer venture anymore.

Some buyers and sellers don’t let the snow prevent them from reaching their real estate goals.

With the new year comes new beginnings, and there are some definite advantages to kicking off the year with a real estate adventure, according to Laurie Glass, a Realtor and fine home specialist with SKBK Sotheby’s International Realty in Birmingham.

“Appraisals are keeping prices modest, and this, coupled with low interest rates, continues to make this time of year a great time to buy and sell,” Glass said.

The steady stream of buyers isn’t typical for this time of year, however.

“Since the housing market collapse and then recent surge, some new variables have emerged,” Glass said. “For instance, this year’s inventory is extremely low. Yet more buyers are searching for homes, trying to get into the market now while interest rates continue to be at record lows.

“This juxtaposition of supply and demand means there really aren’t any cons to putting your home on the market well before spring — the most popular time to list,” Glass said. “Although there is historically not as much traffic this time of year, the buyers who are looking are generally more serious.”

Many times, the people in the market now aren’t just getting a feel for what’s available or what type of offers they can get on their homes.

“They are often transferring in or out of jobs, have already sold their current house during the fall or are first-time buyers,” Glass said. “In fact, the majority of buyers and sellers I am working with now fall into one of these categories.”

Eric Goosen, associate broker with Real Estate One in St. Clair Shores, agreed that there are benefits to selling at this time of year, including the low interest rates bringing in more buyers, but also the seriousness of those in the market. 

“Buyers in the market now are very serious and not ‘just looking,’” he said in an email.

For buyers, this time of year might bring out less competition than warmer months, which is positive. However, that can be a negative aspect for sellers, Goosen said.

While buyers and sellers aren’t shying away from getting out in the market during the winter months, there are some challenges this time of year. However, Glass doesn’t think the challenges have a major impact on buyers and sellers.

“In terms of snow, my experience is that it usually does not have significant impact for either buyer or seller,” Glass said. “Curb appeal can sometimes be affected, but that can be both positive or negative.

“A warm, comfy home is certainly very inviting,” she said. “And while it can be harder to get a feeling for lawn, garden and landscaping features, these are usually well- detailed in a home’s description if they are significantly favorable, but are not major deal makers or breakers.”

Goosen listed a number of pros and cons of buying and selling this time of year.

While some people think about the daunting task of moving with heavy snow on the ground, Goosen said that people who head out to look for a home in the early part of the year may not be looking at a moving date until spring, due to processing the real estate transaction.

“It might take six to eight weeks to close a deal, so by then it could be spring already, and with 30 days of occupancy after close, it is that much closer to spring moving,” Goosen said.

Another positive of getting that house hunt or home sale started in the first months of the year is the workload of those in the process.

“Realtors, mortgage loan officers and title companies are not as busy, so more attention can be given to each client, and results can be quicker, as well,” Goosen said.

When it comes to looking at a house and checking out how things are working, winter can be a good time to actually see the furnace and fireplace in action. Buyers can see if the home is well-insulated and whether other aspects are in good working order, due to the colder weather.

However, that isn’t the case with vacant homes because many of them are not heated. So buyers can’t readily notice issues with furnace and plumbing operation when looking at some homes, Goosen said.

Another issue at this time of year is that buyers can’t see the central air-conditioning unit at work.

Goosen said that buyers need to make sure a professional inspector takes a look at the roof and concrete under snow so that any issues are noticed and addressed.

Goosen also noted the difficulty in seeing landscaping, deck areas or patios, if these are selling features. Also, he said the lack of daylight hours brings its own challenge when looking at homes.

While there may be more people in the market at this time of year than in the past, there are still fewer than the spring.

“There is typically not as many homes to choose from as there would be in the spring,” Goosen explained, when it comes to buyer options.

Goosen had some tips for sellers at this time of year.

Sellers can help with the ease of the sale by clearing snow on concrete, decks and patios.

They should make sure to turn the heat up to about 70 degrees for showings and turn on all lights in the home.

“Every showing is important to a seller, so be sure to always be ready to show your home,” Goosen said.

“Historically, winter has been a slower month to sell,” Goosen said. “However, that has changed, and it is just as good as the middle of the summer.”

While some people are afraid to consider selling their homes because they don’t think they have adequate equity at this time, due to falling values during previous years, “some could be surprised to find that they do, in fact, have value now,” Goosen said.

Prices are starting to rise.

Buyers can buy property now, with prices beginning to increase, so that they can see their home value appreciate, Goosen said.

“The greatest advantage right now for both buyer and seller is the very low interest rates, so both should take advantage of this opportunity.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer April Lehmbeck at alehmbeck@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1043.