A long-standing practice of real estate professionals is to take a home off the market in the winter to "refresh" the listing for the new year, and then re-list the home in the spring. Most will tell a homeowner who is thinking of putting their home on the market in winter to wait until the spring, since more homes sell at that time of year.
Much like MLS listing books, newspaper ads, and "pocket listings", this practice has seen its better days and has been replaced by serious real estate professionals with more updated marketing practices. The fact is, if you want to sell your home, it should absolutely be on the market during the winter.
It's not a hassle for a home seller
Sellers think they will be put out by showings during the holidays if their home is on the market, but they can simply tell their agent to put them on a "winter showing schedule". The agent can field all calls for showings, pre-approve buyers, and arrange showings for them around the seller's schedule. The seller can designate certain times and days that the house will not be available. The seller will be virtually undisturbed unless a very serious buyer wants to see the home and the agent has personally scheduled it.
Homes on the market in winter, on average, are more likely to sell, sell more quickly, and sell at less of a discount. There are a number of reasons for this:
Changing dynamics in home buyer searches
Real estate professionals used to discourage home sellers from winter listings because of the lack of potential buyers, mostly due to logistical issues. People go on vacation, there are less daylight hours to view homes, and bad weather inhibits buyers from taking extensive tours of homes for sale.
Today, this is a very minor issue. Nine out of ten home buyers search for their home online, according to the National Association of Realtors. They're searching at night after dark. They're browsing real estate websites while out of town, at Grandma's after a long Thanksgiving dinner. They're driving around their desired neighborhood, viewing available homes on a mobile phone, in the safety of their warm vehicle.
The way buyers search for homes has changed, and their location, the time of year, and the weather have far less effect on their ability to view homes than it used to.
Changes in home buyers' mobility (particularly in Greater Seattle)
Maybe even more significantly, the home buying population today has become far more mobile. Americans move to new cities and states at a far greater rate than in generations past. These homes buyers move mainly for professional reasons, at all times of the year.
With the continuing influx of software, biotech, and generally high-skilled workers moving to the Seattle area year-round, there is constantly a new source of potential home buyers entering our market. They're searching homes online from their hometowns. When they arrive, they're searching for a home from the current inventory available. They will choose from the homes that are listed at the time they move--those that are not listed will miss consideration.
We've seen evidence of this firsthand, having sold some of the top homes in Washington state during the winter months. Clients have literall said "I'm flying out for a week, show me the best homes available and we'll write an offer before we leave."
The percentage of homes sold in winter compared to total sales has risen significantly over time. Home buyers' changing employment and mobility situations have lessened the seasonal effect that we're used to quoting in real estate circles. There are certainly still less sales in winter, but that brings us to our final point.
Competition is lighter in winter
This is one of the most significant factors that I don't believe most home sellers analyze. It's true that if your home isn't on the market in winter, the new Microsoft manager relocating from CA won't see it and will thus buy another home. But that same situation for a home seller who is on the market is magnified. Your competition is nowhere to be seen. While the buyer may have had 30 homes to choose from in June, there may only be 10 homes that fit their criteria in January. If they are motivated to buy, they will choose one of those 10 homes.
Sellers who stick out the market through the winter actually increase their chance to sell significantly. When the smaller number of winter sales are compared to the smaller inventory of available homes, you'll see that an individual home seller may actually be just as likely to have their home sell in winter as in summer.
Inventory is already down
This effect is multiplied when inventory is already unnaturally low, as it is this year. The Seattle market's inventory of homes for sale is down 45% since last year. Available homes for sale this winter will be even more scarce than in recent years, and those listings will likely sell at a very high rate.
Home sellers today who adapt to our changing population, the new real estate landscape, and the modern buyer's online searching habits put themselves at a significant advantage over their selling competition--even in the winter.