Brokers offering vacation homes in mountain, lake and beach areas have long been aware that the first nip in the fall air brings out the serious buyers, even in a dreary market.
"About 50 percent of all our sales are made from September through November," said Ray Roberts, supervising broker with Country Cousins Realty of East Stroudsburg, Pa.
This is as true for summer homes as for those that appeal primarily to skiers, observed Mr. Roberts, who has been selling vacation homes for nearly 30 years.
Such timing is in direct contrast to the peak selling season for primary homes, which has traditionally been the spring. Thus, anyone eager to sell a vacation house is well advised to put it on the market as soon as possible.
"I tell my sellers to get their vacation listing on the books by early September," said John Fahey Jr., president of Fahey Associates of Litchfield, Conn.
Timing is not the only factor that will help move a vacation home during these difficult days. A random survey of resort-area brokers within three hours of New York City shows that many elements are combining to make certain types of homes more appealing.
There is agreement on the growing appeal of the ready-to-be-lived-in home, complete with furnishings, linens, dishes, silverware, cooking utensils and outdoor furniture.
"It's becoming more and more important to offer the home fully furnished," said Mr. Roberts, adding: "It's a matter of convenience when everyone's so busy.
"Even if the pieces are not things you intend to live with forever, it gives you a chance to use the house right away."
But such a approach need not strike terror in the heart of the seller, who may be hesitant to part with grandma's velvet sofa or some other heirloom.
Provided it is made clear in advance that certain items will not be included, it is still preferable, say these brokers, to offer the home with furnishings.
"We have far more buyers asking us for furnished homes than we have furnished homes to supply," Mr. Fahey said.
The strategy can occasionally work against the seller, especially if the style of furnishings happens to be at odds with a buyer's tastes.
So it may be best to give buyers a choice of taking the house with or without furniture. This also clears up the knotty issue of how much is really being asked for the furnishings and how much for the property itself.
For example, Frank Newbold, a partner with Braverman Newbold Brennan Real Estate of East Hampton, N.Y., negotiated a listing in August that offered a four-bedroom contemporary home in the Northwest Woods section of the town fully furnished for $395,000 and unfurnished for $350,000.
Another key to successful selling is an emphasis on the outdoors, or on the setting of the vacation home. If the home has a spectacular view or a pool or a picturesque garden, this should be highlighted over any indoor amenity. "Never obscure or clutter a view," Mr. Fahey said.
Nadeen Peterson, an advertising executive in Manhattan, recently bought a vacation home in Bridgehampton, N.Y., primarily because it backed onto acres of open farmland preserve.
"I was interested in big sky vistas and room to see forever," she said. "It mattered far more than whether the home was contemporary or traditional. I wanted to feel I was living surrounded by space and light and air."
Because the desire for a beautiful outdoor setting is intense and widespread, Mr. Newbold recommends leaving all exterior doors wide open when showing a vacation house so that only the screens separate the interior spaces from the surrounding land.
He is equally convinced of the strong psychological impact of a swimming pool. He regularly urges sellers with pools to delay closing them for the winter when the home is on the market.
"The sight of a glistening turquoise pool is much more appealing than one that has already been covered with canvas," he said.
Brenda and Burton Lehman are looking for a larger vacation home to replace the small one in Amagansett, N.Y., they have owned for more than a decade. "I can't imagine getting anything without a pool," Mrs. Lehman said. "It's so pretty and comfortable just to sit around even if you're near the beach."
Mr. Newbold favors leaving a few chairs set in a picturesque spot that just happens to allow a tired city buyer to sit and enjoy the view. By contrast he has found that a yard full of weeds "can make a buyer worry that the home's going to be a problem to maintain."
He recalled how one set of recent buyers ditched their original interior specifications in favor of a home that had a picture-perfect rear garden.
Davis Chant, chairman of Davis R. Chant Realtors of Milford, Pa., maintains that in this age of fitness it is equally vital to emphasize proximity to a wide range of sports activities.
Further, brokers find that buyers also warm to the promise (assuming it is true) of easy access to a major highway.
Sellers should further note that the role of the vacation home in the lives of most families is changing.