Season's Listings

Some sellers just won't give up, even during the holidays, when many home buyers tend to take a break

December 02, 2007|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Sun reporter

There'll be cooking going on, Christmas lights going up, festive ribbons going around gifts. And, perhaps, company going in and out.

Potential buyers may see some or all of that if they size up the Bolton Hill home of Drs. Ann Halbower and Rubin Tuder during the holiday season.

The couple yearn less for Santa and more for a buyer for their Baltimore house, which has been on the market since September. Although this is the time of year when home buyers are rumored to hibernate before re-emerging when the weather warms, the couple are looking for someone willing to make a change in the cold weather like themselves.

Just as they are relocating this winter for work, they hope a buyer is interested in moving into their home despite the chilly weather.

"Not everyone moves in the spring, and not everyone is on a circadian clock like that," Halbower said. "I honestly think the house is more festive over the holiday," she said, noting that her place will be among those energized by the joys of the season.

"I am going to put out Christmas holiday lights. I love Christmastime, and I love lighting up the house," Halbower said.

And if would-be buyers arrive when she is preparing for guests? Or wrapping gifts?

"They are going to see the house and what it really does," Halbower said. "You don't want to have a huge hurricane in the house, but it gives people a good idea of how many people does it hold, how many people does it take to fill up."

The weeks between Thanksgiving Day and New Year's Day -- and often through Super Bowl Sunday -- are the slowest of the year, said Larry Jarboe, of Re/Max Sails in Baltimore. As thoughts turn to holidays, to food, family and friends, to gift shopping or to football, buying a home takes a back seat for some.

But, Jarboe said, agents know those weeks are also a time when sellers and buyers are highly motivated and typically have a timeline and goal to meet.

A seller may want to dispose of a house before the tax bill arrives, or need to relocate for career or school, or not want to compete with perhaps more houses on the market come spring.

In the Baltimore area, more than 20,400 homes are on the market, according to figures released last month by the Metropolitan Regional Information Systems. That is nearly twice the 10,600 from this time two years ago. Figures show more than 5,000 new listings a month, indicating that houses are on the market longer.

Someone not so interested in moving in winter weather -- the homeowner musing downsizing or upsizing, for example -- probably won't list their place for sale just before the holidays, agents said.

But for homes already for sale, tough times are leading to more dedication to staying on the market over the holidays. Fewer homes are likely to be yanked off the market than years ago.

Instead, sellers are shutting the door on potential buyers for just a few days when it would be too inconvenient to hide a holiday mess. Agents said that they expect as little as 5 percent but perhaps up to 20 percent of houses -- depending on the community, number of houses for sale there and need to sell -- will vanish from the listings for the holiday season or a substantial chunk of it.

`Hard-core' buyers

"Taking a house off the market is for people who don't really need to sell," said Mary Lou Kaestner of Re/Max Greater Metro's Towson office.

Of about 25 listings he has, only one seller plans to pull his property, said Daniel Motz, an agent in Coldwell Banker's Roland Park office.

Although fewer people are expected to attend open houses at this time of year, agents say the holiday season has its own kind of potential buyer.

"There are people who are casually looking, they spend Sunday afternoons going to open houses. They may be more likely to take those Sunday afternoons and go shopping now," Motz said. That means fewer buyers browsing, but the ones who are looking are hard-core.

"You have the serious buyers at this time of year. They may be getting a year-end deal," said Geri Anderson, a Long and Foster agent in Howard County. "If you are looking for a house at this time of year, you want to move in."

While the holidays give sellers a chance to spruce up and show off their spirit, beware of overdoing it.

Tasteful exterior decorations take away from the bare look of naked trees and flowerless gardens, giving a house an inviting warmth, Anderson said.

For some neighborhoods, such as Hampden's quirky, legendary "Miracle on 34th Street," decorations may be a selling point or a sticking point.

Holiday hiatus

Fewer people move during the closing weeks of the year than at any other time. Families, especially those with young children, prefer to be settled in for the holidays and meet the neighbors at a time when children are out of school and adults are likely to have some time off.

"We wanted to be somewhere for the holidays, in our home for the holidays, in the neighborhood. We didn't want to be in transition," said Sarah Berlin.

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