The only present that some homeowners want for Christmas is a qualified buyer who will pay the full asking price for a house. But selling a home during the holidays and in the first three months of the year can be tricky.
Even though many buyers disappear from November through February, real estate experts say the ones who search in those months are more motivated to buy and prefer to close deals quicker. The perception that houses don't sell in those months is wrong, real estate experts say.
Homeowners can take extra steps to land buyers.
"Be flexible and prepared to show your home at a moment's notice," said Rae Catanese of Tropical Prudential Realty in South Tampa. "The more showings you have, the better chance of receiving an offer."
With so many foreclosed houses wallowing in disrepair in Tampa Bay, sellers with neat and tidy homes could land higher prices. Sellers don't need to spend mounds of cash to make their houses snap.
Start with the door
Michelle Jennings Wiebe, founder and president of Studio M Interior Design in Tampa, said front doors give buyers their first impression. "Make sure it has a fresh coat of paint, along with upgraded door hardware if needed."
She offered these inexpensive recommendations to make houses look more presentable:
• Remove extra accessories like knickknacks, kitchen counter appliances, and stacks of magazines and books. All counters and tabletops need to be clear. Remove furniture that makes rooms feel too crammed.
• Display fresh flowers in the kitchen, dining room and porches. Repaint any brightly colored walls to a more neutral hue, and remove any heavy draperies or window treatments. Replace outdated light fixtures and cabinet hardware.
• Remove all family photos and wall portraits and replace them with peaceful artwork in neutral, tranquil colors. Replace photos on tables with one smart accessory.
"The reason for this is that new potential homeowners need to envision themselves living there," Wiebe said. "The worst thing is for buyers to spend their time at your home saying how cute your twin babies are with your adorable beagles."
2,800 December sales
Despite the perception of a stagnant market, houses do sell in December in Tampa Bay.
In 2007, buyers snapped up 1,597 single-family homes. The figure jumped to 2,754 last year.
But selling a home during the holidays also presents challenges for people who like to stuff rooms with trees, wreaths and Santa pictures. The decorations can make homes cheery but clutter rooms and distract buyers.
"You don't want the house looking like the Walmart Christmas section," said Andrew Duncan, CEO of Re/Max Dynamic in South Tampa.
Sellers should also remember curb appeal. Hanging thousands of lights outside isn't a good idea.
Duncan added: "You don't want to have the place lit up like Clark Griswold in Christmas Vacation."
Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@ tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459.