The Nation's Housing Column: Is spring the time to list a home?

Reviews of realty industry and academic studies suggest that while sales totals generally are highest in May and June, they are actually reflecting listings, contracts and buyer searches that occur earlier in the year.
Oklahoman Published: April 19, 2014
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WASHINGTON — It’s common knowledge verging on holy writ in real estate: Spring is the absolute best time of the year to sell a house.

Right?

But is there hard statistical evidence that listing your house in April, May or June — flowers blooming, birds chirping, lawns greened up after a tough winter — actually nets you a higher price or a shorter time from listing to sale?

Yes, but it’s not as clear cut as you might imagine. There are important nuances in the data. Reviews of realty industry and academic studies suggest that while sales totals generally are highest in May and June, they are actually reflecting listings, contracts and buyer searches that occur earlier in the year.

A study of 1.1 million home listings between 2011 and 2013 in 19 major markets by the national realty brokerage firm Redfin found that, contrary to popular impressions, houses put on the market in winter — defined as Dec. 21 through March 21 — had a 9 percentage point greater probability of selling within 180 days and at a smaller discount to the initial list price than houses put on the market during the spring months (March 22-June 21).

The advantage jumped to 10 percentage points over summer listings (June 22-Sept. 20).

Winter listers ultimately sold for prices 1.2 percentage points higher than homes listed during any other season.

Though there were geographic differences, researchers found that even in areas with harsh winters, there were statistical advantages for listers. In Chicago there was a 13 percentage point advantage in selling time for listings initiated in the late December through mid-March period compared with listings in the summer.

In Boston, the advantage was 14 percentage points. In Los Angeles and San Diego, even with their relatively mild winters, the advantage was still evident — 9 points and 11 points, respectively. In Seattle, it was 12 points.

Ellen Haberle, a Redfin economist, said sales agents in Boston and Chicago reported that the greatest impact of winter weather this year was not on buyers — they were scoping out available listings early on. Instead it was the owners who lagged: They were reluctant to list their homes because they didn’t want to shovel snow or start the interior spiffing up needed to properly market their property.

A study conducted by online real estate site Trulia in 2012 found that while prices on closed sales peak in May and total sales peak in June, there are significant differences geographically.

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