Home buyers and sellers have a natural inclination to avoid the real estate market at the end of the year due to the holiday rush. Anyone actively looking at homes to buy most likely needs to purchase or, for tax reasons, is trying to get a transaction completed before the end of the year. Anyone selling their home likely needs to meet a deadline, had it listed prior to the holiday rush, or are under no pressure to leave the market because the home is vacant. Despite these annual trends, there are benefits for a regular person to sell and buy a new home in December.
Here is what my husband and I experienced selling and buying a new home at the end of the year.
Selling a Home
1. We did not have a lot of showings. This may sound like the opposite of what a seller should be looking for. After all, a lot of showings means a seller is more likely to receive an offer or even competing offers, which could generate more money for them. However, it is important to understand that a higher offer does not mean they will get that price. The home will be appraised by a third party and if the amount is not as high as the offer price, either the buyer has to pay the difference out of pocket or the sellers need to come down on the contract. Otherwise, the buyer will terminate.
I have worked in a support position in real estate for over 10 years and have seen countless waves of showings, feedback, and homes going under contract. I understand how important it is to price a home according to comparable homes that have already sold. I was confident our Realtor, Melanie Cameron, had priced our home fairly, as I have seen her do it so many times with other sellers. While we knew listing a home in December would garner us fewer showings, we benefited from this as we had homeschooling, full-time work, and pets to wrangle – all of which were exhausting to deal with at once. It also minimized the number of strangers in our home during the pandemic.
We may not have had a lot of showings, but we did close just a few $1,000 under asking price, mainly because we agreed to pay part of the buyer’s closing costs.
2. Most of the buyers were motivated. Only one buyer who saw our home was not in a rush to buy, but it was a real estate agent looking to purchase for themselves. Most buyers who could wait had already decided to take a break from buying until the spring.
3. The closing cost numbers were pretty cut and dry. When you sell a home, you must pay your portion of certain real estate fees, like property taxes and HOA dues. The seller’s portion is calculated by determining the daily tax rate for the location of the home and multiplying by the number of days you have owned the home since the last payment. Because we sold the home so close to the end of December, our portion of the fees were straightforward.
4. Moving was cheaper. To save money, we rented a truck and moved ourselves with some help from a few family members and friends. Between the time I first checked the rental price of the truck in November and reserved it in December, the price had dropped. December is part of the truck rental and moving industry’s slow season (January is the slowest month of the year).
1. It was harder to enjoy the holidays. Our home went under contract and the inspection was completed the day before Thanksgiving. Not knowing the results brought down the mood of the holiday. While we did not have many issues with the home over the years, I had seen so many home inspections that I was imagining everything that could go wrong. Then, at Christmas, we were concerned the repairs would not be completed. That was a bit of extra anxiety.
We usually go all out for Christmas, but all we did was put up our Christmas tree. We took it down on Christmas Day because we were scheduled to move the following day. It did not really feel like Christmas, but that was likely inflated by the fact we chose to maintain social distancing and not gather with the whole family. Overall, selling a home during the holidays does add extra stress.
2. It was harder to make the exterior of our brick ranch house look nice. We did not have the advantage of spring when buyers could have seen our azaleas and bulbs in full bloom, or the peak of summer when our lantana attracted tons of butterflies. We were at the end of the year, which was when I traditionally bought chrysanthemums and attempted to keep them alive through Thanksgiving. So, curb appeal was not a big advantage for our small home.
3. Getting over the regular real estate hurdles took longer. The end of the year is when people traditionally take a vacation and travel to see family. Even with travel discouraged this year, tradesman, appraisers, etc. were taking time off or so booked solid, they were not bothering to return phone calls. The two months at the end of the year also have fewer days for scheduling closings at the attorney offices due to the holidays. For these reasons, everything felt last minute.
4. We had to move all our belongings in the cold. I don’t know about you, but I hate being cold. It is one reason why I moved down here from Michigan. The temperatures were not freezing while we were moving, but it was cold enough to make me wish I had moved during the spring.
Buying a Home
1. There was not a lot of buyer competition, and it worked to our advantage. The home we were interested in was originally overpriced (this was confirmed with an appraisal), and we were not the first buyers to go under contract on it. When the first contract fell through, the seller was more willing to negotiate with us, because they had to sell to buy a new home and there were not a lot of buyers in the market. This helped us get the contract price down to the fair market value.
2. We got to see homes at their ugliest. Curb appeal is its worst during the fall and winter. Trees lose their leaves. Grass turns brown. Flowers are sparse. The weather is often gray and rainy. But if we liked a home at this time of year, that was a good sign. It also gave us the opportunity to see how the property looked after it rained (Did it drain well? Was the back yard soggy?).
At the same time, we were able to see how the neighborhood looked during the holidays and if people generally expressed their holiday spirit. We enjoy decorating ever year and being in a neighborhood where other homeowners did not would have been awkward. Thankfully, our new neighbors also enjoy decorating and our children were able to enjoy their lights from their bedroom windows before they were taken down this year.
3. Year-end goals meant there was a push to get the deal done. We used real estate, mortgage, and insurance professionals/companies that I have known for many years. We chose them because I have seen not only their results, but their work ethic with other buyers. Their reputation has earned them plenty of business. Still, there is always a little push to complete a business transaction at the end of the year (when possible) to lock it into the year-end numbers.
4. Other companies were more giving due to the holidays. For example, we had to have our trash service transferred to our new home. Due to limitations on when we moved versus the day our trash was normally picked up, we couldn’t just pop the cans into the moving truck and take them with us. We had to schedule the trash company to move them. The trash company ended up waving the moving fee because it was so close to Christmas.
5. All our Christmas deliveries were turned into moving boxes. Don’t think that’s how we moved everything. It certainly wasn’t! However, those boxes (plus, all the ones my mom received) helped cut costs.
6. We were able to move during the school district’s winter break. We didn’t have to worry about homework or Zoom meetings, and our kids welcomed the extra excitement in the change of schedule.
7. Lodging was cheaper. I will preface this with the fact that our agent/friend/employer, Melanie Cameron, let us borrow her vacation property during the few days we were without furniture and could not officially move into our house. We were incredibly thankful for this, because not everyone has a place like that they can fall back on. We were allowed to take out pets and it was fully furnished, and though it wasn’t bathing suit season, the kids got to collect shells and play in the sand.
Despite our advantage, I feel it is important to note that we moved during the off-season when vacation rentals in the Wilmington area are at their cheapest, which means moving in December is incredibly beneficial if you want to rent a house at the beach while you are in between homes.
1. There were not a lot of houses to choose from. On the other hand, we were limited to a school district and there were specific neighborhoods I absolutely refused to buy in. Luckily, the house we decided to buy was in a neighborhood I frequently felt drawn to, and it had a lot of the features we wanted.
2. Moving help was hard to find. We are incredibly thankful for the friends and family who took the time to help us move the weekend before we closed on our new home. However, we were not sure we were going to have help, because of everyone’s holiday plans (plus, our closing date getting moved 3 times to accommodate the limited schedule at the attorney’s office). We realize how lucky we were to get the help we did.
3. We were serviced by the people filling in for those on vacation. On more than one occasion, we ran into issues with getting our utilities and services changed over, because the person who usually handles it was not there. For example, part of our insurance almost was not completed on time when we needed to make a decision for our wind and hail policy. Our agent told me to email him my decision and the person filling in for him when I was ready. He did not notify me he was going on vacation and the person he had filling in for him did not check his email when he was supposed to. Up until this point, our insurance agent had been super helpful and communicative.
Always, always, always double-check your utilities and services are set up correctly. It took 3 phone calls to get our Spectrum internet transferred to the new home, because 1) each customer service representative gave me a different set of instructions and 2) their changes never “stuck” in the computer system they use. If they tell you the hardware is just “plug and play”, it is not. If they tell you there is a set of codes you will receive, there are none. We had to call customer service (the third time) and have them turn everything on from their end and make our requested changes to the service.
4. We could not buy Christmas presents like we normally would. You must be super careful with your finances while buying a home. You cannot rack up debt or open new lines of credit, and you have to make sure you have all the cash you need for your closing costs and upfront fees (appraisal, home inspection, structural engineer, etc.). We ended up buying all our Christmas presents for the kids prior to going under contract on the house and greatly cut back on presents for everyone else in my family and friend circle. The gift to my husband (and I in return) was the house. We had worked so long to make it possible that we really did not need anything else. We also did not have our annual seafood boil and kept all the extra treats small to save money.
5. We had an insurance rate increase the day of our closing, and we could not reschedule any day sooner. As mentioned before, the attorney offices were booked solid due to the holidays and when we discovered the date of the rate increase, our attorney was well into the process of preparing for closing so we could not change attorneys.
Don’t Let the Time of Year Sway You
My husband and I feel moving in December worked out well for us, despite it being the traditional slow season. We wanted to sell, because we knew inventory for homes under $200,000 was low so our home was in demand. We wanted to buy, because interest rates were really low (our new rate was basically half of our old one). Every season has its benefits for buying and selling a home. Choose what works best for you and your family.
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