10 tips to help sell your home this winter

Thousands of homes across northern Illinois are listed and sold during the winter months of December, January and February. Nonetheless, a successful winter sales effort means mastering certain seasonal issues that are less significant or even non-existent at other times of year.

If your home is going on the market this winter, here are 10 bits of sage advice from experienced RE/MAX agents that can help put the “Sold” sticker on that “For Sale” sign in your front yard.

1. Don’t Ignore the Outdoors: Keeping your yard looking neat and your walks and steps clear will help your house make a good first impression.

Start by making sure your flowerbeds are cleaned out of dead plants and that leaves are raked off the yard and walkways, advises Ari Matsoukas of RE/MAX Signature, Chicago. “Pots that were filled with flowers in summer look ugly if they are sitting empty in plain sight, so put them away,” Matsoukas said. And don’t forget to leave outdoor furniture sitting on the deck or patio. Adding a little greenery in the form of potted evergreens can brighten things up.

Perhaps the most important issue is making sure that walkways and steps are clear of snow and ice.

“I suggest that sellers spend a little extra money to make sure the shoveling is always done promptly,” said Matsoukas. “Hiring someone to clean your steps and sidewalks as soon as it snows means the house will always be ready to show.”

2. Provide Convenient Parking: When buyers arrive at your home, try to be sure they have a convenient place to park. Buyers won’t want to walk very far in cold weather or be forced to climb over a snow bank to exit their vehicle. Because parking is often more restricted around condominiums, make sure your agent knows where visitors can park so he or she can pass that information along to buyers.

3. Let Those Lights Shine: The best way to combat winter’s short and frequently cloudy days is to turn on your house lights.

For a showing, every single light in the house must be on, even in the closets and utility/mechanical rooms, according to Marlene Granacki of RE/MAX Exclusive Properties, Chicago.

“Make sure all the bulbs are working, and stock up on all the right bulbs for your lamps and fixtures so you can replace any burned out bulbs immediately,” she advised. “Also, it’s a great idea to keep the lights on in the front of the house even if no showings are scheduled. People are always driving past the house, and keeping it lighted makes it look happy and welcoming.”

She also advised opening the drapes and blinds to let in light and let visitors enjoy the view.

If you have outdoor lighting, use that, too. And be sure your porch light is on when showings are scheduled, Granacki said. You might even want to install inexpensive solar lights along the entry walk.

4. Make It Easy to Enter: Winter showings can get off to an awkward start if prospective buyers arrive with snow or salt on their shoes. By making your front hall visitor friendly, you can get every showing off to a good start.

“Make it easy for buyers to deal with their shoes when they arrive,” said Barbara Hibnick of RE/MAX Experts, Buffalo Grove. “Put a nice, festive area rug at the front door so visitors can wipe their feet, and have slippers or disposable booties available, along with a bench, if there is room for one, where a visitor can sit and remove boots.”

5. Keep Odors Under Control: Any home tends to be stuffy in winter when windows are rarely opened. That can allow odors to build up, which can be a turn-off to buyers.

“Pet odors can be especially worrisome in winter,” said Mike Mondello of RE/MAX TEAM 2000 in Orland Park. “Use a room fragrance if needed, but nothing too strong, and I recommend that in winter sellers clean more often.” For example, you might want to change the cat litter daily, rather than every third or fourth day, or even consider using an air purifier.

You might also want to set your thermostat control so your furnace fan runs constantly during the day to keep air moving through the house and dissipate odors. And while you’re at it, avoid strong cooking odors, especially if you have a showing scheduled that day.

6. Cultivate a Festive Look: Appropriate decorations for Thanksgiving, Christmas and even St. Valentine’s Day help give your home a cheerful look during the winter months.

“I really believe that holiday decorations can help homes sell, but don’t go to excess,” said Starr Zook of RE/MAX On Track in Aledo. “You can keep small, decorative white lights on trees and bushes pretty much through the winter season, but other decorations should be taken down quickly once the holiday passes.”

7. Look After Condo Common Areas: If the home you are selling is a condominium, your job as a seller may be relatively easy in winter, with no snow to shovel or yard work to worry about. However, that is only the case if your condominium association does its job well, said Aurora Castello of RE/MAX Home Center, Chicago.

“You need to make sure the common areas look nice,” Castello said. “If the association isn’t doing it, you may have to take on that responsibility. Keep the entrance and hallways clean.”

If the association isn’t getting snow shoveled promptly, consider buying some de-icing salt and sprinkling it judiciously around the building entry.

8. Keep Your Home Comfortable: We all tend to prefer a specific temperature for our homes during the winter. Some keep it extra warm to ward off any potential chill. Others like it cool to keep down heating bills.

“When your house is on the market, keep the temperature at a comfortable 65 degrees,” said Costello. “Don’t blast buyers with hot air. Remember, they are likely to be wearing their coats even as they walk through the house.”

But when it comes to keeping heating bills under control, don’t use plastic sheeting to insulate your windows, said Barbara Hibnick of RE/MAX Experts.

“You may save a few hundred dollars on heating costs if you cover the windows with plastic, but it could cost you thousands on the selling price of your home because buyers might believe they will have to replace the windows,” Hibnick said.

9. Keep Seasonal Clothing Under Control: “One major challenge of selling a home during the winter months is the overabundance of cold weather gear that must be stored,” said Mike Mondello of RE/MAX TEAM 2000.

“A buyer doesn’t want to find the mudroom filled with boots or the hall closet overflowing with heavy coats,” he added. “If you have to, shift some of your winter coats to another closet and put anything you don’t need in the closet into storage.”

To keep gloves and scarves from piling up in the front hall or mudroom, put a special container for them, such as a decorative chest, where the family typically enters the home.

10. Encourage Daytime Showings: Your home will show to its best advantage during daylight hours, which are relatively scarce in winter, according to Marlene Granacki of RE/MAX Exclusive Properties.

“Encourage your agent to show your home before 3 p.m. and have it ready to show by 9 a.m. if you want the best results,” Granacki said.

Despite the special challenges of marketing a home during winter, there also are benefits, noted Jim Merrion, regional director of RE/MAX Northern Illinois.

“It has been pretty well demonstrated that buyers who are out looking at homes in December or January are, as a group, quite serious about buying,” Merrion said. “Therefore, sellers tend to benefit because each showing is more productive, and fewer showings are needed to sell the property.”

From the Nov. 23-29, 2005, issue

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