If you are an experienced real estate sales agent, you know very well this is the slowest time of the year for home sales. In most communities, the weather isn’t the best for home buying. Serious prospective buyers become hard to find as they switch to holiday shopping and parties.

However, many home sales still take place among motivated sellers and savvy buyers who know this is the best time of the year to purchase a bargain home. Motivated realty agents, eager to add to their 2005 sales volume, can take more time with each prospective buyer, as the hectic home sales pace of the past year slows down.

Purchase Bob Bruss reports online.

“Make all the home sales you can make now before mortgage interest rates go up” is the unspoken motto of many realty agents.

ADVANTAGES FOR HOME SELLERS DURING THIS SLOW SEASON. Unmotivated home sellers often take their residences off the market during the holidays because (1) they don’t want to be interrupted by buyers and (2) they know this is perceived as not the best time of the year to sell and receive top dollar.

However, this can be a major mistake, especially in local markets where there aren’t many listings, particularly in the lower price ranges. The home sellers who “tough it out” and keep their homes on the market during the holidays often become the big sales winners.

Smart real estate agents counsel their motivated home sellers not to take their houses and condos off the market at this time of year. The primary reason is all it takes is one buyer and the few buyers who are in the market between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, or even Super Bowl Sunday, are usually highly motivated to purchase.

Serious motivations for home sellers during this season include job transfer, divorce, birth or death in the family, unemployment, illness, or other urgent reasons.

Home shoppers during this season often want to close their purchases by year-end for the tax benefits. However, they are often willing to rent back to their sellers for 30 days or so because neither buyers nor sellers are eager to move during the holiday season.

Most home sellers who qualify for the $250,000 (up to $500,000 for a qualified married couple filing a joint tax return) principal residence sale tax exemption of Internal Revenue Code 121 usually don’t care if the sale closes in 2005 or 2006. To qualify for this exemption, the seller(s) must own and occupy the home at least 24 of the 60 months before its sale. Ask your tax adviser for details.


If your house or condo is in superb condition, especially on the interior, you’re ready to sell. Usual home-sale preparations include painting rooms that show their wear, cleaning and repairing, replacing outdated light fixtures, and installing new carpets and kitchen or bathroom flooring, and refinishing hardwood floors.

If weather permits, painting the exterior adds to “curb appeal.” That first impression for prospective buyers is extremely important. At the very least, paint or replace the front door if it shows its age.

After your home is spruced up and ready to sell, it’s time to interview at least three successful agents who sell homes in your vicinity. At this time of the year, when serious home sellers need all the help they can get, it is definitely not the season to attempt to be a “do-it-yourself” for sale by owner (FSBO) without professional help.

The key reason home sellers at this time of year need a professional listing agent is because that agent can put your listing into the local MLS (multiple listing service) for local and national Internet distribution. Today, over 70 percent of prospective home buyers start their quest on the Internet so home sellers who want top dollar cannot ignore this fact.


The reason savvy home sellers interview at least three agents who sell nearby homes is to compare each agent and to learn the approximate market value of the house or condo to be listed for sale. The five key questions to ask each agent are:

1. HOW MUCH CAN YOU GET FOR MY HOME? This is a loaded question. After inspecting your home and asking lots of questions, each agent should prepare a written CMA (comparative market analysis) for your consideration. The CMA form should justify each agent’s opinion of your home’s market value. A CMA shows the recent sales prices of similar nearby homes, the asking prices of competitive neighborhood homes now listed for sale (your competition), and even the asking prices of recently expired comparable listings. The reason most homes don’t sell during the listing period is because they were overpriced.

Watch out for any interviewed agent who estimates a very high sales price for your home without justification of their CMA. Such agents are trying to “buy the listing.” Also, beware of any agent with an abnormally low suggested asking price. Such an agent might be trying to gain your listing by dazzling you with his or her sales successes, hoping to make a quick easy sale if you don’t interview other agents for comparison.

2. HOW LONG DO YOU NEED TO SELL MY HOME? Although this is the slowest home sales season, the best agents can still sell virtually any house or condo within 90 days. Beware of any agent who insists on a listing term longer than 90 days.

The most common ploy is for the agent to tell the seller, “The average listing time for a home in this market is 110 days. That’s why I need a 180-day (six-month) listing.”

But your instant comeback should be, “If I am going to pay you a 5 or 6 percent sales commission, I don’t want to hire an ‘average agent’ to sell my home in an average time period.”

However, some very successful agents still insist on a 120-day or 180-day listing. If you conclude that is the agent you want, for your protection be sure to include a written clause in the listing contract such as, “Seller may cancel this listing anytime after 90 days without cause or cost to the seller.” If the agent refuses to agree, keep looking for a better agent.

3. WHAT IS YOUR MARKETING PLAN FOR MY HOME? The best agents will answer this question before you ask it. However, if a listing agent you are considering does not offer a written marketing plan, be sure to ask for such a commitment. If the agent doesn’t have a written marketing plan, he or she is not the right agent for your home.

4. HOW MANY LISTINGS DO YOU CURRENTLY HAVE AND WHAT PERCENT OF YOUR LISTINGS SELL? This key question will reveal a “numbers agent” who might make you one of his or her large listing collection. However, some numbers agents are very successful. If the percentage of homes listed to homes sold is very high, you might want to list with such an agent who has several back-up assistants.

Solo agents without assistants can usually handle 15 to 20 listings at most. If you find a relatively new agent with just a few listings, such an agent might be very successful selling your home because he or she will have plenty of time to devote to your sale.

5. WHAT ARE THE NAMES AND PHONE NUMBERS OF YOUR LAST FIVE HOME SELLERS? The best agents will anticipate this key question by supplying the answer before you ask. Before signing a listing, take the time to phone each agent’s most recent sellers. Be sure to ask each seller, “Were you in any way unhappy with your listing agent?” and, “Would you list your home again with the same agent?”

Occasionally, you will find a part-time agent who has terrific previous-seller references, but the usual situation is you need a full-time agent if you are paying a full sales commission.


When your listing agent obtains a purchase offer, it’s best to be flexible and reasonable during this slow sales season. Even if the offer price is far below what you were expecting, based on your listing agent’s CMA, it’s best to always make a reasonable counteroffer.

Many home buyers “test” their sellers to see how low the seller will go. Also, remember the frequently true real estate sales motto, “The first offer is often the best offer.”

However, if the first offer you receive is acceptable, don’t hesitate to grab it before the buyer decides to buy another home.

CONCLUSION: Although this is the traditional slow season for home sales, thousands of homes will be sold during this time of year and yours can be one of them. To make your home sell for top dollar, get it into the best possible condition, select the top sales agent for your area, and then be flexible when a purchase offer is received, knowing home buyers are in short supply during this time of year.

(For more information on Bob Bruss publications, visit his
Real Estate Center


What’s your opinion? Send your Letter to the Editor to opinion@inman.com.

Show Comments Hide Comments


Sign up for Inman’s Morning Headlines
What you need to know to start your day with all the latest industry developments
By submitting your email address, you agree to receive marketing emails from Inman.
Thank you for subscribing to Morning Headlines.
Back to top
Only 3 days left to register for Inman Connect Las Vegas before prices go up! Don't miss the premier event for real estate pros.Register Now ×
Limited Time Offer: Get 1 year of Inman Select for $199SUBSCRIBE×
Log in
If you created your account with Google or Facebook
Don't have an account?
Forgot your password?
No Problem

Simply enter the email address you used to create your account and click "Reset Password". You will receive additional instructions via email.

Forgot your username? If so please contact customer support at (510) 658-9252

Password Reset Confirmation

Password Reset Instructions have been sent to

Subscribe to The Weekender
Get the week's leading headlines delivered straight to your inbox.
Top headlines from around the real estate industry. Breaking news as it happens.
15 stories covering tech, special reports, video and opinion.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
It looks like you’re already a Select Member!
To subscribe to exclusive newsletters, visit your email preferences in the account settings.
Up-to-the-minute news and interviews in your inbox, ticket discounts for Inman events and more
1-Step CheckoutPay with a credit card
By continuing, you agree to Inman’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

You will be charged . Your subscription will automatically renew for on . For more details on our payment terms and how to cancel, click here.

Interested in a group subscription?
Finish setting up your subscription