The Ebb & Flow
"Are you up?" I texted my good friend, Laurie. "Feel like a walk around the lake?"
I'd already started the laundry, unloaded the dishwasher, filled out an online survey, paid the bills, and answered my emails, and it was only 5:30 am. Mornings are my thing . . .
so my husband has begrudgingly gotten use to me jumping clumsily out of bed over the years and waking him well before he's ready (love knows no bounds), but this early was a little crazy, even for me. Jet lag to be sure.
I checked my phone once more (Of course Laurie hadn't seen the message; any sane person would still be asleep). I threw on my sweats, grabbed my earphones, hopped in the car and headed to Lake Merritt even though it was still dark outside. Pandora would have to keep me company.
I wasn't alone.
There's a whole flock of us morning birds that make this three plus mile trek a daily habit and I've begun to recognize many of them by sight (although I know none of their names): the elderly Chinese couple who stop to do their side bends at the same spot each day, the young male jogger who runs two laps around the lake with ease, the Muslim wife who's fully covered, but who's Nikes peak out beneath her cloak (I get a kick out of that), and the African American man who always greets me with a nod of his cap and a cheerful "good morning." He's got a smile that lights up the sky.
Come an hour later, and the players all change. Timing is everything.
That's true in real estate as well, but the stakes are far higher than merely missing the man who makes you smile. Mistime the sale of your property and you're likely to see far less with respect to your sales results. Like the seasons, real estate has an established cyclical rhythm and if you're not aware of the inherent ebb and flow, you may be missing out.
We're currently in the "Fall Market," which means that we'll see one last healthy push of inventory before the Thanksgiving holidays set in. Once the turkey is served, it'll be slim pickings until after the Super Bowl. If heavy rains are forecast, it may be late February/early March before you begin to see real choices hit the market once again. (No one likes to sell a house in grey, rainy weather.)
Which isnt' to say that the "Winter Market" provides a respite from the go, go, GO marketplace. (It does and it doesn't.) It only provides a breather for Buyers. For Sellers, this is your opportunity to begin early preparations in anticipation of a healthy spring sale. Do your bathrooms and kitchen need updating? Can you begin to purge and donate the items in your closet you no longer use or need? When your kids arrive home from college, could you set them to work clearing out their rooms? (Why yes, you could.) Are their inspections that might reveal overdue repairs that need attention(Undoubtedly.) What hurdles could, and should be eliminatedbefore you place your home on the market come the new year?
The "Spring Market" begins in earnest at the beginning of February. Savvy Sellers who've utilized the winter months to plan ahead, will be the first out of the gates and should realize good returns, often due to little competition and heavy pent-up demand (there are always too few houses for sale in November, December, January so bring on the Spring bloom!).
Unfortunately, most prospective Sellers won't make their first contact with a Realtor until January, which means that even with our highly-skilled crews on hand, your "market-ready" home isn't likely to debut until March or April, when the majority of other listings will also appear. Even so, spring provides both the greatest number of opportunities for purchase and the greatest number of Buyers as well, so even if you are delayed, your home should still find strong demand well into June. But if I get a vote, may I suggest that you don't wait until the last minute. There's no harm in getting started early. (Really.)
Because the Bay Area is both blessed and cursed with high demand and low inventory (depending on what side of the equation you sit), our market experiences very little "softening," no matter the season. Still, vacations and summer plans can reduce the competition just enough to provide an opening. In other words, if you've missed out, the "Summer Market" may be your best bet to secure a home of your dreams.
If we put this cycle on a graph, the sales would climb from February through May, level off from June through July, dip slightly in August, climb once more in September, and then drop a bit in November through January. That's not a hard and fast rule, but certainly, follows a well-worn pattern when it comes to Piedmont and East Bay real estate activity.
All things being equal, you should sell in the robust Spring Market and buy in the discounted Winter Market, but here's the catch; there's not much to buy during the holidays which is why most Buyers will be forced to wait until inventory improves. And for those of us paying attention - all things are neverequal. Moreover, homes here in the Bay Area are far from cookie-cutter, which means that if you come across the house that sets your heart aflutter, you should make an offer (!!!) - regardless of which month the property presents.
Are their "deals" to be had? Rarely, meaning that they are far and few between. In fact, they're like finding lightening in a bottle, which is to say that I haven't seen one lately ... but there IS value to be sure! Define your personal"value proposition" and the market becomes far more easy to navigate - summer, winter, spring or fall.
In the meantime, there's plenty we can do and it all begins with setting your intentions, aligning your actions, and then working to achieve your goals - whether it's buying, or selling - or both!
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Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 18 years and has published more than 670 essays on life and real estate.