The Christmas cookies and eggnog may be out with care, and holiday music floating through the air, but local Realtors report that sales are rare around the holiday seasons. That is, unless you happen to sell homes in retirement communities.
Gary Ward, a Realtor with Century 21 Beggins Enterprises in Sun City Center, said homes sales pick up in December as baby boomers nearing retirement visit their parents.
“Family members are drawn in because of the holidays,” Ward said. “They want to get out of the cold and come to Florida. December is the start of our season here. In the ‘normal world’ of real estate, it’s April because of the tax returns people can use for down payments.”
He said people with children tend to buy homes between April and August so their children don’t have to switch schools. Retired folks, in contrast, buy between December and April when the Florida weather is inviting.
Ward said Realtors throughout Sun City Center and Kings Point sold about 58 homes last month. In December, he expects sales to go up by about 50 percent. He estimates there are about 205 homes for sale in that area or about a 4-month supply of inventory.
Gary De Pury, the broker/owner of Bay Vista Realty, sells million-dollar homes throughout Hillsborough County.
He encourages his buyers to avoid putting their homes on the market until the stockings get taken down and the recycling truck takes the last dried-up Christmas tree from the front lawn.
“The fact is that summer is the hot time for real estate,” De Pury said. “All other times are not as lively. We don’t do anything different during the Christmas season, and frankly, I try to get clients to postpone when I can.”
De Pury, a retired military intelligence agent, said his clients become clients for life.
“I wish I could tell you that I host extra open houses and play Mendelssohn, but the fact is I don’t really change my operating strategy for the holidays,” he said.
Flo Vachon, a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty South Shore in Sun City Center, said she encourages her senior citizen sellers to decorate with fall and winter themes.
She recommends her sellers place chrysanthemums at the entryway, wreaths on the front door and seasonal items inside.
“Not everyone celebrates Christmas or Hanukkah, but the seasons are a good way to decorate without making the home look too much like you, the seller,” Vachon said. “We try to make them look more generic, so that when buyers walk through the door, they aren’t noticing personal things and holidays. The goal is to make buyers comfortable and able to picture themselves living there.”
Vachon said home sales only get better in the retirement community as winter progresses.
“We are extremely busy that time of year,” she said. “The snowbirds are here and the Northerners escaping the cold and snow come to investigate the area.”
Vachon said buyers might not find the deals they could get a few years ago, although there are still foreclosures available.
“Inventory has been shrinking and prices are increasing so buyers need to be aware that there might not be any negotiating room and that they should make their best offer,” she said. “Many listings now have multiple offers on them. I’ve seen many buyers who lost out on a sale because they made their offer too low. We’re seeing higher prices now and home values are appreciating, compared to the past few years.”
Although prices are not back to the housing bubble levels, Vachon is optimistic that things are on an upswing.
“It’s wonderful for sellers because they have taken such a beating over the last few years,” she said.
Rae Catanese, a Realtor with RE/MAX Bay to Bay in South Tampa and author of The Tampa Real Estate Insider blog, said buyers in South Tampa who hunt during the holidays tend to be more serious buyers since the “just lookers” are too busy Christmas shopping.
“Historically there are fewer homes on the market, meaning less competition,” Catanese said. “If you wait until the spring, when everyone else decides to sell, you may not get as much as you would if you sell now.”
Catanese said homes always show better when they are decorated because prospective buyers can visualize their families spending times during the holidays in their new home.
“If your home has a fireplace, showcase this feature and put a nice holiday wreath on the door and lights in the trees in your yard,” she said.
She said buyers are often motivated to close on a property prior to Dec. 31 so they may qualify for a discount on their taxes with a homestead tax exemption.
“As long as you are living in the home by the end of the year and file for the homestead exemption before March of next year, you will qualify for $50,000 off the assessed value of the home,” she said. “Assessed values are what the property appraiser uses to determine your taxes, and this decrease in value can save buyers hundreds of dollars.”