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Winter Season Buyers and Sellers Serious about Making a Deal

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By Kathleen Lynn

RISMEDIA, February 18, 2011—(MCT)—Planning a move to Arizona, Martha DeVita originally thought she’d list her Cliffside Park, N.J., home in the spring, when the real estate market traditionally heats up. But faced with this winter’s harsh weather, she put up the “for sale” sign in January. Within a week, she accepted an offer.

“I have no complaint, I’ll tell you,” said DeVita. “People are still looking. I don’t see any reason why people would wait until spring.”

Carlos Fonseca has a different perspective. His five-bedroom Upper Saddle River, N.J., home has been on the market since last spring, with a current asking price of $2 million. He’s seen a definite falloff in buyer traffic during the winter, starting with the holidays and continuing into the “extreme weather” of January.

Many buyers and sellers wait until spring to enter the market, especially families with schoolchildren, who want to make their deals so they can move in time for the next school year.

Still, there are people who, for a variety of reasons, are in the market in winter. And while the market is smaller, real estate agents say that foul-weather buyers and sellers tend to be serious about making a deal.

Certainly, there are plenty of obstacles—especially in a winter like this one. A house that would have a ton of curb appeal when everything’s in bloom is less attractive under gray skies and a blanket of snow. Buyers may struggle to find street parking and navigate icy sidewalks. Sellers find it tougher to keep the place clean as snow and road salt are tracked into the house.

Some agents say the smaller market works to the advantage of sellers. “If they wait for the spring market, there’s more competition” for buyers, said Ricki Sellner of Coldwell Banker in Upper Saddle River, who is Fonseca’s agent.

Other agents insist that the winter is a buyer’s market. “They can usually get a better price, because there are not as many buyers in the market. If a house is on the market in the winter, the seller is usually extremely motivated,” said Nicolette Lisella of Terrie O’Connor Realtors in Allendale, N.J.

“If a house has been on the market, and it is still available in the winter, the sellers are sometimes much more flexible, and prices more affordable,” agreed Dennis Decina of Werner Realty in West Milford, N.J.

Buyers who venture out in winter may be able to get faster action on their mortgages because the lenders aren’t dealing with as many applications, said Antoinette Gangi of RE/MAX in Woodcliff Lake, N.J.

Another advantage for buyers: They will be able to get a sense of how drafty the house is, and how well the heat works. But on the minus side, home inspections can be more difficult if snow covers decks and the home’s foundation, said Sharon Marinaccio of LeConte Realty in Hasbrouck Heights, N.J. And buyers won’t be able to have the air conditioning tested or the pool inspected. For that reason, agents recommend that buyers ask the seller to put aside money in escrow, or supply a home warranty, in case repairs are needed later.

Gillian and Matthew Sadowsky started shopping for a home last fall. “There’s definitely a lot less inventory on the market now,” said Gillian Sadowsky. But she has seen firsthand that properties can sell in the winter. She and her husband put a bid on a well-maintained, tastefully decorated house in December—but lost out to one of the other three buyers who also put in bids. “When houses come on the market that are good and well-priced, people are out there to buy them,” she said.

They’re still looking, and expect to have more choices as the weather warms up. “I’m trying to be patient, which isn’t in my nature,” Gillian Sadowsky said. “Everybody tells us that more homes are going to start coming on the market in March and April.”

Though this winter’s relentless snowstorms haven’t deterred the Sadowskys, real estate agents say the weather has definitely discouraged other potential buyers. That’s tough on sellers.

“A lot of work goes into getting ready for an open house. When you find out only two people showed up, it’s a little disappointing,” said Fonseca. He and his wife want to downsize because their children are in college.

But the good news for sellers is that at this time of year, buyers are probably not just window-shopping. “When buyers come out in rougher weather, you know they are serious and motivated,” said John Reilly of Century 21 Van Der Wende in Little Falls. “It almost becomes a seriousness filter,” said Jeana Cowie, a RE/MAX agent in Oradell, N.J.

Terri Golden of Coldwell Banker in Fort Lee, N.J., pointed out that most sellers are also buyers. If they can sell their old homes in the winter, they’ll be able to “buy during the spring market, when more inventory is up for sale. This gives them, as buyers, more properties to choose from.”

One problem for sellers is that if the house is nicely landscaped, the buyers can’t appreciate that under the snow. In those cases, agents ask sellers for photos that show flowers and bushes in bloom, and, if they’re available, display them for buyers.

Whatever the season, real estate agents say the fundamentals always apply: The property should be well-kept, priced right and marketed aggressively.

DeVita’s house, for example, sold quickly because it was priced well—at $319,000—and in good shape, said her agent, Emilia Freitag of Prudential Adamo in Ridgefield, N.J. “Doing this in the winter did not hurt at all,” Freitag said. “As long as the price is right and the word is out, your house will sell,” said Susan LeConte of LeConte Realty in Hasbrouck Heights. “It doesn’t matter what time of year it is.”

(c) 2011, North Jersey Media Group Inc.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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