The holidays are always a great time to unwind and forget about all of those listings from the past year and the pending deals that are just around the corner—but just for a day or two. For many real estate brokers, the period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s is mostly a mad dash to the finish line as teams hustle to tie up loose ends and figure out their budgets as the final days of 2014 get crossed off on the calendar.
For Mark Stark, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Nevada Properties and Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Arizona Properties, the end of the year is the period where brokers reap the benefits of all the hard work they already put in at the beginning of the year. However, one of the pitfalls that brokers often fall into this time of the year is that they are still looking to invest in new initiatives in the last six weeks of the year—either by buying large spreads in magazines or sponsoring industry conferences—but they don’t have any money left in their budget for such programs.
Stark says the best way to plan for a strong finish is to keep better tabs on the marketing budget throughout the year and manage the “one-off” marketing expenses as if they were planned monthly expenses.
“You have to let it all accrue,” Stark says. “Any expense that you know you’ll accrue—you have awards events, charity events, agents events—you know they’ll cost you dollars. These are dollars that are spent every year, but they are not monthly—they’re one-offs. You say, ‘This is everything we’re going to be doing for 2015. Let’s let it accrue for the entire year.’ That way, at the end of the year you don’t get hit with any extra expenses.”
The agents’ bonuses should be treated the same way, being fully accounted for ahead of time, he says. These projections should be done in the first quarter of the year and by the time Thanksgiving comes the brokerage should be seeing the benefits of it. If the company is run well, he says, the broker should be recouping excess revenues.
The year’s end is also the time when real estate agents make their moves to another company, Stark says.
“It’s a good time for managers to huddle and see what talent might be available,” he says. “Based on who you’ve done deals with in the past, you can develop a sense of who the good agents are in your market and if they’d be a good fit.”
Between the turkey and the egg nog, buyers and sellers are making their own moves as well.
Sam DeBord, managing broker of Seattle Homes Group and Coldwell Banker Danforth director, says that once winter hits, the market does not freeze up at all, especially in inventory-light Seattle. However, the buyer behaviors do change, and brokers need to be keen to their activities, particularly if they’re in the northern markets where the weather makes it less enticing for buyers to be driving around looking at properties.
“In the winter we usually focus more of our efforts online, and in following up with online inquiries. Traditional marketing seems to dry up during these busy holiday months, but consumers actually spend more time online looking at homes instead of driving around to view properties,” DeBord says. “We find that desktop traffic goes back up in winter versus the big mobile app traffic in the spring and summer. That means more visits to traditional real estate websites, and more consumers who have to be nurtured via email, text and phone for a longer period because they’re not as willing or able to meet at a property due to scheduling and weather.”
While many brokers and their agents like to enjoy some time off during the holidays to spend time with family and friends, Stark noted that December is often a time when they scramble to finish up any outstanding deals where buyers and sellers are getting close to an agreed upon price or refresh some of those listings that might have gone stale after not finding a buyer over the summer.
“Many sales executives take off during the holidays and use that time to wind down,” Stark says. “We look at that as an opportunity to close.”
While many buyers drop out of the market after Thanksgiving, those who remain are probably very motivated.
“Anyone looking at properties during the holidays are serious buyers,” Stark says, adding that these potential clients might be the ones who gobble up some of the properties that have been challenging to sell.
Sellers have their own motivations around the holidays. If they’re looking at a loss on the property, it would be better to claim it in 2014 and get a quicker tax refund. More likely, though, they don’t want to have their home competing against all of the new inventory that is expected to come onto the market in January, Stark says.
“The goal is to get it sold before year-end,” Stark says. “You need to get ahead of the game. … And you get to hit ground running in January.”