Real Estate: Come wintertime, agents must dip into their bag of tricks

New York North Fork
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Erica Stype McKenzie, of Andrew Stype Realty, shows a handyman special in Mattituck listed for $225,000. On the market for six months, the house in February had three offers. Photo by Barbaraellen Koch

The North Fork’s winter months typically set the scene for an inactive real estate market as colder weather and snow-filled driveways are less conducive to showings and open houses.

“Typically, over the winter and holidays it’s dead,” said Erica McKenzie of Andrew Stype Realty in Mattituck. “It’s the time people go to Florida and take their homes off the market.”

But as prices have remained lower than average since the housing crisis in 2008, local realtors are hoping potential buyers are tired of waiting and might just come out this winter.

“I think people who have been looking for so long and waiting for the market to bottom out are sick of waiting and just want to get something,” Ms. McKenzie said. “Prices can’t get much lower.”

A few realtors agreed activity has picked up in the weeks leading up to the official start of winter, but that doesn’t mean they’re not ready to confront the challenges normally posed by colder weather.

Some sellers fear their houses will be listed at lower prices in winter than they would be during warmer months. But realtors say prices actually don’t fluctuate from season to season, and they need their customers to understand that.

“Typically, when you do a market analysis, it doesn’t matter whether it’s summer, spring, winter or fall,” said Diane McCabe, an associate broker at Century 21 Alberton Realty’s Southold office. “You put that house at the same price no matter what season it is.

“Even in the winter months, if the weather is really lousy and you don’t have as many buyers coming out, the price pretty much stays where it is,” she added.

While buyers are fanning out across the North Fork this season in larger numbers than in winters past, realtors say, some are still hesitant. The majority of buyers who are serious about purchasing a home this time of year are looking for weekend or vacation homes — and first-time buyers tend to be more cautious. Those who have children are especially reluctant to house hunt in the winter because they don’t want their kids to start in a new school in the middle of the year.

But realtors point out that closings, which took about three months prior to the 2008 housing crisis, now take closer to six months.

“People come out in the winter … by the time they close, it’s close to springtime,” said Ed Tuccio of Edwin Fishel Tuccio Real Estate in Riverhead. “If you buy in the spring, you might not even get in while it’s still warm out.”

Encouraging any kind of buyer to view houses on the market is trickier than usual when temperatures are dipping and streets are slushy from snow, realtors say. That’s where home stagers like Diane Valentine of Impressions in Greenport come in.

She suggests cozying the house up with throws on the furniture, a wreath on the front door and a fire lit in the fireplace.

Holiday decorations, like lights and holly, also make a home more inviting, she said, but sellers shouldn’t go overboard. A ton of blinking lights is distracting, she said, and religious symbols should be put away.

“People like to see holiday items, but you also have to be careful that you don’t have Christmas, Hanukkah or specific holiday items that personalize the property,” she said.

Ms. Valentine also suggests softening the room by dimming the lights a bit and turning the thermostat up to 70 degrees so customers are comfortable.

“If they go into a house that’s cold, they’re not going to want to hang around,” she said, adding that, above all else, realtors can’t get lackadaisical when it gets frosty out.

“You have to keep the motivation, you have to be creative,” she said. “You can’t just take the winter off during lousy weather. You never know — that one person might drive out and fall in love with that house and then you have a sale. You can’t really slack off.”

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