So far this winter in Ottawa has been cold and windy with lots of snow. It makes you think that you should wait till spring to sell your house.
But not everyone has the luxury of waiting until the traditional spring or summer home-buying season to plant that "for sale" sign. And while it may be true that in most areas you'll probably have fewer buyers during the winter, you will have less competition from other sellers.
The season makes staging — the concept of showing your house at its best — even more important.
If you do it right, you can really make your house stand out.
Keep snow and ice at bay. If the buyer can't get in easily, the house won't sell. That means keeping walkways and driveways free of the frozen stuff. Just like trimming the lawn in the summer, you want to make the home look like it's been maintained. If you're away frequently or live in an area that's subject to bad weather, it can pay to hire a service to regularly salt or shovel the driveway and sidewalks.
Warm it up. If you're showing during the winter, think warm, cozy and homey. Before a buyer comes through, adjust the thermostat to a warmer temperature to make it welcoming. Sellers may like to turn the temperature down because of heat costs, but buyers who come in and aren't comfortable won't stay long. If you have a gas fireplace, turning it on right before the tour can give the house a little ambience.
Take advantage of natural light. Encourage showing during the high-daylight hours. Make the most of the light you do have. Have the curtains and blinds cleaned and open them as wide as possible during daytime showings. Clean all the lamps and built-in fixtures, and replace the bulbs with the highest wattage that they will safely accommodate. Before you show the house, turn on all the lights.
Get the windows washed. Buyers act on the first impression. Windows are one thing that many sellers don't even consider. In winter, that strong southern light can reveal grime and make it look like the home hasn't been well maintained.
Play music softly in the background. To create a little atmosphere, tune the radio to the local classical station. Turn it down so that you barely hear it in the background.
Set up timers. You want your home to look warm and welcoming whenever prospective buyers drive past. But you're not home all the time, so put indoor and outdoor lights on timers. Look at the outside lighting around the door. Is there enough illumination to make it inviting? If not, either get the fixtures changed or have new ones added.
Make it festive. Even if you're not actually going to be present, greet your buyers as if they were going to be guests at a party. Set up the dinner table with the good china and silver. Have a plate of cookies for your guests, some warm cider or even chilled bottles of water.
Give the home a nice aroma. The No. 1 favorite? Chocolate-chip cookies. Other popular scents: cinnamon rolls, freshly baked bread, apple pie, apple cider or anything with vanilla, cinnamon or yeast. But don't overdo it. Scented candles in every room or those plug-in air fresheners can leave buyers wondering what you're trying to mask.
Watch the bad smells, too. Pet smells, smoke and musty odors can cling to curtains and carpets. Ask your real-estate agent or a friend to give it a sniff test. Then clean the house, air it out and replace drapes, carpets or rugs before you show it.
Protect your investment. Some sellers (or their agents) will ask buyers to either remove shoes or slip on paper "booties" over their footwear before touring the house. Many buyers like that. It indicates a pride of ownership and meticulousness that resonates with buyers.