No winter slump on the sellers’ market: ‘It’s a 12-month business’

Susan Smith
National Post

Winter tends to be a relatively slow time for selling real estate. But while many people wait for the spring thaw to list their property, slow season might just be the best time to attract a buyer. At least that’s the philosophy of Royal LePage veteran Elli Davis, who clinched eight deals in December and has been busy so far this month.

“I encourage people to list in December and January,”  she says, speaking from 30 years of experience. “Many listings expire Dec. 31. But when I take a listing in September or October, I try to get it to the end of January to really cover that holiday season.”

Her reasoning has served her well over the years: Many people hunker down for the holidays or go south for the winter, so there’s not a lot of competing properties on the market. But there always seem to be buyers, their ranks filled by people with pre-approved mortgages due to expire and shoppers who don’t mind braving the cold to avoid the spring crowds.

One of her recent buyers was a retired professional with a house in the Yonge and Eglinton area. He and his wife, also retired, were ready to downsize and had security concerns about leaving their home when travelling and vacationing in Florida. Not thinking they were ready to buy immediately, they had a chat with Ms. Davis about what their house was worth and found themselves looking at condos.

Then they saw one they wanted and found themselves buying it. They got the 2,170-square-foot unit in a building in the Bay corridor close to Yorkville for just over $1-million, a bit under asking. No bidding war, which the buyers were happy to avoid.

“When everyone else is sleeping, lots can happen,” Ms. Davis says. “It’s a 12-month business. There are always buyers and sellers every single day.”

One of the deals Ms. Davis closed during the recent spell of frigid weather was a North York home that sold for $902,000, $114,000 over asking.

“That was an example of looking at it in mid-December and they were going to wait [to list], and I said, no, let’s do it now. There’s nothing on the market in your area.” The timing was perfect, generating 13 offers and a quick sale.
 Royal LePage’s latest house price survey is one of many reports showing the Toronto market finishing the year on a strong note, in line with the national average for Canada’s largest cities.

According to its figures, the average price of a standard two-storey home in the fourth quarter rose by 2.75% year-over-year to $686,000. This compares with a rise of 3.6% to an average of $418,000 nationwide for this type of property.

The average price of a detached bungalow in the city rose 3.9% to $580,000, compared with a rise of 3.8% to $381,000 for the country as a whole. For a standard two-bedroom, 900-sq.-ft. condominium, the rise was 1% to $360,000, compared with the national average of $247,000, a 1.2% rise.

The report predicts a continued “positive momentum” and a sellers’ market for the first half of the year.

According to the Toronto Real Estate Board, the average selling price in the GTA for December was $520,398 ­up 8.9% compared to the average of $477,756 in December, 2012.

“The average selling price will be up again in 2014 and by more than the rate of inflation,” said board president Dianne Usher. “The seller’s market conditions that drove price growth in the second half of 2013 will remain in place in many parts of the GTA.”

So why wait for spring, when everyone else lists?

Christopher Bibby, an agent with the Sutton Group in Toronto who specializes in condos, sold two properties in the week before Christmas. One was a loft at King and Spadina area that went for a little under asking at $415,000. The other, at King and Jarvis, attracted multiple offers and sold for $3,000 over asking for $372,000.

“Even during the ice storm there were agents out there, and a lot of people looked at it as an opportunity, and without a lot of competition out there, as a good time to go out and shop.”

Mr. Bibby says it can be a good time to list rather than wait, especially if a unit is sitting empty.

But in this market of ample inventory, with condos generally taking longer to sell, he says it’s more important than ever to make a good impression and stand out from the crowd. In other words, get rid of the crazy paint colours and spring for a good staging.

“The sellers have to be more hands-on and the agents have to be a lot more hands-on,” he says.

Standard tips for selling in winter include making the space look comfy and warm, lighting a fire or wooing buyers with the smell of baking cookies.

But like Mr. Bibby, Ms. Davis says it’s more important to get the basics right — declutter, make the place immaculateand send the pets away for a little holiday even if you’re not taking one of your own.

“I’m not a big cookie person,” she says. “Clean and presentable are much more important to me. Provide easy access, make sure the key is available, allow showings when people want to come.”

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