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How to sell a house in the winter

A man uses his snow-blower to remove the

A man uses his snow-blower to remove the snow from his driveway in front of his house in Colorado. Credit: AP (2008)

Given the cold, dark and unpredictable weather, selling a home in winter requires more toil -- from shoveling to holiday decorating -- than it takes to sell in summer.

While the number of homebuyers drops in winter, those left hunting are generally a more serious group ready to make a deal now, brokers say. Meanwhile, competition drops as other sellers decide to pull their homes off the market and wait for spring.

"It is a myth that homes don't sell in the winter," says Leslie Mann, an agent with Hallmark Sotheby's International Realty in Hopkinton, Mass. "We have been really busy."

Here are a few tips to help home sellers enchant potential homebuyers in winter:

-- Crank up the heat: Cold houses don't sell. If potential buyers shiver at your open house, they aren't likely to stick around, let alone make an offer. This isn't the time to save on the heating bill. Keep the thermometer at least at a steady 70 degrees. A cold house sends the wrong message. "It doesn't need to be hot; it needs to be not cold," says Ronald Phipps, immediate past president of the National Association of Realtors and principal broker with Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I.

-- Get shoveling: Don't let a little snow come between you and the next owner of your house. Get shoveling, and make sure the walkway is clear. If someone has to slip and slide their way into your house, you'll lose the battle before they cross the front door.

If you want buyers to attend your open house, make sure they have a place to park. This can be challenging when snow banks and drifts accumulate. Don't clear just the driveway -- shovel out some spaces on the street as well, says Rona Fischman, principal broker of 4 Buyers Real Estate in Cambridge, Mass. While you are at it, make sure you don't wind up with big piles of dirty snow near the front door. "If they are concerned about breaking a leg, then they are not paying attention to your house in a good way," she says.

-- Build a snowman: Nothing says "welcome to your new house" more than a Frosty in the front yard ready to greet potential buyers, Fischman says. And why not get creative here? You could dress him up in a Century 21 T-shirt -- or whatever your agency of choice is -- or even put the for-sale sign in his hands, she says.

-- Decorate, but don't go overboard: Some Realtors suggest stripping a house of all holiday decorations to avoid turning off potential buyers. But that sends the wrong message. After all, buyers are trying to get a feel for whether your house could become their next home. If your house is cold, empty and sterile, that sends the wrong message, Fischman says.

But be careful here. This is not the time to go nuts with plastic lawn ornaments. It might be the season to stow Santa and his reindeer out of sight in your cellar, Mann says. She recalls taking a potential buyer to see a house where the owners had gone over-the-top with Christmas kitsch. "The buyer said, 'I didn't know the Griswolds lived here.' It did not help them at all."

Better to focus on some lighter, classier touches, such as wrapping a garland around the banister on the stairs or putting up a wreath. "It really makes the entryway pop," Mann says.

-- Become a weather freak, and stay flexible: One thing you can't control during the winter is the weather. It's time to start tuning into The Weather Channel, at least while you're trying to sell your house. When planning an open house, it's better to be prepared for weather changes. If a big storm is headed your way, maybe it's a good idea to reschedule for a new day or push a morning open house into the afternoon, Mann advises. Even if you can lure a few buyers out in the storm, a dark and dreary day is probably not the best backdrop for showing off your house. "You have to have some level of flexibility when selling in the winter," she says.

The rate on the most popular type of mortgage rose this week, despite the Fed's renewed efforts to push rates down. Rates on other types of mortgages were unchanged.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage inched up 2 basis points to 3.52 percent. A basis point is one-hundredth of 1 percentage point.

The 15-year fixed-rate mortgage was 2.85 percent, unchanged from last week. The average rate for 30-year jumbo mortgages, or generally for those of more than $417,000, stayed at 3.98 percent.

The 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgage was 2.74 percent, the same as last week. With a 5/1 ARM, the rate is fixed for five years and adjusted annually thereafter.

The volume of mortgage applications increased 6.2 percent last week, compared to one week earlier, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

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