Conventional wisdom says the winter season is slumber time for real estate. Potential sellers and buyers are too busy with the holidays to list or look for homes, and the onset of winter ice and snow makes everyone want to stay inside. What do local real estate agents do during the season? Do they all head for Florida? Are the real estate offices empty? We talked to a few local real estate agents to find out if the stereotype is true and to see what they really do during the winter season.

Is there an ‘off-season’?

Zak Knebel, an agent with Weichert Realtors – Nickel Group in Oak Park, defines it as follows: “As far as the slow season, technically, that kicks off with Thanksgiving and ends with Super Bowl Sunday.”

Cory Kohut also of Weichert, says the slow-down is real, but things don’t come to screeching halt. “A lot of people do not want to close on a house and move during the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas. It’s not the desired time to do that, plus it’s winter in Chicago which is not an ideal time for looking at houses or moving a household.

 “In terms of new listings every November and December, activity does slow. In early December 2016, we had 35 new listings, and during March through May, that number was closer to 85 or 90.”

Kohut feels that for those looking to sell quickly and get the best price, the best time to list is March through May, but he also says Oak Park is a unique market. 

“There’s definitely a slow-down,” he noted, “but in Oak Park, good properties will always sell. I’ve had four closings in December. Things do sell this time of year.”

Linda Rooney of Re/Max in the Village’s Kyra Pych Group agrees that, in general, sales slow during the winter, but this year has been a bit different. With mortgage interest rates beginning to rise, she thinks a lot of would-be buyers want to close before continued projected rate increases in 2017. 

“Because of interest rates and low inventory in the area, things are moving pretty fast,” Rooney said. “Rates are just phenomenal now. Interest rates are supposed to go up two more times in 2017, so it makes sense to look now.”

Knebel also points to interest rates as the motivation behind several of his December sales. “Right now, the rates are starting to go up and people are a little nervous about what’s going to happen. I’ve had several buyers choose to buy this month because of that.”

Rooney hasn’t seen a marked holiday slow-down either. With two closings the Monday after Thanksgiving and two more in mid-December, she said that life circumstances can keep the market moving even during the colder months.

“One couple was transferred to Buffalo and the timing just worked right for them to sell their house during the holidays. Their buyers were renting on a month-to-month lease, so they were ready to move at any point when they found the right house. Another young couple found the perfect first house for them after looking at maybe 10 houses. They were renting, too, and able to close when they found the right one.”

Kohut agreed that individual circumstances and relatively low inventory of homes in Oak Park are factors in winter sales. 

“A lot of people are looking here and may have been shopping for just the right one,” he said. “If it pops up, they are ready to go no matter the season. I just had a house that had been on the market for six months, which went into a multiple-offer situation.”

For Knebel, a lot of activity in winter is predicated on what buyers and sellers want. 

“Sellers who list a home at this time of year know that buyers who are out there are very motivated, which is a good thing,” he said. “There’s less competition with fewer properties on the market. The sellers might see a lower price than they would in the spring, but they can weigh what’s most important for their individual circumstances.”

On the other side of the coin, he sees some buyers, often those looking for their first home, who do not want to deal with the competitive spring buying season which might include multiple-offer situations. For those buyers, it might make sense to look during the quieter winter season, even if inventory is lower.

What do agents do when clients aren’t buying or selling?

Local agents say that with a slower market comes time to focus on other tasks. Kohut, who has been working with his mother, an agent for 25 years, says part of the season is about reflection.

“Our business is based on referrals. At our office, we have a big client party in early November at the Nineteenth Century Club to say thank you to everyone we’ve worked with.”

The winter is also a time for housekeeping and education. Kohut tries to prepare for the coming year by examining his marketing strategies and going over his database. He also says winter is an ideal times for continuing education.

“A lot of people take classes,” he said, “either in person or through webinars. December and January is also a good time to get a new designation.”

Rooney, who works on a three-person team alongside Kyra Pych and Laura Christafano, is in her third year as an agent and says winter is a great time for networking and educating. 

“We definitely take a classes and work on our marketing,” she said. “It’s a good time to contact old clients and people we’ve been in contact with throughout the year.”

In the past three years, Knebel has used the winter months to take courses and earn recognition, such as a seller designation, a buyer designation, or a short sale designation. He also counsels future sellers, who plan to list their homes in the spring on how to best prepare their home for the market, and works with future buyers about what to expect when they go to buy a home.

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