For homeowners looking to sell their house quickly and for top dollar, the best time to list is in the late spring — specifically the first half of May. That's according to a new analysis of listing and sales data by real estate website Zillow.
Across the U.S., homes listed in the first half of May sell an average of nine days faster and at a 0.8% price premium ($1,500 on average) compared to the rest of the year. In some markets, the stakes are even higher — and the effect even more pronounced. In Portland, Ore., for example, homes listed in early May sell a full 16.5 days faster, and at an average price premium of 2.0% (or $6,300). And in Seattle? Wait until May to list, and you can expect your home to sell 15 days sooner for 2.5% ($9,300) more money.
And why is this? Zillow posits a simple explanation: Housing inventory is so low, and competition in some markets so fierce, that many hopeful homebuyers strike out on their first, second, and later offers. Then they start to grow desperate and frustrated.
"By May, some buyers will be anxious to avoid more disappointment or eager to get settled into a new home before the next school year," says Zillow's Catharine Neilson, "and will be more willing to pay a premium to close the deal."
That's right: Many homebuyers who haven't signed a purchase and sale agreement by Mother's Day are prepared to do whatever it takes to land a house before the well runs dry in summer. And sellers can exploit their desperation by holding out 'til the waning weeks of spring, when buyers may be ready to stretch beyond their budgets just to avoid another heartbreak.
If you've ever lost your dream home in a bidding war, you know the angst and desperation that follow. It can be a crushing experience and one you never want to repeat. And in hot housing markets like San Francisco, Seattle, and Boston, it's also an increasingly common one.
Homebuyers in such markets are already losing what precious leverage they might have had. When bidding wars are the norm, the offers without contingency clauses—those little buyer protections that provide a legal escape hatch if you can't get financing or if a home inspection turns up a termite infestation—tend to win out. It's very risky to do, but some buyers feel they need to drop such contingencies just to make a competitive offer.
Now, sellers have one more way to stretch prospective homebuyers past their comfort zone.
So, what's a hopeful homebuyer to do — besides continue renting? Try examining Zillow's research findings for seasonal differences in your area. The best (for sellers) listing windows varied quite a bit by location, with warmer climates peaking earlier: In Washington, D.C., for example, sellers have the biggest edge in early April.
Meanwhile, homes linger on the market longer — and sell for less money — in the off-season. Homes listed in the second half of December sell for an average $3,100 less compared to the rest of the year. But you don't have to wait until the holidays — the spring price premium begins to evaporate by late July. By late September, you can expect to nab a home at a $1,400 discount.