Antony Lawes June 02, 2012
Interior designer and columnist Rikki Stubbs says a proper palette can warm things up.
Done properly, selling during winter doesn't have to be a chilling experience.
Common real estate wisdom has always been that spring is the best time to sell. But agents are increasingly of the view that it's winter - traditionally the quiet time on the real estate calendar - when sellers should be thinking of listing their property.
Sure, the weather and the garden may not be at their best but one of the advantages of selling in winter is that there are fewer properties on the market, which some say translates into higher prices because there are more buyers relative to the number of properties.
There's no doubt that there are fewer transactions: RP Data says during the past five years, there have been 6 per cent fewer sales in winter than during spring.
Yet Australian Property Monitors says auction clearance rates are slightly higher in winter.
A senior research analyst at RP Data, Cameron Kusher, says there are fewer active buyers in winter and agents don't agree.
''If you're a buyer I don't think the seasons affect you,'' says the managing director of Di Jones Real Estate, Susannah Anderson. ''If you need to upsize, downsize, are getting divorced or having a baby, those motivations don't go away in winter.''
The principal of Ee Real Estate, Poh Lin Ee, is another who says buyers are not put off during winter - even suggesting vendors can achieve a higher price. ''You get more money and you sell much better, actually, because of the lack of stock,'' she says.
Another advantage of selling in winter is that the property will have settled in spring, which will give those sellers time to look for a house - when there's more property to choose from - before Christmas, she says.
With that in mind, here are some tips for getting your house up to scratch in time to sell this winter.
As a real estate agent in Britain for many years, Andrew Winter, a property expert and presenter of Selling Houses Australia on the LifeStyle Channel, knows how to create a warm house. For 11 months a year, he and his fellow agents were masters of creating the perfect indoor temperature that made houses inviting without being stifling. And while a Sydney winter doesn't plumb the same icy depths as a northern hemisphere winter, he believes heating is still one of the two most important elements (the other is lighting).
''If it's a typically cold Sydney winter day, if you've got any sort of heat source or living flame, they are great for creating the right atmosphere,'' he says.
Summer buyers want to be feeling the breeze through the house, whereas in winter they want to imagine themselves in front of a fire with a glass of wine, Anderson says.
For the interior designer and author of the House Whisperer column in The Sun-Herald, Rikki Stubbs, having a warm house is about creating a good first impression. ''If they don't have that first sensory experience of cold then that's going to help,'' she says.
Given the shorter days and lower angle of the sun in winter, maximising the amount of light at inspection time is essential.
The chief executive of Raine & Horne, Angus Raine, says houses and apartments that get more natural light do better at sale time. ''A sun-drenched interior … may prove a significant tick in the box with many buyers,'' he says.
To help bring in more light, he suggests cutting back tree branches near the house and cleaning windows. For darker rooms, skylights are a cheap way to let light in, he says.
Another consideration is timing the inspection with the brightest parts of the day. Even if rooms are still dark, Winter says sellers shouldn't be scared of turning on lights during the day as this adds a feeling of warmth on cold days.
To do this, he suggests using table or floor lamps, especially in hallways and living areas, and combining them with a few down lights. Kitchens and ''wet areas'' are different; they should be bright enough to show everything, he says.
A good set of outdoor lights is also necessary, given there is every chance a potential buyer will see a house at a midweek open, when it is dark, Winter says.
People should have more in their houses during the colder months, Stubbs says, as there is more attention paid to interiors. This doesn't mean more clutter, she cautions, but ''a little of yourself in the objects you have in a house - rather than looking like they've all come from a styling warehouse - gives a feeling of warmth to a house''.
There should be more colour, too. Stubbs, who also runs a business, Pure Colour, says the stark, all-white look popular in many renovated houses is actually a turnoff for many winter buyers.
An easy way to soften vast expanses of white is to put rugs on large areas of bare floor and colourful artworks on the walls. She also recommends throws and cushions on a couch, while curtains or other blinds should be made from a textured fabric. All of these should be in earthy tones where possible. ''Layering a house with elements that speak of warmth and cosiness, like textiles, makes it feel very inviting and comfortable,'' she says.
Houses tend to look a lot grubbier and less well maintained when it's cold, Winter says. And while damp and moisture problems can happen at any time of the year, they can be exaggerated in winter. He recommends the exterior especially should be cleaned and moss removed from damp areas.
''One little damp patch in an otherwise beautiful home can make a buyer think, 'Well, if they haven't dealt with that, what's hiding beneath it?''' he says.
The same principle should be used in the garden, he says. Driveways and paths should be kept free of leaves. Elsewhere the garden should look as alive as possible: dead branches should be cut back and grass coaxed back to full health if there are patches of wear, he says.
When it comes to auction day, Winter says there are two schools of thought about where is best to hold the auction. Some believe a property with a good view or unique feature should be auctioned on site, but others think winter is a time when auctions should be held ''in rooms'' away from the property.
Anderson is one of them. Her company holds most of its auctions this way and she says there are many benefits, not least of which is to escape the cold and the wet. This method creates ''a crowd of buyers, not a crowd of neighbours'', she says, and when selling several properties at one time, ensures a greater anonymity for vendors and buyers.
It also takes away any last-minute doubts that can be planted in buyers' minds, such as a noisy dog or a lack of parking.
After 12 years in a three-level, four-bedroom terrace on Bourke Street, Surry Hills, Albert Jeeris wants something smaller. The school teacher had lived with others in the past but now wants a place of his own and feels the house is too big for one person.
So several months ago he started watching the suburb's sales results and, with fewer houses to compete with, decided to put his place on the market this month.
''Being an economics teacher, having thought about the shortage of houses in winter, it puts me in a better position to hopefully get the buyers in,'' Jeeris says.
To help achieve this, he employed a stylist, Bridget Overell of Guest Hire, to freshen up the property. This included replacing carpets upstairs, polishing the floors downstairs and in the third-floor bedroom, landscaping the courtyard and repainting the place inside and out. He also took advice from the agent, Dominic Kuneman of BresicWhitney, who told him to make the terrace as light as possible, by removing curtains and blinds. They also took out a few trees to let in more light.
After that, Overell filled the house with furniture - some of Jeeris's and some she selected especially - which added to its winter appeal.
''Her intention was to make the house look light and warm,'' he says. ''The paint we selected [Fair Bianca] was all about increasing this warmth.''
The terrace, at 605 Bourke Street, which includes three bathrooms, a guest retreat with en suite and off-street parking, is being auctioned on June 30 with a price guide of more than $1.3 million. It last sold in 2000 for $605,000.