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Should I Take My Home Off the Market During the Holidays?

When you look at your calendar you may find the months already overloaded with seasonal obligations -- shopping, entertaining, children's pageants, charity work, decorating the house, and so much more. If you are also trying to sell your home, you are under extra pressure to keep your home in "showtime" condition. And that could be the last thing you need before the holiday spirit is broken.

It is understandable why you would be tempted to take your home off the market during the holidays. And the list of justifications is long. If you are too busy, buyers may be also, and you may find your efforts unrewarded with not enough showings. And what if you do get an offer? You may be faced with the possibility of packing and moving during the busiest time of the year. Besides, you can give your house a rest, and it will have better momentum after the holidays. Better to just pack it in and start fresh in January, right?

But wait! Most top Realtors agree that taking your home off the market during the Christmas season is a mistake. The house surely isn't going to sell off the market! What is the advantage of that? So you're busy. Let your Realtor do the work. You can leave in the morning, go to work, go shopping, and let your Realtor take care of things.

The holidays are a wonderful selling period. Why? Because most people take off work sometime during the season. The husband and wife are both off and want to see houses. Most agents like the holidays because the buyers have more time, and they can look at homes together.

Before you take your home off the market, consider the following points:

  • Although buyer activity may appear to slow down, the buyers who are actively looking during the holidays are that much more serious. Agents believe the home market is no more affected at Christmas than during other "busy" periods. If that were so, the market would shut down throughout the year as families concentrate on spring weddings, June graduations, summer vacations, and autumn back-to-school activities.

  • Many buyers deliberately choose to shop for a home after the busy spring and summer rush. They know that it will be easier to look, and that negotiations will be less stressful. They may not have children, or they may have grown children, so moving to accommodate the school year isn't a consideration. Finding the right home at the right price, however, is.

  • Relocating families often don't have a choice when they can leave for their new destination. Although 68% of transferring families have children, many families have to transfer during the middle of the school year. These families are that much more motivated to get their families settled in before either the January semester begins, or to arrange for the move during spring break in March. If you sign a contract by New Year's Eve, the timing couldn't be more perfect.

  • At Christmas time, our culture focuses on family and the home. Preparing for the indoor activities of winter is one of the most enjoyable periods of family life. Allowing buyers to view your home during this most hospitable of seasons lets them better picture their own family life in the attractive environment you have created.

  • When is your home ever more beautiful and inviting? You have cleaned and decorated, and your home looks like a picture postcard. If the results are good enough for family and friends, they will surely be good enough to impress your buyers. Get the family team on board to do a five-minute blitz pick-up every morning to keep holiday messes to a minimum.

  • With reduced inventories and motivated buyers, you will have all the members of the MLS on your team. You may find you have more showings than you would if you marketed your home during a busier time of the year.

  • If you do get a contract, you can arrange the terms to suit your needs. If moving during the holidays isn't an option, you can put in the closing date of your choice. Most people can close 30 to 60 days after a contract is written, so there is plenty of time. Possession and closings are very negotiable.

  • Holiday Wish List

    With the holidays just around the corner, you better get busy shopping. Here's a short wish-list of this years must-have gadgets and gizmos for the home. These modern gifts are sure to get your motor running while also enhancing the functionality and livability of your household.

    Wireless Home Security System
    For about $200 you can bestow the gift of peace of mind. One of the great benefits of going with a wireless home security system is that it alleviates the issue of digging holes and drilling into walls which could be an issue if you're planning a move in the near future. This allows a family to feel safe at home without doing any real damage to the home. The X10 Monitor Plus System offers three-way protection: a screaming siren, flashing lights, plus an emergency dialer. Maintenance of this system is minimal, including the monthly service charge of $20.00.

    Keyless Home Entry
    Is there someone forgetful on your list? Then you might want to consider the Keyless Pro Keyless Touchpad Lock. These locks are offered in several tarnish-free finishes, are easily installed and range in price from about $100-$280. Several codes can be accepted simultaneously and the codes can be individually deleted. This means your real estate agent or housekeeper can have a different code from your family. An added safety feature is the warning alarm which sounds after four failed entry attempts. This gift is tech-savvy, practical and very affordable.

    Electronic Heater
    This updated electronic heater will be as much of a conversation piece as it will be a source of warmth. The has a unique modern design which combines the look of an LCD display with the toasty heat of a space heater. The functionality and price of this product, just $242, is what really makes it nice. And the good thing about this "fireplace" is that it's practically maintenance free and can be moved around the house as needed.

    Robotic Vacuum
    For the handy homemaker on your list the iRobot Roomba 510 robotic vacuum is a must-have. This little robot zips over carpets and other floor surfaces clearing them of debris and pet hair. The 510 is the newest generation of robotic vacuums offered by iRobot. There's no need to worry about bumps to your baseboards or furniture, this rechargeable model has a very sensitive system in place to detect the proximity of walls, furniture and other obstacles. While the iRobot won't replace your traditional upright vacuum, it's a great value at $250 and can be used daily to help keep the home spic and span for open houses.

    Robotic Lawn Mower
    Its hard work to maintain great curb appeal, but you can make that task easier by giving the Automower solar-powered robotic lawn mower. The Automower is able to trim a quarter of an acre with 10 hours of charging. It even has built-in technology to avoid flower beds and potted plants, plus a feature that prevents it from harming pets and kids. For those seeking a green lawn but who are also green minded, the $3,100 price tag is worthwhile.

    Jacuzzi Tub
    There's nothing wrong with a little bathroom remodel while indulging the one you love. The Jacuzzi La Scala Whirlpool tub is the ultimate in luxury and doesn't just appeal to the ladies. In addition to the silent air induction system, adjustable directional jets and underwater mood lighting, it also features a 43" flat-screen HDTV complete with a DVD and CD player, FM/AM radio, surround sound and a floating remote control. This is the ultimate addition to any master suite and can be purchased for about $34,000.

    Smart Treadmill
    If there's a fitness fanatic in your life then you've got to check out the latest in home-gym technology. The Technogym Treadmill 700i isn't your average treadmill. It's got enough bells and whistles to keep you entertained even on the longest of runs. The 700i includes an iPod dock, touchscreen, television, radio, and software capable of automatically determining a workout regimen. The treadmill is pricey at $16,000, but it's perfect for tackling those New Year's resolutions.

    Canadians, Relax: No 'U.S.-Style' Housing Bust

    If you're concerned about the downturn in the Canadian real estate market, Michael Polzler, regional director and executive vice-president of Re/Max Ontario-Atlantic Canada, has some advice for you: "Stop reading newspapers and stop watching TV. The market hasn't really slowed that much. We've gone from going 150 mph to 120. It feels slow, but it's still a very healthy market."

    Polzler was speaking on a panel of real estate leaders at a Toronto Real Estate Board event recently. "It's our job to calm the market -- not to panic with the rest of the population," said another of the panelists, Stephen Wong, chairman of Living Realty of Toronto. "We all have to believe in the market ourselves. We don't have a problem."

    Wong said that high immigration levels in Canada, and particularly in the Toronto area, provide a built-in "guaranteed market" for real estate sales. Low interest rates, good employment numbers and an extremely low rate of mortgage arrears means the economy is not as bad as some people are making it out to be, Wong said.

    It's not just real estate people who believe the market isn't all that bad. "We argue against taking an overly alarmist view to domestic housing prospects," said Scotiabank economist Adrienne Warren in a report last week. "This is not a 'U.S.-style' bust caused by overbuilding, speculative buying and imprudent lending, but, rather a cyclical slowdown accompanied by a valuation adjustment in several large centres, where booming demand conditions and temporary supply constraints led to an overshooting in prices."

    Warren says the drop in sales and prices is "now being hastened by the sharp downgrading in global economic prospects and severe turbulence in financial markets in the wake of the U.S. subprime meltdown."

    But Canada has a "much smaller subprime exposure" than the U.S. did before the crisis, she says. In Canada there is "less interest rate reset risk, lower use of home equity withdrawal and investor mortgages and more conservative lender criteria. Canadian households are far less leveraged than those in the United States, and less exposed to any erosion in underlying asset values."

    Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) Chief Economist Bob Dugan says the country has the lowest rate of mortgages in arrears since 1990, at around one-third of one per cent. Another key difference from the U.S. experience is the amount of equity that Canadians have in their homes. While many Americans were able to buy with no money down and were unable to build equity, in Canada the number of homeowners with less than 10 per cent equity in their homes is conservatively estimated by CMHC at 16.8 per cent. "People who are most at risk of arrears are those with less than 10 per cent equity in their homes, or people who bought in the last year or so," Dugan told a CMHC housing conference recently. "So most homeowners are not as exposed to adverse economic effects, such as losing their jobs."

    Despite the news headlines, CMHC says the Canadian labour market is still tight, with a 6.1 per cent unemployment rate. Predictions for 2009 range from a low of 6.4 per cent to a high of 7.2 per cent unemployment, which is still a historically low number.

    CMHC is predicting the resale housing market will hit 452,200 units in 2008 and drop to 433,300 in 2009. While that's considerably lower than the record-setting 523,700 sales in 2007, it's on a par with sales in the years 2002 to 2004, which were all record-setting years at the time.

    House prices are also dropping, and generally speaking, the areas with the fastest run-up in prices are also seeing the biggest drops. CMHC predicts that house prices in British Columbia and Alberta will fall in 2009, but for the country overall it predicts a .3 per cent increase in prices this year and a slight .1 per cent increase in 2009.

    Warren at Scotiabank took a look at house prices around the world, concluding that "price appreciation in both the United States and Canada has actually been relatively modest by international standards, totaling a cumulative 50 per cent and 61 per cent respectively. While real prices have declined in Japan and Germany, the 10-year cumulative price run-up was considerably larger in Ireland, the U.K., Spain, France and Australia, all of which have experienced increases upward of or exceeding 100 per cent." She says that price growth has now decelerated sharply in all countries.

    While Canada's housing market is the least overvalued according to the IMF's housing valuation model, Warren is less optimistic that prices will hold going forward. "We expect … that the correction in national average prices from their late 2007-peak will probably be in the range of 10 to 15 per cent, well below the ongoing U.S. retrenchment," she says. However, "much of this realignment will occur in Canada's three western-most provinces, and will leave intact most of the significant price appreciation of recent years."

    She says that in the longer term, house price deflation is likely to be more pronounced outside of North America, particularly in Ireland, Spain, the U.K. and Australia.

    Green Counter Tops Tell An Eco-Friendly Story

    Upgrading kitchens is one of the best ways to increase value in your home. Deciding to remodel the kitchen using green recycled materials can add extra appeal. It also gives homeowners a good feeling knowing that once-wasted materials that are generated from glass manufacturers are now being put to good use.

    "A lot of people are deciding to go green and this is definitely a green-certified product because it is 85 percent recycled glass," says Cody Nosko, President of CCM Enterprises.

    She’s talking about Vetrazzo—a slab of material made from recycled glass and concrete and used mostly in residential homes for kitchen and bathroom countertops although it can go anywhere natural stone is commonly used. The glass comes from many sources such as windows, drinking glasses, automotive glasses, laboratory glass, and even decommissioned traffic light lenses. The product is frequently compared to granite.

    "It has the same good qualities as granite as far as being heat resistant, scratch resistant, and stain resistant," says Nosko.

    The product grew from a very small offering of colors to a large variety of choices. "It’s much more readily available today to meet the needs of people who are looking for green recycled products," says Nosko.

    What’s making it so popular? Its high-end vibrant look, durability, and easy maintenance.

    The product comes with a 10-year warranty. It’s sealed after it is installed. Nosko recommends, "To keep it looking just like new, we recommend using a marble wax and you wax it once a year—similar to what you would do to your car." The frequency of waxing really depends on if you use your kitchen a lot, whether you have children in the house, and how much overall wear and tear is done to your kitchen.

    "All the chips that are in there are actual pieces of glass so, like granite, it can chip and it can get scratched but it is repairable. If you chip it, and you have the piece of glass, it can be put back in," says Nosko.

    But perhaps, the story that goes along with each countertop installed is yet another reason that homeowners are choosing Vetrazzo. It’s where the glass comes from that makes the product look so intriguing and unique.

    "They have a color called Alehouse Amber which is obviously made up of the green Heineken bottles and the regular amber-colored beer bottles," says Nosko.

    "They have another color that’s called Cobalt Skyy which is nothing but Skyy Vodka bottles," says Nosko.

    "They have one that’s called Glass House. The glass comes from any factories that get torn down, the glass gets taken out, crushed up, and recycled," says Nosko.

    Manufacturers even came out with a limited-edition called Firehouse Red.

    Nosko says the Vetrazzo color palette continues to evolve as new sources for recycled glass are found.

    "There are certain colors that I would not recommend putting in a home if you are going to resell the home. Of course, it depends on the location of the home and the market of buyers that you’re going to have looking at the home," says Nosko.

    "There’s one that looks like confetti which you might want to put somewhere for fun like in a bar or in a game room or something like that but I wouldn’t recommend it for your main countertop in your kitchen," says Nosko.

    She says Alehouse Amber, Palladian Grey, and a Bistro green are good colors that homeowners likely won’t tire of and will be aesthetically pleasing to future buyers.

    You’ll pay more for Vetrazzo than you will for granite. "With our company you could get into an entry-level slab of granite [for approximately] $50 a square-foot installed. The Vetrazzo will probably cost you double that to get an entry-level Vetrazzo because the material is that much more expensive and it still comes in slab form just like granite does," says Nosko.

    It’s a green product that offers a sense of pride to homeowners just knowing that as they sip a glass of wine at the kitchen countertop, the glass from the empty bottle will someday appear in another home somewhere in the world.

    Greenspan & "The Globally-Integrated Phenomenon"

    How can individual property owners make sense of an economic situation of such global scope and economy-shattering depth that financial experts like Dr. Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the US Federal Reserve System from 1987 to2006, are even driven to say, "I don't know"?

    In many ways, determining what is relevant to one property, in one community, in one province, at one point in time is easier than dealing with a sea of generalities and trying to be right in hundreds directions at once.

    According to Greenspan, it boils down to this: "It is important to ask ourselves, 'Where is the bottom and when will it stabilize?' I look to two prices which I think are critical for determining when the private sector by itself will stabilize. The first is the price of homes in the United States, and the second is world stock prices. The home price issue is a very critical one in the sense that...the amount of equity in homes in the United States, that equity, is the ultimate collateral which backs up the whole international structure of mortgage backed securities ... ."

    Early in November, Greenspan visited Toronto and answered a series of questions put to him by a representative of the local banking community. Approximately 2300 financial "suits" sat in almost complete silence -- virtually no coughing or blackberry checking -- as they listened to Greenspan's views on what was going on and what would be going on next. The following excerpts present an interesting perspective for Canadians intent on deciding whether Canada will or will not weather the economic storm without going down with the "ship" -- its neighbour to the south.

    The Problem: Home Equity Glut
    Greenspan: "The sale of vacant for-sale [US] property, which is picking up rather aggressively -- it is that which will stabilize prices, but not in an easy way, sometime in the first half of next year. When that happens, then, instead of having this extraordinary uncertainty with respect to the value of assets on all banks' or intermediaries' books, we will know what they are really worth. When we get to that point, and banks truly know whether they are solvent or not, then I think we begin to see the very major problems constricting private equity... . There are early signs and until we get to a stability, we are interdependent on the sovereign credit, which is basically the only really important mechanism which will bring us through this crisis. This is a once in a century event. "

    Greenspan warns us to expect a further drop of 5 to 10 percentage points, but the rate of decline is slowing. This makes it possible to project a bottom for evaluation of assets, even before prices fully stabilize.

    Where to Start: In analyzing large-scale problems, Greenspan presented an interesting approach to analyzing financial alternatives.
    Greenspan: "First define what the problem is, and I feel what the problem is fairly clear. What its solution is is less so." If stress is building, write down exactly what your problem is. Be specific and definite. Not just "I'm worried about my investments," but a list of what you dread specifically this week, this month, over the next two months, over the next six months. Once the problem is clear, you can concentrate on solutions. While global uncertainty reigns, finalizing solutions may be a challenge, but at least this is constructive, forward thinking, not "what if" whining about pending doom.

    Numerator or Denominator:
    "For equilibrium in the financial system and, therefore, in the banking system, you have to get even more capital into the banks, or failing that, the banks are forced to sell assets -- you either have to work on the numerator or the denominator. What the whole action on the part of banks and central treasuries is, is to, at the moment, put significant amounts of new capital into the banking system. It is beginning to bring down these risk premiums significantly, but there is more work to be done, and it is not 'cost-less'...". Following Greenspan's reasoning, will solutions to your problems focus on increasing income, cutting expenses or liquidating assets? This is a time to reduce debt even if the most you can do is not use credit cards and live within your cash means.

    What's Next?
    Greenspan: "That is a critical question and I don't know the answer, but what is certainly the case is, as US home prices decline, we are still creating new toxic assets. Not because we are issuing [sub prime mortgages] -- they are effectively zero, most markets are dead -- but we still have US1.5 trillion dollars outstanding in mortgage-backed securities, backed by pools of US [subprime mortgages], and, therefore, the price decline is very critical in that respect. Essentially what we have to do here is stabilize the prices and get that part of problem solved. Whether that spills over to the other problems -- there's the commercial paper market, basically different types of consumer lending and the like -- I am not sure, but if you clean up part of the balance sheet, it is very likely you may get the reverse effect of what we get now, at least I think that is a reasonable expectation... . We know we are going down and there is very little we can do about that but what history tells us is that one can start to stabilize... . What we really need is a stabilization, and then it will begin to feed on itself." Don't make matters worse by acting rashly.

    Linked Futures
    Greenspan: "... there is a general belief that fundamentally the American economy is not inflation prone. One way or the other we'll pull back, and a lot of us believe that, and that's not true in a lot of the emerging economies, as you know ... . We have demonstrated a degree of resilience which I am not sure we have really understood but it is not a bottomless pit in that regard. We must be very careful ... ."

    Safe Haven
    Greenspan: "There are some very fundamental roots in the United States that create this stability and number one is the Constitution of the United States which to protects the rights, not only of individual citizens and property rights, but equally of those foreigners who invest in the United States. We saw a most interesting phenomenon when the crisis arose. Where was the safe haven? With all of our problems, the [US] dollar strengthened significantly, because people saw that as a safe haven. If we lose that, we will be in trouble."

    Greenspan: "There is an extraordinary desire to recognize that we all live in the world and that we all rise and fall together." This statement about international relations makes sense on a community level, on each street, in each apartment and condominium tower.

    Timing is All
    Greenspan: "Canada is an unusual case where you have done everything right, but the degree of exposure to the rest of the world, especially your neighbor to the south, means if we don't get it right, you've got a problem."

    Home Warranty May Come in Handy

    You are about ready to close your real estate transaction on a home; did you consider a home warranty?

    "It is not mandatory in any state that you have to get one. But in some states it's mandatory that it is offered on a purchase agreement of the real estate contract," says David Sobel, VP of Sales, for Home Warranty of America.

    Depending on where you live, you may have heard about a residential service plan or home warranty from your real estate agent. How important are these warranties? What do you really get? Let's explore.

    Why a home warranty?

    Sellers want peace of mind that buyers won't be calling them after the sale of their home, with problems about items in the home breaking down and expecting the sellers to pay to fix them.

    Buyers want to know that the home they're buying is going to be protected and not cost them a lot of money once they move in. The home warranty helps both sides achieve their goals.

    Also, in these tough economic times, Sobel says sellers can take comfort in knowing that the home warranty can help. "It does help sell homes," says Sobel. He says that when buyers are faced with a choice between two similar type houses with a comparable price point, the house with a warranty is usually preferred.

    What's covered by a home warranty?

    The plans differ from company to company but, generally speaking, the home warranty covers major mechanical systems and appliances such as furnaces and air conditioning, plumbing and electrical items, and appliances.

    "It's a repair or replacement warranty," says Sobel. When something malfunctions, the homeowner calls the home warranty company. A technician is sent to look at the problem. The homeowner pays a flat fee for the service call. "Then the warranty company either repairs or replaces the warranty covered item," says Sobel.

    When to buy a home warranty?

    The best time to purchase a home warranty, according to Sobel, is during the actual real estate transaction. This is because "not all companies offer it later." Sobel adds that what's offered later is often not as good, "Those prices [for the home warranty] after the transaction typically increase and the coverage usually decreases," says Sobel.

    He says this is because if there is no real estate transaction then there is no due diligence being done. "No inspection was done. The seller didn't disclose if things were working," explains Sobel.

    What does a home warranty cost? Sobel says they average about $400 across the nation with a flat service fee ranging anywhere from $50 to $100 per call.

    Who pays for it? This can vary from state to state, depending on market conditions. "In today's environment, the buyer has more leverage so we're seeing the seller pay for it more often," says Sobel.

    Know before you buy.

    A few key steps can help you decide which company to use to purchase a home warranty.

    • Make sure the company is licensed in the state that the home is in.

    • Verify that the company is real -- sounds obvious, but lots of scams occur when some consumers find the company online and then don't bother to confirm that the company is more than just a website.

    • Call the company and ask for referrals. Find out what other customers are saying about their experience with the company.

    • Don't fall for gimmicks. "If a company is giving you all the coverage that other companies are offering at a discounted rate of 50 percent off, run as fast as you can -- it's too good to be true," says Sobel. He says all the national companies selling home warranties offer plans that are within a five-to-10-percent price range of each other.

    • If a company offers a gift card or incentive to buy the home warranty, "that's not a real company. It's illegal to give incentives to buy warranty.

    Maintaining Curb Appeal Through Winter

    Winter can pose unique challenges for those trying to sell their homes. Cold weather and the hustle and bustle of the holiday season can keep would-be buyers at bay. That's why it's especially important to maintain strong curb appeal throughout the winter months.

    Curb appeal, of course, is the first impression one gets from simply viewing the outside of the home. Just as many folks judge a book by its cover, homebuyers draw certain conclusions about a home just from what they've viewed outside. Here are some easy tricks to entice buyers to stop by your home and actually step inside.

    First, start with the home itself. Remember that all the upgrades inside the house are useless if you can't get buyers inside. Giving the house a fresh coat of paint or repainting/staining the front door can both make a huge impact. Also, check the condition of the roof and gutters and fix or replace them if necessary. And don't forget to paint or clean the garage doors and windows.

    Secondly, think about sprucing up the front porch. Updating lighting or sconces can really frame the entrance to the home nicely. Also, something as simple as replacing a worn-out doormat can add an element of warmth to a home. Consider placing urns or planters on either side of the front door.

    In winter, it's ideal to use evergreens or colorful poinsettias. Of course, if you're anticipating a hard freeze, you might need to protect those potted plants by covering them with a blanket, sheet or plastic. And if your street number is located on the porch, be sure that it is easy to see from the street.

    Next, address your landscaping. Keep in mind that a clean lawn can go a long way. Make sure to clean up any toys or trash you see and only set out your garbage can or recycling bin on pick-up days. Neatly rake leaves and debris and place your compost pile in the back or side yard; you don't want anything to distract from the beauty of your home.

    If you live in an area that experiences harsh winters, it's understandable that your yard isn't exactly going to be lush. But including certain plants into your year-round landscape can help alleviate the drabness of winter. Evergreens, pines, hemlock, spruce and vibrant holly bushes can really shine through the coldest of months. And adding bird feeders to your lawn can attract and provide shelter for wild birds.

    It's also essential to make sure that buyers can reach your front door easily and safely. Repair cracks in the sidewalks and driveway and make sure that all walkways are cleaned, edged and properly illuminated.

    Lastly, make sure your prospective buyers can picture themselves living in your house. This means not going overboard on holiday decorations. You want your décor to be tasteful, but not to overpower the home itself. Give the buyer a chance to envision your home in its everyday condition.

    It doesn't require a lot of money to improve your homes curb appeal. But what it does take is careful planning, due diligence and a bit of creativity.