Question: I need to sell my flat before heading overseas next May but would prefer to do it sooner rather than later – and want to put it on the market now. Yet everyone tells me to wait at least until spring or even Easter. Would I really be wasting my time if I put it on the market before Christmas? DB, Ipswich
Answer: The fabled Christmas spirit, festive generosity and goodwill, doesn't usually extend to December property sales.
You might not be feeling the chill but cold, dark winter months do nothing to chivvy along possible buyers, especially in this financial climate. "Don't overestimate buyer sentiment at this time of year," warns David Hollingworth of broker London & Country.
"You're up against a seasonal headwind, when most people will have their focus elsewhere: organising Christmas, the New Year holidays, and the big spend."
His concern is echoed by property advice website theadvisory.co.uk which rates each month for its popularity with buyers – and December scores low.
Between the 1st and 14th of this month, your chances of selling are judged "poor" but from then on until New Year's Eve, it's "bad". The first half of January just scrapes an "OK". "After the second week of November buyers, like bears, tend to hibernate," says theadvisory.co.uk spokesman Gavin Brazg.
Although it's hardly scientific, the weather and seasons do have a big impact on buyers and their moods. Estate agents tend to do most business from early February through to June and big planned house moves swing into action – while longer, brighter days encourage more potential buyers to scour the market.
Many families also try to synchronise their house move with the end of the school year.
And, of course, it works the other way in high summer and winter, according to specialist property website movewithus.co.uk.
"During August people are often on holiday – spending time with their children during the school break instead of house-hunting – and November/ December are also sluggish with the Christmas run-up," a spokesman says. Which all suggests you hold off until mid-January at least.
As a rule, it's worth aiming for an offer within 4-6 weeks, while it's still fresh on the books – a house or flat grows stale when it stays stuck to the "for sale" window.
"Property becomes old news and buyers start getting suspicious," says Mr Brazg. "They tend to assume something is wrong with the property and stay away."
However, adds Mr Hollingworth, there is one exception to the kibosh on a Christmas sale.
"If your home is highly desirable, the shortage of decent properties nationwide means that you could actually score a swift sale."
There is still pent-up demand and quality homes will always sell quickly, he says.