Overview: Time to shake off the seasonal slump

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The Independent Online

It's a gloomy month, January, and the get-up-and-go spirit of a new year always seems in particularly short supply at this point. As short, in fact, as the number of properties currently on the market which, if it continues, will start to give estate agents some sleepless nights.

It's a gloomy month, January, and the get-up-and-go spirit of a new year always seems in particularly short supply at this point. As short, in fact, as the number of properties currently on the market which, if it continues, will start to give estate agents some sleepless nights.

But given the seasonal slump into which so many of us fall, it may be that sellers haven't the energy to collect their thoughts and possessions together sufficiently to set the process in motion. They are more than likely waiting for spring, when they feel chirpier and their homes look brighter.

Funnily enough, rather a lot of people have the same idea - every year - and over a matter of weeks the balance starts to shift in favour of the buyer.

It undoubtedly makes good sense to wait for spring in the country house market, where the garden is far more important. Pointing out to a potential buyer that the bare stems covering the walls will be smothered in glorious flowers in three months' time and that it really isn't this windy in summer, is very difficult to pull off.

But unless you are selling a country property, sellers should get going, say agents. Buyers are out there - and they're very enthusiastic and very frustrated. In London, Ed Mead of Douglas & Gordon saw them come back from their holidays to find nothing new on the market.

"This is also the time when City bonuses appear and people want to spend them straight away," he says. "If you have the only flat for sale in a good block, which is quite likely at present, how much better a position to be in than the spring when there might be four others and buyers can start to sit back."

So should buyers with money burning a hole in their pockets expect a gloomy basement property to sell at a lower price in the winter? Not at all, says Mead.

Clever use of lighting, warm colours and a homely glow puts basement properties in January in almost better light than the summer, when their shortcomings are more obvious. His advice to buyers is to look for those properties that have been hanging around since the middle of last year and start to negotiate.

For instance, one property that Douglas & Gordon have had on their books for a while is a £365,000, two-bedroom flat that needs updating in a purpose-built block in Chelsea.

Simon Agace, chairman of Winkworth estate agencies, recommends buyers going back to look at those places they might have rejected. They are unlikely to get any cheaper and anything comparable that is coming on to the market now will cost more. He should know, since he will be advising vendors to add 8 per cent to their asking price, which is as much of an increase as anyone expects London properties to achieve in the coming year.

Sellers usually need little encouragement to push up their prices and estate agents generally find it an uphill task persuading them to be realistic. Anything that has remained unsold for long is either ridiculously over-priced or pretty grotty, says Charlie Noel-Buxton, who runs the flats department at Cluttons' Chelsea office. Unsold properties do start to look stale and it is difficult to generate enthusiasm for them. A sharp buyer could do worse than put in an offer.

Take one flat that is on two floors at the top of a good building with a long lease in Cadogan Square. It has been on the market for a year and its Swedish owner, who lives abroad, wants £1.69 million for it. "It looks boring but with a bit of imagination could be lovely," says Noel-Buxton. "If anyone made an offer of £1.5m, I'd strongly recommend it to the vendor."

In this case, the seller is not trying to buy as well. For most people, however, it isn't that simple and one look around at what's on offer is more disheartening than any January blues. But someone has to make the first move.

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