Property: A quickie sale by Christmas

Winter may not be the best time to put your home on the market, but you could be lucky
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The Independent Online
Jo-Ann Potts has to be an eternal optimist. Not only has she just put her Tudor-style semi in Kingston, Surrey, up for sale in the hope that she'll exchange contracts in the four or so weeks left to Christmas, but she is also determined not to get stressed with the whole process.

"We're going to have a completely new start in Wales," says Jo-Ann, whose husband Andrew takes voluntary redundancy at the beginning of December. "We found a property we liked and it suddenly seemed right. We didn't think about whether the market was good or not."

Jo-Ann is lucky. Kingston is an affluent part of Surrey where state schools are good and the housing stock attractive. It is a popular area for people relocating with families, often bringing in buyers without a property to sell.

Encouraged by an offer on the first day the house went on sale (rejected as it was too low and the buyer was in a chain), Jo-Ann is confident that there's someone out there prepared to pay near the asking price of pounds 174,950.

Guy Hodge, a partner at Lords estate agents selling Jo-Ann Potts' house is equally optimistic that he can still receive instructions and sell houses at this traditionally quiet time of the year. "Accurate pricing is essential," says Mr Hodge. "In our area prices stopped rising in September for the first time in 22 months. Unfortunately, many estate agents have carried on valuing at these levels."

With supply greater than demand, Lords have seen the average of last November's six viewings per sale increase to 22.

The picture varies widely across the country. In areas depressed by redundancies, instructions are few and far between with agents relying on the year round "bread and butter" factors for house sales - death, divorce and debt. Figures published by the Land Registry show that the volume of sales has dropped in the first quarter of the year for the past three years, but are still increasing overall each year.

Bill Carver from Parnell, Jordy and Harvey estate agents in the village of Overton, in Hampshire, has seen some activity at the top end of the market in November, however, the much needed first-time buyer has disappeared.

"Young people are more into enjoying themselves at this time of year than buying a house," he says. Whereas Paul Curtis of Roy Brooks in East Dulwich, south London, believes the market is "sub-buoyant", with flats still going under offer to first-time buyers in the run up to Christmas. However, houses appear to be sticking.

According to this week's report from the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA), members welcome the recent drop in interest rates but claim it is too little too late to have any great effect at this point in the year.

Should estate agents pack their bags and head for the winter sun? Harvey Smith from Beaumont Residential in Beckenham, Kent, thinks not. "It's all about confidence and supply and demand. I've just been instructed by a woman who needs a bigger house because she wants more children. She would have put her house on the market whether it was Christmas Eve or 15 July."

Are people really going to go house-hunting in November? "It is quiet," admits Mr Smith, "but at least buyers are genuine, not people with nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon."

Kerry Marsden is a "serious" buyer. She's searching for a house in north London, with nothing to sell and has a decent deposit. "There are some interesting houses on the market in my price range but the only house I really liked had two other people after it and I didn't want to get into a contracts race."

Like many people in her position, Kerry is prepared to play the waiting game. Tim and Jilly Brown instructed an agent last week to sell their two-bedroom west London home. "We saw a house we really liked and decided to see if we could sell ours," says Jilly. "The agent told us to test the market but it's a bit slow. It's easy to get depressed wondering why no one wants to view our house, but we've also given up looking at any more properties until we've sold ours."

So, given an attractive chain-free property in a brilliant location at the right price, is it realistic to expect to sell (or buy) before Christmas? "The chances are getting slimmer," says Roy Brooks' Paul Curtis. "There are so many things to take into account - searches, the mortgage valuation."

Solicitors will also start closing on the Friday before Christmas until the first week in January."

Would an estate agent ever advise against selling a house at this time of year? Ian Jefferson from Hindmarsh and Partners in Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear, knows a thing or two about selling houses in the bleak winter months. "Trying to sell an empty property in a howling gale won't you get the best price. I'd suggest waiting until the spring when there are a few flowers blooming."

Guy Hodge from Lords agrees. "Properties have different benefits at various times of the year. If the house has a large garden, I may suggest selling it in late spring when it will look its best. But a Victorian cottage will look warm and cosy with a fire roaring in mid-winter."

Jo-Ann Potts has been pleased with the advice Lords have given her on making the most of her house. "I've realised how important lighting is, especially on dark days," she adds.

What about Christmas decorations, could they make or break a sale depending on your taste? One agent remembers having to advise a client against her vast collection of inflatable Santas. Harvey Smith from Beaumont admits to being a bit of a Scrooge when it comes to Christmas fripperies. "I don't like them, although they can make a place look homely. I tell people to hold off for a few weeks to see what happens." And that seems about the best advice you're going to get this year.

Lords 0181-546 6688; Parnell, Jordy and Harvey 01256 770836; Roy Brooks 0181-299 3021; Beaumont Residential 0181-402 0070; Hindmarsh and Partners 0191-252 3351