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House-hunting during holidays has advantages

The period from Thanksgiving to Super Bowl Sunday is not a peak time for buying and selling houses, or such is the conventional wisdom.

A listing at 943-949 N. Sixth St. in Northern Liberties. House hunters at this time of year tend to be serious, experts say.
A listing at 943-949 N. Sixth St. in Northern Liberties. House hunters at this time of year tend to be serious, experts say.Read moreDAVID SWANSON / Staff Photograph

The period from Thanksgiving to Super Bowl Sunday is not a peak time for buying and selling houses, or such is the conventional wisdom.

Yet, houses are listed, shown, sold, and closed in that nearly 10-week stretch, and that's the case this year, one in which the market is not yet in full-steam-ahead recovery from its prolonged downturn.

For buyers, there is not as much competition as in the spring, said Chris Somers of Re/Max Access in Northern Liberties.

"This might help in negotiations," he said, "for both the final sales price and during the inspection process."

For many, being in the off-season just happens.

Melissa A. Jackson, 25, who closed on her first house Monday in Monroeville, Gloucester County, began looking in November, spurred on "by a new job and more money," as well as the savings she had accrued living with her parents in the months she has been home after six years of college and employment in Indiana.

"I thought it was time," said Jackson, who found her house, which had been rehabbed by Real Estate Redone L.L.C. in Mullica Hill, and listed at $245,900.

"We intended to have the house done by the end of September, but we were delayed, so we didn't list it until November," said Karen Quaile, managing partner of the firm, which started buying and rehabbing houses in March.

Quaile said, and Jackson acknowledged, that the quick sale was the result of the renovation.

"The advantage to finished rehabs is that they are in the move-in condition that today's buyers want, and people who are in the market now are serious buyers," Quaile said.

"It was the No. 1 reason," said Jackson, a senior marketing analyst with a British software company. "I don't have a lot of money, and not having to fix it up" - and financing it with low-down-payment USDA mortgage - made buying it possible.

There are three reasons sellers list now, said Sarah Murray of Weichert Realtors in Chadds Ford.

The reasons: "They have found another home to buy, they have to relocate for a career move, or they have a financial or family issue that is urgent enough" for them to act during the holidays.

For Peter Hopkins, choirmaster at St. Peter's Church in Society Hill, it is the second reason: He is taking a similar job Feb. 1 at a much larger Episcopal parish in Richmond, Va., and settled Monday on a house there.

"I accepted the job offer on Thanksgiving, and everything has been moving quickly, so we had to put our Philadelphia house on the market now," Hopkins said of the house in the 1600 block of South Fourth Street listed for $475,000.

The first open house, on Sunday afternoon - when Hopkins and his wife, church organist Paula Pugh Romanaux, were rehearsing the choir for an afternoon concert - "drew six families," he said.

"All stayed 30 minutes or longer, so seemed serious, and most asked for additional information," which he said he found an encouraging sign.

The operative word here is serious.

"Sellers know that if someone is scheduling an appointment, they must be a serious ready-to-buy," said Patricia Settar of BHHS Fox & Roach in Mullica Hill.

"Buyers who are out looking at homes right now are really ready to buy - no tire-kickers this time of year," Settar said. "They are interested in starting the new year knowing they secured a pretty good deal with a low interest rate."

There has been an inventory shortage for most of the year, and move-up buyer Amit Shah has been finding his target price range rather barren since he and his wife, Anita, began looking seriously last month, he said.

"We live in Northern Liberties and would like to remain here, but most of what is for sale is under $600,000," said Shah, who has owned a rowhouse for more than five years but is looking for something more substantial to accommodate a growing family.

They have looked at other neighborhoods, but "we have lived in Northern Liberties for 10 years, and we like being in a place where everything is a block's walk away," said Shah, who works in the pharmaceutical industry.

Not in a hurry, Shah is still hoping to lock into an interest rate while they are still low - 3.80 percent Dec. 18 for a 30-year conventional fixed loan.

"We could buy more house," said Shah, who hasn't yet listed his.

For Jack and Michele Dickinson of Glen Mills, the week after Christmas might be ideal for looking for a house closer to Malvern, where their daughter will attend high school.

"We'd started looking in early fall, but there wasn't a ton of listings," said Jack, an engineer.

As the holidays approached, he and Michele, a computer specialist, decided to renew their search.

Listings remain scarce, and trying to arrange a second visit to a house was stymied, he said, "when the sellers blocked out the holiday week."

Still, "it is easier to look now that things have slowed down," Jack Dickinson said, especially the holiday break "from all the activities my son and daughter are involved in."

215-854-2472 @alheavens