When is the best time to sell? (When is the best time to buy?)

Chris Ray of Grays & Co, explores when the best time to market your property might be in this piece written for the Wolds magazine.

I’ve been asked this first question so many times over the years as potential vendors look for the best route to selling their property quickly and achieving the best price.  I’ve been asked the second less but to me it’s just as important unless you are purely disposing of a property in which case it becomes a moot point.  Historically spring has been the optimum time.  As with so many other parts of our lives, and indeed nature, it’s the time we shake of the winter malaise and start being active again.  In my first few years in the business I would find myself sitting in the office over the Easter weekend confidently waiting to be bowled over by the rush of new activity.  It never happened, largely as so many people take advantage of the first public holidays since Christmas to very sensibly get out and do something nice, not traipse round agents looking for houses to buy or make arrangements to sell.


In truth there are still seasonal variations but I don’t think there aren’t really ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ times to sell except for one, the immediate 2 to 3 weeks around Christmas.  It is invariably quiet not pointless we do still sell, but quiet.  The property portals though say that one of their busiest days is later on Christmas Day!  I assume as full of turkey, people across the land turn to property porn while they digest and watch something they don’t really want to watch with their family.  It certainly doesn’t transfer (directly or immediately, anyway) to viewing or sales activity.


The pattern tends to be that from the first full January week we see activity building as new entrants come into the market.  This tends to reach as a peak and then plateau from March/April onwards, dip a little as we hit the summer holiday period and then pick up a some in September and taper down towards Christmas.  The truth is though, there is pretty much always something going on. 


However, this pattern is prone to disruption.  The period that is most prone to disruption is the autumn.  If there is something big in the news be it Foot and Mouth (early noughties), Lehman Brothers (that was a really big one) Northern Rock or, as we are finding at the moment, Brexit we tend to find a reduction in new entrants to the market.   That means that as buyers already in the market complete their transaction we have a smaller pool of potential buyers as they aren’t being replaced.  We are talking about discretionary buyers here, those that don’t have to buy (or sell).  Why?  My view is that, consciously or subconsciously, if there is a big distraction it becomes very easy just to procrastinate and decide to wait until the New Year.  The closer you get the easier the procrastination.  The bigger the issue the more people defer. There is an upside though, the more who defer the more there are who enter the market early in the New Year.


Other events at other times of the year can have an impact.  We were reminded this year of the impact that a World Cup can have.  Our viewings halved this year in the first couple of weeks of it, they started to pick up after that but as it ran into the summer holidays we had a longer quieter summer period than normal.  Elections also have an impact (and referenda) though the old style snap elections had less.  Remember 2015 and our first under the Fixed Term Parliament Act?  From January 1st the media focused on little else and given the expected tight result it was extremely distracting.  To get the referendum the following year and then an election the next has not helped estate agents!


And what about buying?  Well if you want to optimise the price you pay and have less stress, I would pick the autumn.  True there may be less variety as less property is coming to the market but you will find that there is less competition for the best houses and that some vendors will be more willing to compromise over price.


All in all though if you need/want to sell or need to buy I wouldn’t try and be too clever, just get on with it.  I always remember the numbers of tactical buyers in 1999 in London who said to me they thought the bottom would drop out of the market so weren’t going to commit.  When they realised it wasn’t happening they went from looking at 1 bed flats to studio flats.  Most of us are buying or selling a home first and foremost, the investment side should be a secondary thought.  I would say though, don’t launch a property in the 2-3 weeks around Christmas.  The first few weeks of marketing are the best and can’t be repeated so don’t waste them.  Get everything ready and then launch a few days into January.  For similar reason I wouldn’t reduce an asking price in that time, but that’s an article for another day.

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