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Stephanie Ward-Wilson and Larry Wilson of Norwell (below) hope winter doesn’t freeze home sales. The season’s weather changes the look of a property, as it did a house in Hull (above).
Stephanie Ward-Wilson and Larry Wilson of Norwell (below) hope winter doesn’t freeze home sales. The season’s weather changes the look of a property, as it did a house in Hull (above). (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File 2005 Photo)

Here comes winter

Fall sales are slow, and the snowy season is often slower, but it only takes one good offer

When Stephanie Ward-Wilson put her Norwell home on the market for $820,000 last January, she never dreamed she'd have to go through more than one cold dark winter with a "for sale" sign on her front lawn.

Now, 10 months later and $120,000 lower in price, Ward-Wilson's house still hasn't sold, and she is steeling herself for another tough run through what is traditionally the slowest time of year in real estate.

"It was a very slow winter last year, especially the part of the winter that our house was on the market," she said. "Heading into this winter, we are cautiously optimistic as we've seen an increase in activity over the past few weeks. We'll leave the house on the market as long as we continue to have activity. If not, we'll have to take it off. We have hit rock bottom on our price."

The coming winter threatens to deliver another blow to home sellers who are struggling through a slow real estate market. There's the weather: it can get pretty uncomfortable for buyers to troop around in the snow and cold. Sellers have to go an extra mile to make sure the property is accessible, not just with the snow and ice outside, but with winter jackets, boots, and other bulky gear that inevitably clutter s a home during winter. Scheduling open houses around holiday events and family gatherings can get chaotic.

Moreover, just the uncertainty surrounding the status of the house, the financial worry and dread that looms over an anxious seller, risks disturbing an otherwise cheery holiday period.

Buyers for the most part seem to hibernate during this period. But those who don't may be the most ardent, the most willing to make a deal.

"I tell my clients that if people are schlepping through the snow and ice, they're really looking to buy," said Maureen Doran, a realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Hingham, and the listing agent for Ward-Wilson's home. "It could be a job relocation or some other time constraint. That's why you really have to stay visible in the winter months -- these buyers are out there."

Despite well-attended open houses, Ward-Wilson has not had a single offer on her four-bedroom Colonial. She acknowledged the house was "way overpriced" initially, but has since lowered it nearly 15 percent, to $699,000. She and her husband Larry and three children plan to move to the North Shore once they sell their current home.

And, rather than let the onset of winter be a downer, Ward-Wilson is introducing holiday cheer a little early, dressing up the house with Christmas lights and other trimmings, and keeping the fireplace lit in the hope the postcard-like appearances will warm a buyer's heart enough to finally draw a suitable offer.

"I think a lot of buyers have been sitting back and watching to see how low the prices could go. Well, this is it," she said. "Hopefully, they'll see that this is actually a great time to buy."

Maybe so. But brokers said that sellers also have to make the most of this period, and, if they haven't already, reprice their homes to reflect the lower adjustments in the market.

"The bottom line is that well-priced properties sell in any season," said Adam Rosenbaum, a realtor for Century 21 Adams in Arlington. "I literally drove some stubborn sellers around to their competition so they could see for themselves that a price reduction was needed. It was a wake-up call with that extra shot of espresso, and it worked."

But a big obstacle in the current market is that many potential buyers are themselves also sellers, and so may be reluctant to purchase a new home if they fear they can't sell their old one.

That did not stop Amy Green from purchasing her "dream home" in Kingston recently. Now she is putting her current home, also in Kingston, on the market this month. She is planning to meet with her realtor and said she will "price it to sell," since she wants to move into her new home in January.

"Of course there is always the risk -- even if the house is well-priced -- that it won't sell as fast as you want it to during the holiday season," said Green. "For me, it was such a great time to buy that I didn't want to miss out. It was a risk worth taking."

Mike Spinelli has already moved out of his Windham, N.H., home, which is for sale for $899,000, but is confident the sprawling six-bedroom property will sell before the deep freeze sets in.

"First, this house is worth well over a million dollars and everyone knows it," he said. "Second, I'm planning on offering the buyer $10,000 cash -- more or less -- depending upon the final sale price. In a soft market, you need gimmicks." Spinelli will keep the Windham house open and visible through the winter if it comes to that, because with 4,000 square feet of living space on one floor, the home will probably appeal to a certain type of buyer.

"I liken it to being a street food vendor," Spinelli said." If people walk by and are hungry, you're there. The right buyer could be out there looking for a house like mine, but they can't buy it if I'm not out there selling it," he said.

Stephanie Ward-Wilson and Larry Wilson’s Norwell home went on the market in January.
Stephanie Ward-Wilson and Larry Wilson’s Norwell home went on the market in January. (Tom Herde/Globe Staff Photo)
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