Sam Cooke

It’s all about timing
Or not

You’ll probably hear it said that spring is the best time to sell a house as that’s when the market is busiest. That’s the received wisdom and at least half of it is definitely true – estate agents are at their busiest in the spring time. But does it necessarily follow that this makes it the best time to sell? After all if there is more on the market then there’s more likely to be competition for the house you’re trying to sell.

If your 3 bed semi is the only 3 bed semi for sale in the village then you only need one buyer, 2 would be better and 3 would be great. But if there are two 3 bed semis in the village, to obtain the same property-to-buyer ratio and the same likelihood of competition then you need to double the number of buyers too, so instead of 2 you need 4 and instead of 3 you need 6.

So actually putting your house on the market at the busiest time may not necessarily be your best bet, depending on how many extra buyers there are looking in the busier times and how many houses are for sale. It’s that ratio that’s critical.

Unfortunately, no one actually knows what that ratio is.

It certainly *feels* like there are more buyers out there in the spring, but that’s probably just because we have more things to sell so more people ring up. It also, for example, *feels* like it goes quiet in December but is that because buyers stop looking or because there’s nothing for them to look at?

There’s also the question not just of selling, but of buying. It’s all very well being clever and selling your house when there’s no competition, but what if you then need to buy something else? It’s less clever if there’s nothing for you to look at.

Lots of ifs and buts then.

It’s times like this where one turns to Rightmove to look for a sign. Rightmove has the biggest, most comprehensive overview of what’s happening in the market and their data is therefore generally the most likely to be useful. One of the stats they give is average number of properties per estate agent. For 2015/16 the peak of that number was 65 in July and the trough 53 in December and January. A variation of 20% or so, so fairly significant. Then we can look at their ‘average number of days to find  buyer’ stat. That’s 79 in January and 57 in May. Which is a lot. It takes a stonking 38% longer to find a buyer in January than in May. It’s worth noting these are national averages and the average times in Cambridge would be much lower, but the differential is the important thing.

So received wisdom is right, then? Winter is the worst time to sell and spring is best. Well yes, if speed is the critical factor. But what about price? It might well be worth waiting the 22 days if you get another 10% for your house. But that’s where the analysis falters, as no data will ever exist. You can’t sell the same house twice in identical market conditions. Each property is individual and each transaction unique so there can be no empirical data, no control, and therefore actually nothing useful I can tell you that doesn’t rely on biased reckonings and limited anecdotes.

So my advice is simple – if you’re thinking of moving, just do it when you feel ready. Trying to second guess the best or worst time is impossible, there are too many variables. So jump in when you want to, the water’s lovely in Cambridge at any time of year.

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Sam Cooke

It’s short for weblog

And we have our very own. I’ll try to make it half-interesting and not too self-congratulatory, but no promises.

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