The Forecast Calls for Serious Buyers

There are actually two farmers’ almanacs, both based in New England, but with strikingly different winter forecasts.  The Farmers’ Almanac forewarns of “teeth chattering” temperatures and plenty of snow. But the Old Farmer’s Almanac is kinder. We simply have to pull up our wellies and schlep through a wet and mild few months.

Neither forecast would seem to beckon seasonal house hunters, yet increasingly Island real estate agents say winter brings its own kind of action. The dead of winter draws the serious buyers, not the tire kickers who send agents scrambling for keys and access all summer long but never manage to put in an offer.

“The activity may not be massive but it’s high quality,” says Doug Reece, owner of the brokerage firm Re/Max On Island. “January, February, and March are typically fairly busy. The people who bother to come over are quality buyers, and while there’s not a lot to choose from then, buyers are much more willing to make an offer. When there’s only two or three properties in their price range, they think, ‘I better jump.’”

Reece said his lesson came early, when he was an agent at the long-shuttered Harborside Realty. Everyone left for Christmas vacation and by manning the office phone he came away with two or three new real estate listings. “I just decided when my competitors are on vacation, I need to be in my office. At least in 1998 when you had to literally be by the phone to pick it up.”

As in every other industry, technology has changed and continues to challenge the real estate business. Both buyers and sellers expect agents to be available 24/7 and to crank out the necessary paperwork and documents even on vacation.

“The balance is better” in the off-season between work and family time, says Candy daRosa of Karen M. Overtoom Real Estate. Nonetheless, in the era of automatic document signing and authorization, vacations can also include making deals. “I put two properties under contract last year on vacation because I could still negotiate, edit offers, talk to other agents, and forward documents,” she said. 

And daRosa echoes Reece’s view of winter business on the Island. “Serious buyers come in the winter,” she says. “I’ve had buyers trudge through three feet of snow because the right property came on the market. My slowest time is actually the first two weeks of June when people are busy with weddings and graduations and packing up for summer vacation. So I generally duck out then and plant my garden and juice up for the summer frenzy.”

At Martha’s Vineyard Real Estate and Martha’s Vineyard Home Rentals, late fall is often a time to book 2019 summer rentals. Skip Dostal, a co-owner and broker at the firm, says it’s a rewarding time of year. “Mostly it’s people who were happy with the house they had, they’re signing up for next year and it’s easy. We’re just sending out a lease and collecting money.”

Like so many agents who say they never really truly know why one season goes gangbuster and another falls flat, Dostal is enjoying the rewards of a successful 2018 after a bust 2017. This winter, he says, he plans to put some money back into the business.

“We’re aggressively working on social media, updating our computer equipment and our website,” he says. “It’s a more relaxing time because we’re not running around putting out fires.”

“It’s a good time to look back and see what worked over the year and why,” Dostal added. “It’s time to take a look at our advertising dollars and to make sure we stay ahead of technology. This year, we have some money to put into some of those areas. Last year, we were scraping by to pay the rent.”