Not only are real estate sales slowing a bit in many areas; the market is heading into what typically is a holiday slowdown.

A lot of real estate agents just give up and go turkey stuffing or Christmas shopping. This is a bad idea, because the holidays are usually filled with serious buyers who often are willing to act quickly to get in to a house before the first of the year.

Winter, too, usually finds a lot of agents getting ready for the spring market instead of focusing on the here and now.

I'll acknowledge that a lot of houses don't look their best with icicles hanging from the gutters and several feet of snow shoveled on either side of the walk, but serious buyers usually don't care.

In fact, with winter conditions typically the harshest of the entire year, these buyers can see how well the house holds up to the elements. If there isn't water dripping down the walls from ice dams on the roofs, and if the interior is toasty without the furnace thermostat cranked up to 90, a lot of buyers will take out their checkbooks.

You don't get snow in Southern California or Houston? You do get rain and wind, so check those roofs and cut the tree branches away from the house.

The holidays offer sellers a perfect opportunity to dress up the house for prospective buyers. There are some buyers out there who like tall, live Christmas trees and will look favorably on a spacious family room with nine or 10-foot ceilings to accommodate one.

Don't overdo your decorations. You may like your house bathed in enough flashing lights to guide planes to the nearest airport, but your tastes and the buyers' rarely mesh. The majority of buyers still prefer the Currier & Ives engraving to the stage lighting for a Metallica concert.

If they do like gaudy, let them decide that after settlement.

Be willing to accommodate open houses and evening appointments. Because holiday-time buyers tend to be more serious, there won't be many of either. Go shopping or to others' holiday parties while the house is being shown.

Now, seller, you are probably asking, "Won't this disrupt my holidays?" Of course, but just this year. You want to sell the house, right? Focus on next Christmas.

Settlement is typically 90 days after the agreement of sale is signed, so moving on Christmas Day or the day after isn't going to be necessary. In addition, home inspectors, insurance agents, and brokerage staff aren't as busy at this time of the year as in the spring, for example, so the responses to your phone calls (unless you try to contact them at 6 p.m. Christmas Eve) will be quicker.

So what about the dead of winter? Here's the thinking, as wrong-headed as it may sound: The market takes a hiatus from Thanksgiving to the day after the Superbowl.

Nonsense. This assumes everyone watches football. A lot of people do, but even the diehards might be willing to take a quick look at some houses during half-time or on a weekday evening.

A caveat: Don't base your decision on a house you've only seen by street lighting. Although light is at a premium in the winter, you'll need to find some time in the day to do it.

Showing a house in winter is somewhat of a challenge, but again you are dealing with motivated buyers. If you are concerned that the snow and cold might be turn-off, a well-placed series of photos showing the house in other times of the year might help.

Keep the sidewalks clear and ice-free. Use warm, sunny days to repair winter damage, especially before the house is shown. Try to bring as much available light into the house as you can, keeping the curtains, blinds and shades open and introducing additional lighting -- a lamp -- in darker rooms.

With growing concern over energy costs, the agent might focus on what you have done to keep those expenses under control. Is the crawlspace insulated? What about the attic? What are utility bills like in a typical winter?

Try to bring the green inside. You can buy trees and exotic plants at the grocery store for a few bucks. Just make sure you keep them watered.

And growing things out of doors in the winter is possible. Window boxes can hold hardy pansies, which seem to thrive in many colder areas in December and January. There are all sorts of evergreens that do their best in the winter months.

Since most markets are beginning to experience increases in inventory, you'll probably be better off selling now than waiting till the spring, when you have to compete with the rest of the world.

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