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The best times to sell your home

Wondering whether to sell your home — and when? Put away the tea leaves and star charts. And while you're at it, pack up the conventional wisdom.
Home Sales Reach All-Time High In 2004
Even though the housing market looks to stay hot for quite some time, regional factors — such as cold weather and snow — can slow the sale of your home.Tim Boyle / Getty Images file
/ Source: Forbes

Wondering whether to sell your home — and when? Put away the tea leaves and star charts. And while you're at it, pack up the conventional wisdom.

The good news for sellers is the nation as a whole has seen a sizzling real estate market over the last several years. From the third quarter of 1999 to the third quarter of 2004, American home prices increased more than 48 percent, according to the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight.

The bad news is that things are a little more complicated than “buy low, sell high.” And while tradition has it that spring is the best time of year to market a piece of property, that's not true in every locale. Throw in the fact that the old cycles have been thrown off by a tight housing market, and it's enough to make a homeowner's head spin.

“It's a good time to sell your home,” says Theodore Kaplan, who specializes in real estate at the Manhattan law firm Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer, “if you have another place to go.”

It is tempting to cash out of a home and realize the gains of the past several years. But it's a risky proposition unless you are downsizing your residence or moving from a very expensive market, such as New York City, to a less pricey one, such as Atlanta. Otherwise, you will end up spending just as much — if not more — on new digs.

In Manhattan or Las Vegas, for example, real estate prices can increase in a blink.

“The market is moving much faster than data can be collected,” says Jacky Teplitzky, an executive vice president at New York-based Douglas Elliman. “For prices, you can't even look at what's sold — you have to look at what's in contract right now.”

When it comes to annual home sales cycles, the slowest months of the year are typically January and February, since fewer deals are made over the holidays, explains Walt Molony, spokesman for the National Association of Realtors, an industry organization based in Washington, D.C. A peak in June reflects the fact that many people want to move in between school years.

But those patterns have eased, and some say those trends are at an end.

“If you asked me this question 10, 15, 20 years ago, I would say wait for the spring market,” sighs Jim Gillespie, president and chief executive of Parsippany, N.J.-based Coldwell Banker Real Estate, a division of Cendant. “Today there's just no seasonality at all. Wait a month or so and you lose valuable appreciation.”

He sees no end in sight because baby boomers are still in their prime years, buying second and even third homes. Their kids are buying earlier in life, and single women are making up a larger percentage of homebuyers.

“You put all of those demographics together, and real estate is going to stay hot for a long time,” Gillespie says. “The good old days are now.”

Still, different parts of the country — even different parts of the same city — have periods when sellers can be most aggressive with their pricing.

“It really is regional,” says Glenn Brown, who heads up the Midwestern real estate group for the private client services division at JP Morgan Chase. “When you have a year-round climate like Florida, our experience has been that there's not dramatically one better season to put a property on the market.”

But a seasonal home in Northern Michigan will sell more slowly in the fall and winter, Brown says. “People aren't as anxious to look at a home in Northern Michigan when there's three feet of snow on the ground.”

So while we can't predict whether your home's value will continue to rise or take a dive, here's a guide to the peak buying times in different parts of the country, from Boston to L.A.