While you don’t have the advantage of spring and summer flowers, you should still do your best to keep your front and back yards as neat as possible. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

February 18 at 8:00 AM

The number of new listings in the Washington area dropped in December by 3.2 percent compared to December 2017, and the number of active listings dipped by 0.5 percent in December compared to active listings in December 2017.

Active listings refer to all the homes on the market, while new listings count only those that are new to the market. While fewer homes tend to be listed for sale in December and January, sellers also face a smaller pool of buyers during the winter months.

Sellers who want a quick sale at a high price — and who doesn’t? — may want to take a fresh look at how to make their house appealing and warm even during January and February’s icy weather. Fifty percent of the real estate agents surveyed by in the National Association of Realtors’ 2017 Profile of Staging said that staging before a sale increases the amount of an offer by 1 to 10 percent. Thirty-nine percent of Realtors said staging greatly decreases the amount of time a home is on the market.

Preparing your home for sale should always include a round of minor fixes such as tightening knobs and scrubbing baseboards as well as removing clutter so buyers can visualize themselves in your home.

Here are some tips to help sell your house in the winter:

  • Keep your heat on high. Buyers who are dashing from one house to the next will appreciate the chance to warm up in your house and are more likely to stay longer and consider your house more closely when it feels cozy.
  • Make your home welcoming. Simmering cinnamon or baking cookies is especially appealing in the winter and will make your home smell delicious. Even if your house is closed up, you don’t want fake smells such as air fresheners that make buyers suspicious.
  • Keep muddy footprints to a minimum. Winter storms and leftover slush can lead to muddy shoes and boots that quickly turn your foyer from pristine to filthy. Make sure you have mats outside and indoors to catch some of the dirt. Washable ones are great to keep around to swap out if one gets dirty. Keep your front walk and steps as clean as possible. Don’t post a sign to ask buyers to remove their shoes or offer paper shoe covers if you’re showing your home on a stormy day. The considerate ones will take their shoes off. The others will be offended and won’t want to buy your house. Cleaning up your foyer is just a cost of doing business having your house on the market during the winter months.
  • Spruce up your landscaping. While you don’t have the advantage of spring and summer flowers, you should still do your best to keep your front and back yards as neat as possible. Make sure fall’s leaves have been swept and your garden beds are neat. Trim any branches that come loose during a storm. You can add color with an evergreen shrub in a pot or a neutral winter wreath on your door.
  • Make your home light and bright. Switch to brighter light bulbs and make sure all your light fixtures are clean and working. Open blinds and window treatments allow in natural light in any season, but buyers will notice the light even more during the short days of winter.
  • Check your outdoor lighting. Buyers may be out looking in the afternoon and early evening when it’s already dark, so be sure to keep your front door light on for potential buyers who might be driving by to check out the neighborhood. Add inexpensive lighting to your outdoor space and your front walk, too.
  • Don’t forget the power of flowers. A splash of color from a vase of flowers can add warmth to a room and brighten a dreary day, lifting the spirits and enthusiasm of visitors.

When winter’s pace of home sales slows, staging your house as a warm and colorful oasis can go a long way to enticing a buyer before spring arrives.

Jon Coile, chairman of Rockville-based multiple-listing service Bright MLS (formerly MRIS) and president of Champion Realty in Annapolis, Md., writes occasional commentary on the Washington area housing market.