Spring is here, time for baseball games and real estate deals. At least that's the conventional wisdom: March and April offer a sure window to sell your home at a good price.
But hang on. The number crunchers at Zillow have a different strategy: delay listing your home in order to capitalize on the seasonal buyer frenzy. In Santa Clara County, they suggest, the first two weeks of June are the most profitable window for sellers -- who could reap a 1.7 percent boost above the average listing, typically translating to a $16,300 premium. In Alameda County, waiting until the last two weeks of May could bring a 1.9 percent boost, translating to $13,400.
"Come late May or early June, people are starting to get a little more desperate and there are more buyers who are more willing to spend more money," said Zillow chief economist Svenja Gudell, offering her theory for the behavior behind the numbers. "They're saying, 'I need to get my kids settled, school's starting soon.' You're getting buyers who are more motivated to lock in that home."
The data, she said, indicates that sales will be speedier, too: on average half a day faster in Santa Clara County and five days faster in Alameda County. Zillow arrived at its findings after analyzing national sales for 2008-2015 -- more than 20,000,000 transactions, looking at the price and time on market for each home. Still, some agents just don't buy it, touting their own experience and intimate knowledge of local markets.
Zillow's predictions "don't even apply" in Silicon Valley, particularly in those areas with top school districts, said Alain Pinel Realtors' Mark Wong, based in Saratoga. "There's a lack of inventory. People want to buy, and every day people are buying and selling. You can't time it. The real estate market can't be timed."
The Bay Area, in particular, is so hot that weekly variations may not be a big factor. "Given the climate of the market, pretty much any time is the right time," said Jennifer Branchini, former president of the East Bay Association of Realtors. She ticked off details of recent sales in Pleasanton and Pacheco, each highly competitive with multiple bids.
Gudell acknowledged that the Bay Area's super-tight inventory, combined with the increasing demand for homes brought on by job growth in tech, means that "you're selling pretty quickly no matter when you're selling. Homes are just getting snapped up. But still, if you're getting that 1.7 percent boost in Santa Clara County by waiting until June, it can make quite a big difference."
Caveat emptor: Zillow's analysis -- based on the sale of single family homes, condos, co-ops and townhouses -- isn't just informational.
It is accompanied by the company's launch of a "Best Time to List" tool, a promotional effort to help owners figure out when their homes will sell fastest and at the best price. Taken nationally, the company claims, homes that list in the first two weeks of May will sell around 18.5 days faster and for 1 percent more than the typical listing at any other time of year.
Market by market, there are significant variations, of course.
Zillow sets the prime window for San Mateo County in the last two weeks of April, predicting a 1.5 percent sales boost (translating to $15,000), though the sale will be half a day slower than average. Contra Costa County sellers should wait until the last two weeks of May, according to Zillow's analysts, who predict a 2.1 percent sales boost there (translating to $10,800) and a faster deal -- 3.8 days faster than average.
While it's true that the Bay Area market has become less seasonal overall, listing a home in late May in the suburban East Bay "makes sense," said Branchini. "In Pleasanton, Danville and all over the Tri-Valley area, it tends to be very family oriented. The majority of people are looking to buy after school gets out and they want to move in before school begins. They want to avoid the disruption for the kids."
Mulling over Zillow's findings about the best time to list in her market, she added, "If we crunched the data based on our own numbers from the MLS, I think we would find the same thing."
But in the South Bay, Wong disagreed with Zillow's call to list in the first half of June. He sticks by the conventional wisdom of spring sales.
"The best time in our area is really April or May," he said. "June is really tight. Because you need several weeks to put the house on the market. There may be delays and maybe you're planning to go on vacation in July. It gets very close to when school starts and you don't want to shuffle the kids around."
Having raised their two children in the San Jose neighborhood near Lynbrook High School, Paul and Ruby Callary -- Wong's clients -- have decided to downsize. After 27 years in their four-bedroom, two-bath house, which they bought in 1989 for $350,000, they listed it Wednesday for $1.495 million.
"It's the right time," Paul said. "People want to move in and out of our neighborhood in conjunction with the school year." An open house was planned for the weekend, he noted, "and from what we understand about this neighborhood, the house will sell extremely rapidly, perhaps for cash."
Still, every expert has his or her own strategy for selling.
"If real estate agents had a magic wand, we'd have sellers list their homes in the first two weeks of March," said broker Wendy McPherson, who manages three Coldwell Banker offices on the Peninsula. "Because the buyers are all out at the end of February, when there's no inventory and they're the most hungry."
And what's the advice for buyers? "If you want to be a smart buyer and time the market, go looking in December and find a house that's been on for a long time. Those are the people you can negotiate with a little. Those people really want to sell," she said.