Holiday lights have been on display in retail shops for a month or more, but this week marks the official start of the holiday buying season.

While lots of folks are at the malls or perusing downtown’s smaller merchants, fewer of them are thinking about buying or selling real estate.

The traditional “season” for real estate is February through May.

But what if you want to buy or sell now? Would you be spinning your wheels, or beating the crowds?

Here are some reasons you should – and shouldn’t – buy or sell now:

Wait to sell until 2019

• Fewer buyers are actively looking to buy now. Folks are focused on the holidays. They’ll think about a new house after the New Year.

• It’s inconvenient to have your home on the market over the holidays. There’s so much to do – put up decorations, shop for gifts, attend parties, plan a stop at Deacon Dave’s -- and soon the kids will be out of school.

• Decorating is tricky when your home is on the market. How much is too much? What if prospective buyers are put off by your Christmas or Kwanzaa decorations, your Hanukkah menorah, or your Diwali lights?

• And if you do find a buyer, what then? With banks, title companies and even the county closed for various holidays, there may be delays in closing the transaction.

• How will we find time to pack up the house and move?

Sell now

• Many people who are thinking about selling will elect to wait. Some current sellers will even take their property off the market over the holidays. That means yours will get more attention.

As of Monday, there were 118 resale single-family homes on the market in Livermore, plus 45 condos, townhouses and duets. While that’s more than earlier in the year, we only saw 2 new properties entered on the Multiple Listing Service that day, compared to 10-15 on a typical Monday, so the pace of new property listings is slower.

• It’s true there are fewer active buyers this time of year, but they tend to be serious, committed buyers.

Some of them have been looking all year. Some may have been outbid earlier in the year and want to make sure they don’t miss out again. Others have to move now because of jobs or family situations. There are not a lot of “looky-lous” in December.

• Interest rates are expected to keep rising – starting with an increase in mid-December and at least three or four more next year. Those rate hikes will make mortgages more expensive, thus reducing the number of buyers qualified to purchase your property.

• A few tasteful holiday decorations won’t put buyers off. In fact, they make your charming home even more beautiful. The keys, of course, are “a few” and “tasteful.” If you’re not sure, ask your Realtor. He or she may even connect you with a stager.

• It’s cold outside and rain is expected. So your warm, inviting home – maybe electric candles to brighten a gloomy day – will feel instantly homey.

• Everybody has a lot going on. Nobody wants to waste time over the holidays. So negotiations may go more smoothly. You may find there are fewer sticking points, and that both sides are a little more inclined to work through issues.

• Nobody knows what will happen with prices. Right now, they appear to be leveling off after rapid increases the past four years. Now might be the best time for you to sell.

• Your Realtor probably has fewer listings now, so will have more time and resources for marketing your home.

Wait Until Spring to Buy

• There may be a wider variety of homes to choose from, including new construction.

• The same issues about finding time during the holidays that apply to sellers also apply to buyers. Plus you’ll have to go through the loan process.

Buy Now While There’s Less Competition

• Anyone who has experienced, or even read about, the frantic bidding wars in Bay Area real estate over the past two years knows there is an advantage to buying when no one else is. Some markets are still seeing multiple offers, but it tends to be two or three buyers bidding for a property, rather than a half-dozen or more.

• Interest rates will almost surely increase.

Interest rates have risen every quarter of 2018 and are expected to do the same in 2019. A year ago, a buyer with 20 percent down, and good income and credit history could expected to get a 30-year fixed-rate conventional mortgage with an interest rate of about 4 percent. Today is closer to 5 percent.

Given the positive economic news for October, the Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates next month.

While that doesn’t translate directly to higher mortgage costs, the long-term effect is that mortgage interest rates will go up.

By this time next year, we could be looking at 6 percent rates on such mortgages. That will impact how large a loan you qualify for.

• Prices have leveled off – for now. No one knows what will happen in 2019, but even if prices go down, they would have to decline considerably to make up for even a modest rise in interest rates.

And if prices rise even modestly or stay the same but your interest rate is higher, you may find that by waiting you’ll have to purchase a smaller home or one in a less desirable neighborhood.

• It would be lovely to start the New Year in your new home.

If you are interested in buying or selling property now or in 2019, contact your local Realtor today.

Cher Wollard is a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Drysdale Properties in Livermore.