Spring is certainly the busiest time of year for most real estate markets. As the weather warms up, many put their homes up for sale and even more consider buying, casually strolling from one open house to the next on a sunny afternoon. Those seeking a bargain, however, know to look during the winter. While there may be fewer homes on the market during this time, there are also fewer buyers, and less competition means lower prices.
According to Attom Data Solutions, the best month for getting a good deal is February, followed by January and March. Analysis of single-family and condominium sales from 2000 to 2016 revealed that February homebuyers bought their properties at a price per square foot that was 6.1% less than the rest of the year on average. The reason for these bargains is that demand is lower in the colder months when it doesn’t make sense for many people to move.
Sellers know that listing their property in the winter is not ideal due to the shortage of buyers, so when they do put a home up for sale, it’s often because they don’t have much choice. Perhaps the owner got a new job in a different city or maybe the house was inherited and the family doesn’t want to pay for upkeep until the market gets better. Whatever the reason, the buyer usually has the advantage during the off-season, when the seller isn’t likely to receive a lot of offers. Homes are priced to sell and homebuyers can get a lot of bang for their buck.
Aside from price, another advantage of looking at a home in the winter is that you know how the home feels in the winter before buying it. You might step inside and notice a draft that you might otherwise miss if you were checking out the home during the summer. Energy-efficient windows and insulation are more important now than ever and heating costs could be high in their absence. You may also be able to spot excessive buildup of snow and ice on the roof or gutters. If you can brave the elements, you’ll find out how the house fares during the year’s more extreme conditions.
Realtors, banks, and title companies also tend to be less busy during the winter. With more availability, these professionals can meet with the buyer sooner to answer questions, set up inspections, and close on the house. Sellers motivated to list their property in the winter may also be easier to negotiate with, allowing for a smoother transaction all around. Ultimately, you should look for a home as soon as you are ready.
The right home for you could hit the market at any time of year, and the savings you might enjoy from buying in the off season might be negligible compared to the satisfaction you’ll feel in a house that you love. However, if you still haven’t found what you’re looking for by the end of fall, you should certainly ramp up your search as the market and weather cools off.