For years, winter has been considered the down season when it comes to home shopping, and it’s no mystery why. Snow-covered features and icy front walks after unfavorable weather can keep some house hunters indoors, and a general unwillingness to move during the colder months keeps many sellers from listing their homes until warmer weather sets in. The numbers have long backed these trends.
However, in 2019, a popular real estate site noted that despite finishing 16% behind average search volume in 2018, January was the most popular month for online home browsing in 2019. While winter remains slow for actual home sales, it appears that more and more buyers are recognizing the benefits of searching and buying during the off season. In fact, January can be the perfect time to buy a home in winter.
What You Should Know About House Hunting This Winter
Although winter can be one of the best times to buy a home, there are several factors to consider during your search. Stay aware of these details when looking for your ideal home:
● Inventories are usually lower. For reasons mentioned above, the number of available homes in most real estate markets drops dramatically during the winter. At first glance, this is a negative — you won’t have as many homes to choose from, and there is statistically a bit lower of a chance you’ll find your perfect dream home in your dream neighborhood. However, many winter homebuyers view limited inventory as a blessing in disguise, since there’s less distraction from what’s truly important in finding a forever or investment home.
● The market is often less accommodating. Shopping for homes in the spring and summer can be a festive event, rife with open houses, buyer fairs, and more. In fact, it can often seem like you can’t turn a corner without seeing an open house sign. In the winter, however, it’s often much more difficult to view the homes on your list without reaching out to the homeowner; on the plus side, that means you may even have time to view an ideal home more than once — and without the hordes of people.
● Utilize your real estate agent. During the winter months, a real estate agent is a more crucial piece of your home buying journey than ever. Rely on him or her to help you scour the slim pickings on the market for ideal locations you may not have considered. In addition, a real estate agent can typically make scheduling those home viewings we mentioned above much more efficient.
● Pay close attention to roofs and windows. In the winter months, some issues are much more apparent than during the spring and summer. Most notably, watch for melted patches on the roof as well as large icicles hanging from the edges — this can be a sign that the home is losing excessive amounts of heat. Indoors, too, ensure you’re checking windows for signs of cold air drafts — ignore these, and you may be forking out cash after your purchase for new ones.
● Check attics and basements thoroughly. Too often, attics and basements are glossed over during a typical home viewing. While checking these yourself is always a good idea, vigilance is even more important during the winter, when drafts and leaks become more obvious. In addition, winter is often when small animals like mice, rats, bats, and racoons find ways to enter homes to escape the cold; identifying potential security issues now can mean savings at closing.
● Schedule a home inspection. No matter how carefully you inspect a home yourself, there’s really no substitute for a quality home inspection before purchase. Inspections are particularly important during the winter, when ice and snow serve to cover problem areas on the home’s exterior. Skipping this step can mean expensive repairs on your dime after the sale.
● Be aware of what your home inspection may be missing. Unfortunately, while winter home inspections are essential, they fail to assess certain components of the home. Most notably, winter inspections can’t test the home’s air conditioner, and may miss crucial components of the roof if it is covered with snow and ice. Make note of these gaps and endeavor to have them assessed as soon as winter weather clears.
● Be ready to negotiate. If you’re ready to purchase, keep in mind that winter sellers are often willing to negotiate for a quicker sale. Why? Chances are that the home is on the market during the off season because the seller simply didn’t want to wait until peak season to list it. Stick to your guns — and your ideal price point — and you’ll often find that with less competition and a motivated seller, you’ll be able to settle on the purchase price you want.
Winter can be the best time of year to buy for many prospective home buyers, but it isn’t without its issues. Fortunately, staying attuned to detail and being willing to put in a little bit more work can result in a rewarding, efficient buying experience. Keep these points in mind to ensure your winter house hunting proceeds as smoothly as possible.