The decision to purchase a home is an important one, and there are many factors to consider when choosing the best time. For many house hunters, especially first-time home buyers, the general consensus when it comes to timing is to wait out the winter months and instead purchase property in the spring. But is this truly the best choice? Should you wait until spring before buying a home, or is there a better time of year that might be more advantageous? Let’s take a closer look.
Like with many other things, the real estate market is tied to the calendar year in several different ways. This leads to there being “seasons” of different types of activity in real estate, based on cyclical conditions. These seasons don’t always have exact dates as there’s plenty of variation in the conditions that play a role from one year to another, but it’s easy enough to identify these long-term trends.
For example, in the hottest months of the year, namely May, June, July, and August, it’s typical for the real estate market to be at its busiest according to the National Association of Realtors. In comparison, the slowest months for the real estate market are traditionally November, December, January, and February. This is often where the idea that “waiting for spring” comes from. Going house hunting during the real estate market’s slowest time of year would seem like something to avoid in this context, wouldn’t it?
Yet just because the winter months are typically the slowest for the real estate market doesn’t mean it’s a bad time to go house hunting. The reason that this time of year is slower-paced than others is often environmental - fewer prospective buyers want to trudge out in the winter weather to attend open houses or go to showings. This leads to naturally fewer sales during this period, and many house sellers, therefore, choose to delay putting their properties up for sale until the weather improves. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that buying homes in the winter is a bad idea; in fact, it can be quite the opposite.
Matt Teifke of Teifke Real Estate, a brokerage based in Austin, Texas, while it may seem like spring is the most ideal time of year for buying a home due to better weather and more inventory on the market, buyers should not wait until spring if they want to get the best deal. “In many markets,” Matt says, “prices are lowest in the winter months and there is less competition from other buyers. The spring market is typically when demand and prices increase.” In other words, if you’re considering purchasing a home, waiting until spring because you think it will save you on home-buying costs, you might be better served to start your search immediately instead.
Buying a home in the winter instead of waiting until spring is doubly advantageous because the sellers that do choose to list their homes during the winter months are often highly motivated. Many companies tend to commit to employee relocation in the first quarter, and this creates a surge in homeowners that need to complete a property sale as quickly as possible. This “captive audience” of motivated sellers means that buyers are at an advantage when it comes to things like negotiating closing costs and what household appliances or fixtures will be included in the property sale.
Andrea Garcia says: Whether spring is the best time for buyers to purchase depends on their individual circumstances and goals. Spring may be considered prime for certain buyers, however, they will have to contend with the seasonality of the market. March through June is often referred to as "seller season". In spring, inventory is plentiful but competitiveness in the market is also heightened. This can result in buyers being edged out of the market due to increased home prices or buyers paying more to secure the home they really want. In general, September through December is considered prime for buyers because of the holiday slowdown and seasonality. Oftentimes we see home prices are lower due to properties sitting on the market much longer, buyers can negotiate better terms, and there is less competition, but inventory may also be limited.
Yet no matter whether the current homeowner is relocating for work or any other reason, another essential facet to keep in mind is that these house sellers are likely motivated for additional reasons. The sooner they sell their current property easier it will be for them to purchase their own new property - and doing so in the winter is more advantageous for them as well. Additionally, mortgage brokers are often more available during the winter months, which means you’ll likely be waiting for a much shorter period of time before the sale is finalized. The end result is that you’ll take possession of your new home much more quickly.
Just because it seems counter-intuitive to purchase property in the middle of the real estate market’s “dead” season doesn’t mean it’s still not a good idea. In fact, due to the seasonal nature of the real estate market, the disadvantage of house-hunting in the winter when inventory levels tend to be lower is offset by several factors. These include homeowners who are motivated to sell as quickly as possible, lower average purchase prices, and better access to real estate professionals like brokers who are naturally less busy in the winter months.
It is true that buying houses in the spring is often a more pleasant experience. The worst of the cold, wet weather is gone, and properties naturally show better in the spring when they’re surrounded by fresh flowers, grass, and leaves. Yet the increased activity that begins in the spring and continues through summer has its disadvantages - home sales take longer because of how busy agents and brokers are. Increased inventory leads to a glut of house hunters, driving demand higher and sale prices with it. The result is a situation where waiting to buy a home in the spring might look more advantageous on the surface, even though you’re truly missing out on wonderful opportunities because you didn’t go house hunting in the winter.