Q: I’m ready to buy a new home and I’d rather not wait until spring. What do I need to know about buying a house during the winter?
A: Spring and summer are, by far, the most popular seasons for house-hunting. But that shouldn’t stop you from looking for your dream home in middle of winter. Though icy driveways and snowed-out open houses can be less than thrilling, there are surprising benefits to purchasing a home during the coldest time of year.
Let’s explore the various aspects of buying a home in the winter.
House-hunting during the winter months has lots of obvious disadvantages, and some less obvious ones as well.
First, it can be difficult to check out a property that is covered in snow or ice. A lush yard of trees, bushes and blossoming flowers can look stark and bare during cold winter months. There will also be some structural elements, like the septic tank, roof and AC system, that can be difficult or impossible to inspect during the season. With fewer hours of daylight, it can also be harder to get a good look at the home, especially if your schedule isn’t flexible.
Home-shopping during the winter also means working with fewer options on the market. Sellers know that spring is peak season for house-hunting, so most will wait until the weather warms up to list their house for sale.
Finally, if you decide to go through with a sale during the winter, you can expect delays throughout the home-buying process. Inclement weather can push off the scheduling of important events, like the inspection, appraisal and even the final walk-through or closing.
You might be working with slimmer pickings in winter, but you’ll also be dealing with more motivated sellers. Homeowners who choose to list their properties for sale during the winter are likely quite eager to sell. You’ll also find some homes that have been on the market since the previous spring with an equally motivated seller. Plus, the smaller pool of buyers during the winter puts you at an immediate advantage. These factors will make it easier for you to negotiate for a lower price. In fact, according to research by Zillow, homes that are listed for sale in December generally sell for $3,100 less than average.
You can also use your favorable position to ask the seller to throw in extras, like window treatments, light fixtures, appliances and furniture.
Buying a home in the winter can also mean enjoying better service from all the professionals you work with during the process. Your Realtor, inspector, lender and mover will have fewer clients during the winter and will be able to provide you with optimal service, as well as be more available to promptly answer your questions.
Finally, inspecting a home during harsh weather will enable you to see how the house handles the cold, snow and ice. You’ll also be able to check out the heating system so there are no surprises after moving in.
Tips and Tricks
If you’ve decided to go house-hunting during the winter, keep these tips in mind:
Ask to see photos of the home during warmer seasons. To get a picture of the property in its prime, ask the seller to provide pictures showcasing the yard, pool, patio, flowerbeds and more during the spring or summer months.
If appropriate for your area, take full advantage of a buyer’s market and offer a starting bid that is well below the listed price.
Ask for documentation for home features that are difficult or impossible to check out because of weather. Have the seller provide proof of the last roof inspection or replacement, the most recent day of service for the septic tank and the age of the A/C units. If something needs fixing, ask for a credit toward its repair or renegotiate the home’s selling price.
Don’t rush your decision. A narrow selection of houses doesn’t mean you need to compromise on the home of your dreams. If you can’t find a house that checks off all or most of the features on your list, wait it out a bit. Next season’s sellers will start listing their homes right after the Super Bowl, so be patient and hang tight until you find what you’re seeking.
The real estate market may cool down during winter, but if you know how to overcome the challenges and optimize the advantages, you can walk away with a hot deal on a home during the coldest time of year.