It’s often said that timing is everything – is that also true of buying a house? Quite possibly. You may be able to save several thousand dollars off the sale price of that dream home if you can get the timing right. It’s tricky, but there is evidence that certain times of the year are better times to buy than others.
How can you know what’s the best time of the year to buy a house, and how much you might save?
Determine What is the BEST Time of the Year to SELL a House
It should come as no surprise that the best time of the year to buy a house generally coincides with the worst time to sell one. That’s actually not hard to figure out either.
According to Realtor.com, 50% of all houses sell during the summer months. In my own experience in the mortgage industry, August is typically the biggest closing month of the year. That’s hardly surprising since it represents the last full month of summer, and the last month before the school years begins in most states. Homebuyers want to be in their new location before the start of the school year so that their children can start the school year from the very beginning.
If summer is the best time to sell a house, then it follows that it’s probably the worst time of the year to buy. If that’s the season with the most buying activity, then sellers can stick to their asking prices, or even await bidding wars that might cause the price of the home to rise well above the original price. Also, sellers may be in a better position to play hard ball during negotiations, such as refusing to pay buyer’s closing costs or being flexible regarding closing dates.
You may be able to save yourself thousands of dollars, and negotiate a better deal all around by avoiding the busy summer season.
Cold Weather is Good for Buyers
If buyers prefer to buy during the summer months, it follows that winter has a lot less activity. This should be especially true in the northern regions of the country that experience particularly severe winter weather. The cold weather makes outdoor activity – like house shopping – a less pleasant affair. And a thick coating of snow and ice can hide both defects and attractive features making the whole process less certain.
The dearth of buyers means that properties tend to sit on the market longer. This is especially true of houses that were first listed for sale during the summer months that are still available. A seller may fear that a house that is unsold by November may sit unsold through the winter months, and therefore be more open to lower offers and more flexible terms.
You may not save a fortune by buying in the winter, rather than summer, but fewer buyers means you’re less likely to experience the bidding wars that can increase the price of a home, and even run the risk of pushing it past its market value. And that can run the risk of the property not appraising to the sale price when you apply for a mortgage.
The Holiday Season May Be Even Better
If winter is the slowest housing market, you may be able to fine tune the strategy by buying around the winter holidays.
A secondary buying spree often happens just before Thanksgiving. That’s because many buyers want to be in their new homes in time for the holidays. But then, when the holidays actually arrive, buying activity slows, sometimes dramatically.
Holiday-related activity can slow homebuying to a crawl. Since people are out shopping for the holidays, enjoying holiday gatherings, traveling – and often feeling overwhelmed – the homebuying process is put off. The expenses incurred as a result of excess holiday spending can delay it even further, even all the way into Spring.
This makes the holiday season the ideal time to buy. While everyone else is focused on the holidays, the road to homeownership will be a lot less crowded. You may be the only one who makes an offer on a house during a high holiday week, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. An anxious seller may jump at your offer, and the chance to pull victory from the jaws of defeat, by selling during a major holiday. That may result in a lower price and more favorable terms.
It’s also worth considering that while a seller may be better off waiting until Spring to sell, the fact that a property if up for sale during the holidays could mean that the sellers need to sell as soon as possible. Some sellers take their homes off the market if they haven’t sold by Thanksgiving, out of fear that it may sit on the market too long and be considered “damaged goods.” But you have good reason to believe that any properties that are still on the market during the holidays are a sign of an anxious seller.
Geography Plays a Role
The winter/summer swings in homebuying activity also need to weighed against the seasons in various parts of the country. For example, in much of the Sun Belt, winters are milder, even Spring-like. That kind of weather can be good for business. The sales cycles in these regions could be very different than what they are in regions that experience severe winters, though it is also likely that the holidays depress activity in much the same way as they do in colder areas, and for all the same reasons.
In warmer regions, like Florida, it’s likely that winter has less of a negative effect, while the extreme heat of summer can slow sales and make that the ideal time to buy. It’s important to be aware of market activity in your area and to synchronize your purchase to coincide with the local slow season. You should be able to get information on seasonal market activity from local real estate agents.
The Rule May Not be the Rule in Hot Housing Markets
When I say “hot” here, I’m not referring to the weather, but rather to the state of the market itself. The housing market experiences broader cycles. In a particularly strong housing market, one season may be no better than another.
For example, in a given year, or in several consecutive years, we could be experiencing a seller’s market. This is a time in which there are more buyers looking for homes than there are properties available for sale. This is typically the result of very low mortgage rates or a very strong job market, or a combination of both. The surge in qualified buyers can swamp the available inventory in the market.
In a hot housing market, seasonal effects tend to be minimal, if they have any effect at all. There may be some advantage to buying around the holidays, but the seasonal effects are less important.
In a hot housing market, seasonal factors don’t matter as much. But in a balanced market, taking advantage of seasonal factors can save you thousands of dollars on your purchase, and get you a better deal overall.