The pandemic of 2020 and the wild 2021 real estate market that followed made people forget a lot of what they knew about buying and selling a home — but some timeless real estate truths endured. Virus or no virus, the seasons still change as they always have, and just as they did in 2019 and before, those changes impact different real estate markets in different parts of the country in different ways.
When is the best time of year to buy a house? Same as before, it depends on where you live.
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In the Midwest
Staci Titsworth, territory sales manager for PNC Mortgage in Pittsburgh, said the summer months are popular times to sell, but buyers might find better deals if they wait until the winter.
“Sellers are more likely to try to sell in the spring and summer because that is when the curb appeal is best for their home sale, so they tend to price their home accordingly,” she said. “In the Midwest, there are fewer homebuyers in the winter, which means there could be a better likelihood you wouldn’t get into a bidding battle with another potential buyer. This can be translated into lower ‘showing activity.'”
Sellers can also be especially motivated during the winter months because empty houses cost a lot to run in regions where winters are harsh.
“Heating a vacant home is expensive, and carrying two housing payments along with utilities is a drain on the budget,” said Titsworth. “Let’s also remember that driveway snow may require more frequent plowing than mowing the lawn in the growing months, which is another seller expense.”
However, buyers looking to score a deal in the winter should keep their eyes open for potential problems with a house that has not been properly winterized.
“In my personal experience, I didn’t want my home to sit vacant through the winter months out of fear that a water pipe could break — this actually happened to me,” added Titsworth.
On the East Coast
Spring is real estate season, with Zillow reporting that more homes are listed for sale between April and June than at any other time of year. In May and June, active listings double compared to December and January. This in-between season is especially popular on the East Coast, where winters are brutal in the North and the summer brings hurricanes and crushing heat in the South.
“Most sellers put their homes on the market in the spring — everyone is out and looking,” said Janine Acquafredda, an associate Remax broker who has sold more than $300 million worth of New York City real estate. “And yes, while there are more properties to choose from, the best will go, and they will go high because they had multiple bidders driving the prices up.”
If you’re willing to let the best ones go and focus on getting a great price instead, Acquafredda said waiting until the winter will get you the best deal.
“The leftovers may have gotten lots of activity, but no bites,” she said. “Buyers may think, ‘What’s wrong with that property?’ Sellers may think, ‘Why didn’t anyone want our property?’ They are tired of the selling process by now, and in most cases, not looking forward to another winter season maintaining their property in the Northeast or in general. All of this will translate into buyers getting a better price for the property.”
Acquafredda also said the winter is better for buying a second home — especially ones near the water.
“These second-market homes are typically used on weekends or in warmer weather, so the peak time for these homes to hit the market are the fall and winter seasons when homeowners are done enjoying the space and looking to unload ASAP,” she said. “There tends to be lots of inventory and very few buyers. It’s the perfect recipe of high supply and low demand that will enable a buyer to negotiate a lower purchase price and probably a closing just in time to enjoy their new vacation property.”
On the West Coast and in the Southern States
Unlike the rest of the country, the winter months are a great time to buy a house on the West Coast and in the South because of the great weather.
“I have come to the conclusion that the fall/winter time is the best time to purchase a home,” said Tracey Hampson, a realtor with Realty One Group in Santa Clarita, California, who stressed her nearly two decades in the business. “We still have sunny days through the fall/winter time so it’s easy to view homes. There is also no battling the cold weather while looking for a home.”
While housing inventory usually drops significantly in the Midwest and East Coast during the winter, it can stay fairly high in these parts of the country.
“There isn’t as much inventory as the spring/summer, but there’s enough that the homebuyer has a choice,” said Hampson. “With the lower, but still healthy inventory, buyers do get a better list price on homes because sellers realize there aren’t as many buyers this time of year.”
Even though the dip in inventory is slight, it’s still enough to motivate sellers to wiggle on their demands.
“They take every offer more seriously and are far more willing to negotiate,” said Hampson. “So, during the fall/winter time, you have buyers and sellers who are more serious and focused regarding the home-buying and selling process.”
The Best Overall Time To Buy
The quietest time of year in the real estate market is mid-fall through mid-winter, with 23% fewer homes sold in the winter months than in the spring, according to Zillow — but it also just might be the best time to buy.
“Inventory may be lower, but there are so many fewer people house shopping that buyers can negotiate lower prices,” said Brian Davis of Spark Rental. “In other words, even though supply drops in the fall and winter months, demand drops even more. It should be no surprise that no one wants to buy a new home during the holidays. Most people instinctively start nesting as the weather cools and turn inward to hunker down with their families. Parents focus on holiday shopping and plans, and prepare for winter ‘hibernation.'”
This is what makes winter the perfect time for buyers to strike, according to Davis.
“Sellers often want to close the old chapter of their lives before the year ends, both for tax and psychological reasons,” he said. “Sellers are generally more amenable to lowball offers if buyers can settle quickly before the end of the year.”
Not only can you negotiate a lower price on your next home, but Davis says you can find other savings, too.
“Service personnel are also more eager in the leaner winter months. Realtors and mortgage brokers are paid on commission, so they will bend further to make each deal happen during their slow season,” he said. “They’ll also have more time to focus on each deal.”
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Andrew Lisa contributed to the reporting for this article.