Why winter homebuying can be a great strategy

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Winter is not traditionally thought of as homebuying season. Fewer listings tend to be available, but there’s also generally less competition for the houses that are on the market. If you’re thinking of shopping for property in the next few months, here are some things to keep in mind.

Winter season can bring better deals

Winter, in general, can be a great time for home shoppers looking for a deal. Sellers who list their properties during the colder months are often more motivated, because listing during a seasonal lull means they usually have a clear reason to sell.

“Some of these houses are starting to sit a little bit, so the sellers may be more reasonable when they’re negotiating,” said Carol Christiansen, president of the Connecticut Association of Realtors.

She added that home prices are stabilizing and more properties are coming on the market compared to the height of the pandemic frenzy, so this winter could be an especially good time for all buyers (and first-timers in particular) to take advantage of low mortgage interest rates.

“If the prices go down but the interest rate goes up, it’s always a possibility that your mortgage payment could be more,” she said.

Rates have been rising through most of the fall, and that trend is expected to accelerate after the Federal Reserve’s November meeting.

Less competition from other buyers

Although the winter often sees fewer listings, many buyers are also hesitant to move in the cold weather, so there can be less competition with fewer people to bid against for the properties that are being sold.

However, some experts warn that this winter in particular may be dominated by low-quality listings.

“It’s kind of crap, so that’s an interesting thing we’re seeing,” said Angelica Olmsted, an agent at Denver’s RE/MAX Professionals Cherry Creek. “I’m recommending a lot more inspection items and having specialists look at them.”

She said the low quality of the inventory is partly because more properties that had been rentals are coming up for sale now that evictions are allowed in more locations. Also, more amateur real estate investors are flipping houses to take advantage of high (and rising) prices, but their repairs may not be up to snuff.

Factors winter buyers need to keep in mind

Buying in the winter isn’t all upside. There are a few things to keep in mind if you’re planning to go this route.

First, properties may be harder to get to, so it’s important to make sure you don’t hurt yourself trying to shop.

“The thing right away with the winter is that walkways are cleared. Your safety is paramount when you’re going to look at properties,” Christiansen said.

Second, movers can be harder to book, and unpredictable weather can throw a wrench in your plans.

“Getting a moving company is difficult and if the weather doesn’t cooperate, then you can’t move,” she added.

Perhaps most importantly, home inspectors may not be able to notice all possible issues as easily.

“It is harder to inspect during cold weather for a variety of reasons,” said Nick Gromicko, founder of InterNACHI, the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. “First off, we can’t test air conditioners in cold weather. Testing them in cold weather harms them. If there is snow, we can’t see the roof shingles. If the ground is frozen, we can’t see water intrusion as the water is frozen.”

Christiansen added it’s a good idea for winter homebuyers to visit properties multiple times, especially after severe weather, to see how the house holds up.

Pros and cons of winter homebuying

Pros

  • Less competition, more time to shop
  • Sellers may be more willing to negotiate
  • Realtors and inspectors may be less busy, so you could get more personalized attention
  • Mortgage companies may cut better deals to keep their pipeline filled

Cons

  • Unpredictable weather can make moving harder
  • Inspections may be more difficult or less reliable
  • Holidays and vacations may slow your buying process
  • Fewer listings limit your options

Bottom Line

Buying a new home in winter can seem daunting, but there are some definite benefits if you play your cards right. Less competition and more motivated sellers mean there are deals to be had in the colder months, and you’re less likely to get outbid on a property you fall in love with.

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Written by
Zach Wichter
Mortgage reporter
Zach Wichter is a mortgage reporter at Bankrate. He previously worked on the Business desk at The New York Times where he won a Loeb Award for breaking news, and covered aviation for The Points Guy.
Edited by
Senior mortgage editor
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