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Historically, spring and summer are the busiest times in the real estate market. But the traditional seasonality of homebuying and selling was upended by the pandemic: Home sales slowed significantly amid stay-at-home orders, then dramatically spiked, and the market’s been volatile ever since.
The good news is, the market appears to have turned a corner and is now returning to something closer to normal, according to an analysis by Realtor.com. An early sign of that is the increased inventory hitting the market as the new year gets underway: The report shows that there were 8.6 percent more active listings for sale during the week ending January 20, 2024, than there were for the same week last year. And the trend should continue as the real estate industry’s busiest season approaches.
“We have come back to seasonal and normal buying cycles,” says Ralph DiBugnara, a senior vice president at mortgage lender Cardinal Financial. “I believe the spring market in 2024 will not only bring more seasonal buyers, but also lower interest rates.”
In other words, seasonality may once again be the most important factor in determining the best time of year to buy a house. Here’s what to know about buying in high season versus buying in a more traditionally slow period.
Buying a house in spring or summer
Late spring and early summer are the busiest and most competitive time of year for the real estate market. There’s usually more inventory listed for sale than other times of year, and home prices are steeper to reflect the increased demand. In fact, during the months of April, May and June, sellers tend to earn premiums of 10 percent or more above market value, according to a study by ATTOM Data Solutions.
“Typically sellers choose the spring and summer as the time to list as the majority of buyers are out in the market,” says Ryan Jancula, principal and lead broker with Jancula Group at Compass in Los Angeles. “This is a double-edged sword for a buyer, as you will be met with more opportunities but [also] much more competition, which may lead to further increase in prices or less desirable sale terms.”
If you’re hoping to save some money and your timeline is flexible, consider waiting until the rush is over and not starting your home search until mid- or late-summer.
Keep in mind: The most expensive month of the year to purchase a home is May, when seller premiums are as high as 12.8 percent above market value. Source: ATTOM Data Solutions.
- More listings: The increase in spring and summertime listings means buyers have more options. “Spring is when the most inventory comes to market and there is likely more choice,” says Victoria Vinokur, a broker with Brown Harris Stevens in New York City.
- Better weather: During warmer months, buyers are more easily able to get out and about to see homes. Home exteriors are easier to see with no snow, and interiors look more inviting when there’s plenty of natural light coming in.
- More convenient timing: “If the buyers have school-age kids, this is the best time to purchase so it doesn’t break up the school year,” says Jane Katz, a New York City real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Warburg. “The transaction should close by summer so kids can start in their new school in September.”
- Increased competition: This is often the peak time for the real estate industry, which means more buyers are on the hunt, so expect potentially fierce competition.
- Higher prices: With increased competition comes multiple bids and, likely, higher home prices. Sellers have the upper hand when demand is strong.
- Moving costs: Moving is expensive, and moving companies’ prices are also impacted by supply and demand. Come summer, when demand increases, so will the prices you’ll pay to hire pro movers. The same move will cost you less during winter.
Buying a house in fall or winter
Buying off-season has its benefits, though. The ATTOM study, which analyzed more than 50 million single-family and condo sales between 2011 and 2022, shows that November is the month with the lowest seller premium at 6.3 percent, compared to May’s 12.8 percent. That means November, just before the holiday season kicks in, is when homebuyers are likely to get the best deal. In fact, a recent Zillow report declared fall to be “the next housing sweet spot.”
Keep in mind: The least expensive month of the year to purchase a home is November, when seller premiums are at their lowest. Source: ATTOM Data Solutions.
“Winter and late summer tend to be quieter, with a better chance for a buyer to find less competition and a deal,” says DiBugnara.
- Less competition: Fewer buyers are looking for homes during the winter, which means there’s less competition to face for available listings. Less-intense competition also typically means more time to spend making a decision.
- More leverage: With fewer buyers, there’s more opportunity to negotiate the best deal possible. “In winter and especially around national holidays, sellers will see less buyer traffic and be more willing to negotiate,” says DiBugnara.
- Motivated sellers: During the quieter fall and winter months, when fewer prospective buyers are shopping, home sellers may be more willing to lower their prices, or offer concessions, to attract those prospective buyers who are still looking.
- Less inventory: Fewer homes are typically listed on the market during winter, which means fewer choices for buyers.
- Weather issues: Depending on where in the country you live, winter weather can make viewing homes far more challenging. Closings may even be postponed due to adverse weather conditions.
- Home inspection difficulties: It can also be more difficult to inspect homes in cold weather. If there’s snow coating a roof, for example, it can be challenging for an inspector to assess its condition.
Home prices and seasonality
Just because spring is the industry’s prime time doesn’t mean it’s the right time for you. You have to consider your personal circumstances as well as seasonality — for example, if you are getting married or having a baby in August, you may not be able to wait nearly a year for a larger home.
“While spring is typically referred to as the homebuying season, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee that it is an optimal time to buy,” says Mark Hamrick, Bankrate’s senior economic analyst.
In addition, if price is of concern to you, you may in fact be better off waiting out the rush. This chart illustrates median home prices since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, using data from the National Association of Realtors. Once the chaos of the early pandemic died down, the highest price spikes were uniformly in June or July, and the lowest prices occurred in the dead of winter.
Other factors to consider
There are a number of other factors that can impact when might be the best time to buy a house. Here are a few more things to consider.
- Mortgage rates: Mortgage interest rates are not seasonal, per se, but they do fluctuate. After heading steeply upward for much of 2023, rates have thankfully started to decline. But they’re still nowhere near as low as they were a few years ago. “While mortgage rates have edged down from their highs, they are likely to remain above their pre- and early-pandemic levels, when 3 percent to 4 percent rates were common,” says Hamrick.
- Lack of inventory: A shortage of available homes has been plaguing the country for the past few years now, with demand far outpacing supply. This causes prices to increase and has resulted in a seller’s market in most locations. If the shortage begins to ease, which some housing experts predict, that may bring with it a cooling of home prices.
- Recession fears: When consumers feel nervous about the economy, especially amid talk of a possible recession, they tend to back off of spending. This holds particularly true for big purchases like a home. If you worry about your income or job security should a recession happen, waiting to buy might be wise, regardless of season.
Generally speaking, late spring and summer are the peak real estate season, when there’s the most inventory to choose from — but also the most competition, and the highest prices. If affordability is a concern, you’re likely to score a better deal during the winter months. But the best time of year to buy a home will ultimately be when you have the financial resources to do so. “Among the most important factors for prospective homebuyers to consider are having a sufficient down payment, a good credit score to qualify for a lower rate, and prospects for stable income and employment,” says Hamrick.
The answer to this question depends on your personal financial picture. If your credit is in good shape, you have enough saved for a down payment and you’re planning to stay in the home for at least a few years, then it may be a good choice to buy now, rather than keep waiting. Mortgage interest rates have also come down from their highs of 8 percent and are now below 7 percent, which makes buying more affordable.
The same rules apply for first-time buyers as everyone else: Those who are looking to save money may want to hunt for a home during the winter months. Shopping during winter months typically means less competition, lower prices, more motivated sellers and more negotiation power.