Students across the country are beginning to head back to school this month, and summer is winding down. As families with children are kicking off a new school year, homebuying activity isn’t as fast and furious as it was earlier during the spring sales season.
For tenacious homebuyers who are still in the game, this can actually be a better time to buy a home, with buyers in many parts of the country typically paying smaller price premiums and some decent inventory still to choose from.
The national average price premiums that homebuyers pay tops out at 1 percent in July, then falls to 0.9 percent in August, 0.7 percent in September and 0.3 percent in October, according to an analysis of the CoreLogic Case-Shiller Indexes dating back to 1987. U.S. homebuyers tend to see the steepest home-price discounts November through February, but that also correlates with colder winter weather and fewer homes on the market in much of the country.
“As the pool of homebuyers shrinks, sellers become more motivated to sell before the holidays,” says Ben Mizes, CEO and co-founder of Clever Real Estate in St. Louis. “As a buyer, though, you have to understand what your needs are. Obviously, if the school district is an issue, you have to be more aggressive about timing.”
Mizes concedes that inventory might be harder to come by. Some homeowners who need to net a certain price might opt to wait until the following spring to sell, particularly if the next home they’re looking for is harder to find in the fall. On the other hand, sellers who need to sell a home before the holidays might be more flexible, Mizes says.
“If you’re not under the gun, you’re in a stronger position,” says Mizes of buying a home after school starts. “For instance, if you send kids to private school, where you live doesn’t matter as long as it’s commutable. The same is true for empty nesters, singles and married couples without kids or those with kids who are super young.”
Less competition, more motivated sellers
In September and October, some housing markets see a final flurry in home sales as well as lower home prices. In 2018, the median existing-home sales price fell 3.6 percent from $265,600 in August to $256,900 in September, according to data from the National Association of Realtors. And from September to October, the median existing-home sales price slid another 1.7 percent to $255,100.
Historically, housing inventory starts sliding in August and continues to drop incrementally through October before taking a major nosedive over the holidays, then rising again in January. That means after school starts and through October might provide you with an opportune time to still find a home you love at a better price, Mizes says.
The key to maximizing this time of the year to buy a home is preparation, says Robin Kencel, a licensed associate broker with Compass Real Estate, Greenwich, Connecticut. Working with a real estate agent to understand your local market and recent sales data will help you react quickly when you do see a home that you’re excited about, she adds.
“Spring is always the hottest, but fall is actually the second-hottest season in my market,” Kencel says. She adds that she seeks a spike in buyer interest the week after Labor Day when school is back in session and summer vacations are in the rearview mirror. By then, potential buyers are more focused on their real estate goals.
How to negotiate a better deal
While you might score a better deal on a home in this window, take local trends into consideration when making an offer. Here are a few pointers on how to negotiate a better deal during this time of year.
Base your offer on data: You might start seeing sellers more aggressively cut their asking price to sell their homes faster. If your market is still favoring sellers, though, making a lowball offer, especially if the seller has already reduced the price a few times, isn’t a wise strategy, Kencel says.
“Don’t put in offers that don’t have context; lowball offers will insult sellers,” Kencel says. “Market data needs to support the price, and there’s a fine line between being aggressive and understanding the market and where property should be trading at. You don’t want to close the door to negotiation (with a lowball offer).”
Negotiate contingencies: When there’s more competition, some buyers are hesitant to ask for contingencies, or conditions that need to be met to move to closing. A contingent offer lets the buyer walk away from the purchase agreement without penalty, and they’re usually able to get their earnest deposit back. Common real estate contingencies include the home inspection, appraisal or financing.
Consider renovating: It’s true that you might find less desirable inventory later in the year than during the robust spring sales season. After evaluating your needs — the must-have features and those that would be nice to have — you could save money by getting a fixer-upper with a home renovation mortgage, such as the FHA 203(k) loan, Mizes says.
“In a down market, you can get a better deal if you renovate a home,” he says.
Ask about furnishings and fixtures: Some furnishings don’t travel well when a seller moves, so if there’s a certain sofa in an unusual space and it’s a piece you really love, or luxe window treatments, see if the seller is willing to add them to the deal, Kencel says. The same goes for TVs and audio/visual equipment or unique light fixtures. “Think about what the seller might not need where they’re going to next,” Kencel says. “What’s valuable to the buyer might not be as important to the seller.”
It’s worth asking about these items as an addendum to the contract after you’ve signed a purchase agreement. That said, if you really love a home and a seller isn’t keen to let these items go, it’s not worth walking away from the deal over them.
It’s worth repeating that all real estate is local, so your market’s seasonality plays a big role in timing your decision to buy a home, Kencel says. Work with an experienced real estate agent who can help you narrow down a home-buying window, based on your housing criteria and budget. Before you start looking at homes or make any offers, shop for a mortgage to see what loan products you qualify for and to understand how much house you can afford.
Buying a home is a personal decision. You want to make a sound financial investment, but you also want to choose a home that works for you and your family, Mizes says.
“Even if you’re getting a better deal (in the fall), ask yourself if you can see living in the home for however long you plan to stay put — and even longer if the market were to turn,” Mizes says. “You don’t want homebuyer’s remorse.”