By Dan Bergman
Traditionally, the winter is a no man’s land in residential real estate. There are fewer homes on the market, and fewer home shoppers. And it makes sense: Between the rush of the holidays and the inclement weather, shopping for a condo in the winter can be difficult.
That said, some people do it, and there can be benefits. Here’s what you need to know.
You’ll have less competition. You’ll likely not need to worry as much about seeing a home on the very first day it lists and, because there are fewer buyers on the market. You’ll also be less likely to encounter a multiple-offer situation if you find a place you like, meaning you’ll have more time to mull over the decision. In other words, you’ll be able to enjoy a less frantic pace in the wintertime.
There are deals to be had. Many people who list in the winter do so because they need to sell immediately, meaning that they’ll price their home accordingly. Between motivated sellers and limited competition, you may be able to find yourself a great deal.
Negotiations will likely be easier. With a motivated seller and few buyers, it will likely be easier to get concessions at the negotiating table regarding credits and repairs to a property you’re interested in buying. You may also be able to get a decent price reduction, though don’t be too hopeful on this front: Winter pricing often already reflects a need-to-sell discount.
You’ll see the house handling the worst weather of the year. There’s no better way to see if a house is drafty, if the furnace functions well and how the roof holds up to snow than being there in the winter. Buyers in the summer just have to take the seller’s word.
You can’t test the air conditioner or the swimming pool. This is the flipside to seeing the home in cold weather. Air-conditioning units can’t be turned on when temperatures are below 50 degrees and, obviously, a swimming pool will be drained of water, so you won’t be able to detect problems with either. Consider asking the seller to buy a one-year home warranty insurance policy for you as part of closing the deal.
Daylight and plant life are scarce. Before making a final decision, you’ll want to see a home in the light of day; in most places, that means you’ll need to do your touring on the weekend or before 4 p.m. on a weekday, which may mean you’ll need to leave work early. And, with a lack of light, there’s also a lack of plant life; you won’t be able to see a home in its springtime splendor. Ask the seller for pictures of the home from a more photogenic season.
Wintertime is still wintertime. Allow extra travel time, particularly when there’s snow. Also, bundle up. While you may think you’ll be indoors most of the time, you’ll often want to look at the exterior of the property, and foreclosures sometimes aren’t heated. Also, expect general wintertime issues. One problem agents commonly encounter is frozen lockboxes, which can cause a delay in getting into the home. So winter shopping does require a bit more patience and fortitude.
All told, though, there’s no reason you shouldn’t shop for a home in the winter. While it may be a little bit uncomfortable temperature wise, many buyers find that the slower pace and better deals more than make up for the cold.
Dan Bergman is a real estate agent with Redfin, a national real estate brokerage. He serves the northwest suburbs of Chicago, where he works to find homes that meet his clients’ needs and goals at a fair price. A lifelong Chicagoland native, Bergman enjoys mountain biking, hiking and good coffee. And, of course, he’s a Bears fan!