This Is the Best Time to Buy a House, According to Real Estate Experts
September 19, 2019
No matter how many times you’ve done it, purchasing a new home can be intimidating, stressful, and of course, incredibly exciting. Before you jump online and start drooling over wraparound porches, come up with a game plan. In addition to the advantages you’ll gain from finding the right realtor and researching your local market, figuring out the best time to buy a house can really pay off, whether that’s in the form of savings or a property in your ideal neighborhood.
For a commitment this big and a price tag this hefty, it’s a smart idea to “figure out your objectives,” says Matt van Winkle, a real estate agent and owner of RE/MAX Northwest. “Do you want to pick from the freshest selection? Are you okay with buying during a competitive time? Is your number one goal to spend the least amount possible?” Determining what you want when it comes to the process of home-buying is just as important as knowing you want four bedrooms and an open floor plan. The answers to these questions can impact when you decide to pour all of your energy into the search. It’s true that the housing market can vary wildly down to the zip code, and the market in one major city, like Los Angeles, won’t necessarily mirror the market in another, like New York City. However, housing experts agree that there are national trends and patterns that can help guide your decision-making. Here’s what they’ve discovered when it comes to timing your house-hunt:
If you want the most choices, buy a house in the spring or summer.
February and March is when you’ll first start to see an uptick in new listings online, says Skylar Olsen, director of economic research for Zillow. Sellers of single-family homes tend to be parents, and they often put their homes on the market in the spring with the goal of moving out before school starts back up. Around the same time, potential buyers are house-hunting, as they prefer to be out and about when the weather is warm, says Nadia Evangelou, a research economist for the National Association of Realtors. The combination of these two factors results in a period of about five months — March through July — when a buyer will have the largest selection of new listings on the market, but the most competition. Olsen sees the largest amount of homes being sold at list price or above during March, April and May, while Evangelou identifies June as the peak month for home-selling activity. But don’t let the prospect of paying full price scare you off. “Yes, you’re more likely to stretch your budget in order to compete with other buyers during the busy season,” says Olsen. “However, you’re also more likely to find the home of your dreams because you shopped when you had the most options available to you.”
If you're looking for a deal, buy a house in the winter.
Since most prospective buyers would rather casually scroll through online listings in PJs than go open-house hopping in puffy coats, winter is considered the off-season in the real estate world. Sellers strategically wait to list their homes during a period when they will generate the most interest, which is a big reason why there’s less inventory on the market during the colder months. So while you may not be spoiled for choice, you’ll have less competition for the houses that are up for sale at this time, which were either left over from the spring/summer or newly listed for any number of unique reasons. “Owners who list their homes during the off-season may be dealing with a time-sensitive situation (like relocation for a new job) that requires them to sell their properties as soon as possible,” says Olsen. A sense of urgency plus a smaller pool of buyers can equal wiggle room in pricing. But you live in a mild climate region, you say? Check out what's on the market in November and December. The hectic holiday season is enough to deter people from both selling and buying. “Out of the buyers that I’ve worked with, the ones that negotiated the best deals purchased a home between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” says van Winkle. It's certainly a hassle to buy and move during the holidays, but you may discover a hidden gem while everyone else is sipping eggnog — and scoop it up for a good price to boot.
Buying a home in August is the potential sweet spot.
In August, you'll see more price drops than you’d see in the spring or early summer and more inventory than in the winter, according to Olsen. “A lot of these homes are left over from the busiest buying months and sellers need to offer price cuts in order to unload their properties before the season is over,” she says. There are plenty of reasons why some houses sell more quickly than others, but keep in mind that less popular homes are not necessarily lower quality homes. You may find that sellers had listing price expectations that were too high earlier in the season, but they are now willing to negotiate. (Score!)
How far in advance should you look for a house to buy?
For homes located in places where the summers are brutally hot or unpleasant, shift this national timeline up a few months. “You’ll see a good amount of new listings in cities like Phoenix, Tampa or Miami during the month of January, which is usually a slow month elsewhere, and less activity in July,” says Olsen. If you live in a state where the weather is consistently nice year-round, you may not notice as large of a discrepancy between the number of sales and home prices when the seasons change, according to Evangelou. Also, some desirable areas are going to be pricey and competitive year-round. “In the Northwest, properties in areas near major job centers, like Seattle, are expensive and have appreciated at higher rates. Unlike in the early 2000's, people are just not willing to commute as far,” says van Winkle. So despite all the variables, how do you increase your chances of getting everything on your checklist? Start looking the second you know you’re interested in buying. "Keeping your eye on the market month after month will only work in your favor,” says Olsen. "Know what you can afford, know what your limits are, and move quickly when the perfect thing comes along."