As you deck the halls and plan for the New Year, you may be thinking of buying a new home when the weather warms up and the traditional spring selling season arrives.

But if you’re ready now, winter actually can be a great time to buy, even in areas where the beautiful outdoor patio is covered with snow. “Every winter is a buyer’s market!”

Buyers looking for a new home in winter have less competition, since fewer people are looking. That means fewer multiple-offer situations. Plus, sellers who keep their homes on the market during the winter are often more motivated and willing to make a deal. The downside is that there are fewer homes for sale.

Not only do most buyers find less competition and more motivated sellers, they can feel how well-insulated a home is and how well the heating system works. “A house that’s properly insulated will not have icicles hanging from the gutter.” 

Winter can also make it difficult to do a thorough inspection of some elements, including roofs, septic tanks and other exterior features. That makes the buyer’s due diligence even more important. Most states require a certain level of seller disclosure to give the buyer an idea of the age and condition of elements such as the furnace and the roof. But you can also ask specific questions and request building permits or receipts to show, for example, when the roof was last replaced.

“You certainly need to be very careful with your inspection of the house”. Sometimes the best option is for the seller to leave money in escrow for repairs that can’t be made in winter, such as replacing a roof or repaving a driveway. “If it’s frozen and you can’t do a septic inspection, … there’s always a workaround,” 

 

In some parts of the country winter doesn’t usually present any additional challenges. You’re unlikely to suffer any weather-related issues in California, Arizona or Texas, and winter is a minor inconvenience in much of the South

Here are six tips for buying a home in the winter:

  • Have a flexible schedule. People are busy around the holidays, so even the most motivated sellers may not be able to show a home at the spur of the moment.
  • Ask for photos of the home in other seasons. If the house has been on the market for a while, the photos and videos created as part of the marketing package could show the home in another season. If not, ask the sellers if they have photos showing the backyard, patio, pool, flower beds and other elements that don’t look good in winter.
  • Document the condition of things you can’t see. Ask when the roof was last replaced, whether the septic tank has been serviced and when the deck was cleaned. Ask the sellers for receipts or copies of building permits to document their claims.
  • Don’t be afraid to offer below asking price. If the home has been on the market for a while, and it is still for sale in the winter, sellers could be ready to accept a lower offer, especially on an expensive home. Get your agent to do some research and find out how motivated the seller is.
  • Keep looking until you find what you want. The number of homes for sale is fewer in winter, so you may not find your dream home at first. Savvy homeowners will start putting their homes on the market after the Super Bowl, so it makes sense to keep searching through the winter rather than taking time off until spring.
  • Allow more time for closing. Snow and ice may delay inspections, appraisals or other pieces of the closing process. Make sure your schedule is flexible enough to adapt. You might get lucky, however, and actually be able to close more quickly since mortgage professionals and real estate agents are not as busy in winter.