Jason Robie: Blustery buying benefits

Last week, we touched on some of the challenges of selling a home during the winter months. It is important to be wary of too much holiday cheer. It is always a good idea to ensure everything works and all lights are on. And it is also always a good plan to ensure that the walkway to the front door is free of snow, leaves and other debris that can cause a trip or at very least, a chagrin.

But what about the other side of the coin? What about buyers who are interested in home shopping during this time of year? There are certain considerations (and benefits) to being a buyer in the colder months. Let’s explore a few of those today and maybe even prompt you to get in the game!

First and foremost, it will be very obvious to buyers that the inventory has dropped off significantly since mid-summer. In most cities where snow and ice are a factor, home inventory can drop by as much as 30 percent throughout the winter. In some areas where winter activities are abundant, like northern New Hampshire, you won’t see as much of a drop. In fact, some homes even come on the market this time of year because they are so well suited for winter sports. The lack of inventory has plusses and minuses. Both of which will become more apparent as we move along.

One type of home that tends to get more active during winter is the “starter home.” Trulia research reports that listings of less-expensive homes tend to increase by about 10 percent during the first three months of the year. For buyers interested in starter homes, this might be a great time of year to shop. While we see a decrease in other price brackets, this is a great opportunity to perhaps grab a good deal. This would also provide a good opportunity to tackle those remodeling projects that can be done indoors for the winter and then move to the exterior projects this spring. You didn’t have anything scheduled for your next 20 or so weekends did you?

Another advantage of shopping for homes in the winter is the competition has also abated. Open houses that may have seen dozens of buyers (and offers) during the summer will now be occupied by maybe a dozen people total. Not only does that mean you can more easily move around the home and explore, but you can also have more time with the agent and/or the owners to get your questions answered and get more information about the home. This also tends to take the pressure off for making an offer. During the winter months, buyers can much more easily visit a home two or three times without the intense pressure of bidding wars and competing buyers watching their every move.

There is a general assumption that winter sellers tend to be a little more willing to “deal” than in-season sellers. While this is not always the case, it can sometimes work in your favor. If you have seen a home on the market throughout the summer and find it still listed mid-winter, chances are good that the sellers are going to be motivated to sell. That doesn’t mean they will take any low-ball (read: insulting) offer. It does mean you might be able to get a better deal than when it first hit the market.

This is also a good time to review those homes that were in need of renovations that perhaps you passed on this summer. Many times agents will list homes in need of renovations during those winter months since they won’t have as much competition with “move-in ready” homes as they did in the summer. For those of us who are interested in a fixer-upper, this is a perfect time to be on the hunt for such homes and likely a good (but fair) deal. Like the “starter homes” we mentioned above, this is a more active price-bracket this time of year.

One item to be aware of with buying a home in the winter months is the home inspection. Any home inspector with a brain in his head is not going to climb up on the roof in the middle of January. There will certainly be some items that are skipped during the inspection, like the function of the air conditioner and other items only accessible when it is not below freezing. This is not a reason to avoid buying a home, it is just something to be aware of and perhaps include a contingency in the purchase agreement in order to account for those items once they can be inspected.

A final item to keep in mind when it comes to renovations and inspection reports is that the price you offer still needs to be fair for both of you. While the sellers may be very motivated and there is a possibility that you could include some contingencies regarding inspections, it is important to keep the true value of the home in mind when constructing your offer. “No seller is just going to dump a home to a low-ball offer just because there is snow on the ground,” notes Badger Realty agent Susan Solar. “The offer still needs to be fair and equitable for both parties. This is the best way to secure a deal any time of year,” she continued.

Buying a home in winter certainly has its challenges, but you may find the benefits outweigh them in the long run. Be on the lookout for remodeling project-homes, and you just may find a great deal on the perfect home (or ski home!). I would even recommend tire-kickers to peruse the listings available during these colder months. It gives you something to do over your morning coffee and who knows what you may discover?