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Benefits of Cold-Weather House-Hunting

Spring has always been known for a few constants: passing rain showers, the beauty of blooming flowers—and a stampede of home sales.

House hunting in cold weather.

That doesn't mean the warm-weather months are the best time to buy a house, though. It may sound counterintuitive, but you might get the best property at the lowest price during the so-called "worst" home-buying time of the year: the rainy, cloudy and sometimes snowy months of fall or early winter.

Why buying in the spring is so popular

There are a few minor drawbacks to buying in the colder months. Most prominently, the stock of available homes is more limited, as far more homes are listed in the spring. According to data from the National Association of Realtors, most home sales occur between April and July. A variety of factors conspire to make this time of year attractive—the weather is nice, school is winding down, and home choices aren't as limited. It's also something of a default option for many buyers, who are almost conditioned by tradition to start looking for a home in the warm-weather months. In fact, because home sales reach peak levels in spring, it's estimated 60% of all moves occur in the summer.

The benefits of buying in the off-season

That disparity doesn't mean you'll get the best deal—in fact, it's often the opposite. A market ripe with buyers is typically a market filled with high-priced homes. If a home seller knows that a legion of eager buyers is lining up behind you, your odds of getting a great deal are diminished. The reverse holds true for off-season sellers. If potential buyers are few and far between, sellers will be far more open to offers which they might otherwise decline.

The months between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day are often particularly advantageous for buyers looking for a deal. Why? Three words: weather and holidays. Many buyers simply don't want to go through the extended process of searching for and visiting homes during inclement weather. Or they may not wish to spend precious holiday time searching for a home. This thins the herd considerably, allowing you to get the best price possible. In fact, according to realtor.com, home prices typically hit their 12-month low point in December.

Additionally, the calendar itself may also work in your favor. Banks may be eager to move foreclosed properties off their balance sheets before the year ends, allowing you to get a better deal. Sellers who list homes in the winter months may also be more motivated than summer sellers. Because most people prefer to sell when the weather warms, an off-season seller may be motivated by pressing factors such as a growing family, work relocation or financial issues. When people are willing to list a home during rough weather, you can be fairly certain that they aren't just testing the waters—especially if they plan on house-shopping in the spring.

Finally, if you decide to buy in the fall or winter, it's possible you'll receive more attention from your real estate agent, who likely won't be nearly as busy. Because the market slows down considerably in the colder months, it's also possible the mortgage process will move faster.

Ultimately, buying during the off-season involves one primary trade-off: You'll have a smaller group of houses from which to choose when looking for your dream home, but you will likely secure that house for less than you would have paid in the spring.

For money-conscious buyers, that's a compromise worth making.

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