Ask Val: Winter House Hunting

This regularly-scheduled sponsored Q&A column is written by Val Sotillo, Northern Virginia-based Realtor and Falls Church resident. Please submit your questions to her via email for response in future columns. Enjoy!

Question: We are ready to buy a house in the upcoming months. Should we wait until spring to start house hunting or should we consider buying a house during the winter?

Answer: Winter can be a great time to buy a house! Not only do you get to test that the heating system works well, but buyers tend to have the upper hand over sellers in the negotiations. There will be fewer buyers in competition during the winter, less chances of multiple offers for the same property and the low demand may work in your favor.

Sellers who have their homes on the market during the winter may be more motivated to negotiate and willing to make a deal. In Northern Virginia, the winter market generally runs from November through January and is defined by increased buyer leverage, less contract activity and fewer new listings.

Keep An Open Mind And Open Schedule

You can buy in the winter as long as you keep an open mind.

Landscaping is not very colorful during the cold months, and depending on the weather you may not be able to perform an inspection in certain areas of the house (i.e. an inspector won’t go on an icy, dangerous roof), but you can make a list of those items and get them inspected as soon as the weather allows it.

Also, you will need to be flexible with time given that holidays, less daylight hours, and extreme weather may delay property access, inspections, title work, appraisal, etc. But hey, I like to believe that people are nicer during the holidays and everyone is willing to work it out!

Buy In The Fall/Winter If…

  • You’re a bargain hunter
  • What you like is priced just outside of your budget
  • There is a regular supply of homes you like
  • You have a flexible schedule

Wait For The Spring/Summer If…

  • You have specific, hard-to-find criteria
  • You value the perfect home over a great deal
  • Your purchase is contingent on selling your current home (requires additional conversation)
  • If you’re moving to a new school district and don’t want to move your kids in the middle of the school year

It’s Harder To Find What You Want

But, that doesn’t mean you can’t find something great in the winter. It will just take a little more effort. The chart below shows the number of newly listed homes in Northern Virginia each month, for the past three years. You will see that the number of newly listed homes for sale is significantly lower from November through January.

Pickings Are Slimmer But The Prices Are Too

The table below is made up of sales in Tysons, Mclean, Vienna, Northern Falls Church and Eastern Fairfax from 2013-2017, except for new construction, and is based on the month properties went under contract, not the month they actually sold (homes generally sell 30-60 days after they go under contract). The cells highlighted in green are the most favorable for buyers. Here are some key highlights from the data table:

  • Buyers have the most negotiation leverage in December
  • Seasonality has a much lower impact on condos than it does single-family homes and townhouses
  • The market turns favorable for buyers starting in August and usually continues that trend until January/February (tends to be weather-dependent)

So, which season is the best for home buying? The best time to buy a house really depends on what makes the most sense for your situation. If you’re on the fence about buying this winter or not sure if you have time to prepare yourself to make a purchase, send me an email at [email protected] to discuss your options and put a strategy in place.

If you’d like a question answered in my weekly column, please send an email to [email protected]. I hope to hear from you soon.

Val Sotillo is a licensed Realtor in Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland with Real Living At Home, 2420 Wilson Blvd #101 Arlington, VA 22201, 703-390-9460.

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