Does it matter what time of year you go house hunting? You can find houses during all seasons. Determining the best time to jump into homeownership means understanding the pros and cons of buying a house at different times — and deciding when it’s best for you.
When is the best time to buy a home?
Seasonality tends to affect factors such as inventory, the number of homes for sale, and purchase price. Market conditions, such as job growth, mortgage rates and tax incentives, also influence the best time to search for a new house. But, the best time to purchase a home isn’t always when inventory is highest or when prices are the lowest. These are important factors to consider, but broader market conditions and your personal needs will be paramount in finding the right home.
Winter is traditionally the slowest season for home sales and, as a result, it’s the cheapest time to buy a home. There's usually less competition between buyers and sellers may be more willing to negotiate to make a sale since buyer interest is lower than it is in the spring. The best time for a bargain is "the winter months, especially from the week of Thanksgiving to mid-January" Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors (NAR), told Kiplinger.
"The best time for price negotiations is during the winter months provided the right home appears on the market," Yun said. While prices are cheaper during the winter, inventory is far more limited. There are fewer open houses in the winter months and you may be house hunting in less than ideal conditions.
Evaluating a home’s roof and exterior grounds in a cold climate can also be challenging especially if it’s covered with snow or ice. It’s hard to assess the amount of natural light you’ll enjoy when the days are short. At the same time, inspecting a property during the winter lets potential buyers determine the effectiveness of heating systems and the structure’s integrity.
Completing a sale may be easier than the peak home-buying months. The closing process tends to be speedier as lenders process fewer applications during this season and inspectors have less backlog.
Spring is when the weather and home buying start to heat up. In the spring, there is pent-up demand on both sides. Sellers and buyers often sit it out during the winter months. Most people start looking for homes as the weather gets warmer. "Inventory is higher in spring and early summer, but that is when there are also more buyers in the marketplace. The days on market shortens and multiple offers become more prevalent" said NAR Chief Economist Yun.
Spring may not have the best weather, but it historically has the quickest home sales. One of the reasons sales inventory tends to increase when temperatures rise is because houses show better. Houses look much better in the spring sunlight and when landscaping is in bloom. People that want top dollar know spring is the season to sell and generally price their homes high during the spring.
The desire to get settled before the new school year begins is another reason why home buyers wait until spring to go house hunting and why they want to complete the sale before the fall. Mr. Yun noted that "Parents try their best to avoid school — year disruptions for their kids." While spring is generally one of the best times for inventory, competition is also fiercer, which can result in bidding wars and less room to negotiate with sellers.
Spring is typically a rainy season, which can magnify any defects of a property. Water infiltration can lead to rot, mold and mildew. Seeing a property at this time of year can reveal costly damage that may be harder to detect in the warmer, drier conditions of summer.
Since springtime is such a busy season in real estate, it’s not uncommon for mortgage brokers, real estate agents and inspectors to have busy schedules and thereby create longer wait times for buyers.
The early days of summer are considered peak real estate season in the U.S. Many of the same reasons buyers shop in the spring apply to home buying in summer as well — warm weather, school breaks, and having more hours of sunlight to go to open houses. If you are determined to get into a house before the summer is over, expect to come in with a strong offer. And you might consider being flexible on terms, not just price.
There are parts of the country where real estate is slow in the summer because it’s simply too hot to shop comfortably. Florida is a great example. The temperature and humidity in the Sunshine State are at its worst in July and August, so searching for homes can be less than pleasant.
Buying in the summer has its pros and cons, but timing matters a lot. If you can hold off until the end of the summer, deals abound. In most areas the market slows down as it gets closer to August. Late August traditionally gives you a great opportunity to find deals. The sellers may need to get their kids settled and enrolled by the next term or may not want the listing to go stale.
Don’t overlook the houses that have languished on the market during the spring and summer selling seasons. There are any number of reasons why a home might not have sold. A home that has been on the market for an extended period may end up being a great find.
While buyers shopping in the early fall may be trying to move before the weather gets bad, many sellers want to avoid moving during the holiday season. This may give you more room to negotiate when you do make an offer on a house. Fall is one of the best seasons to negotiate a more desirable price because sellers often take their home off the market prior to winter.
Buying a home in the fall can be ideal for home buyers trying to stretch their budget. When summer ends, sellers get more motivated. Prices usually get lower and there are opportunities to get a deal. As is the case with winter, there’s also less inventory during the fall. "Sales and listings drop in September," Yun noted.
There are also fewer buyers during the fall. People — especially parents — who have looked during the spring and summer typically want to be settled into a home before school starts. Once fall arrives, they tend to put home shopping on hold until the next spring. If you wait until around October, you may be able to get the most bang for your buck. Desperation can start to set in for sellers around that time. This is particularly true of sellers who want to sell their home by the end of the year.
October can be the best month in the fall to buy a home as prices tend to be less competitive, but inventory remains at a good level. Where severe weather is of concern, buying during this month still gives time to settle in before the brunt of winter arrives.
The season, month and even week or day that you buy can impact many different parts of the home-buying process, including how many options you have while shopping and how much you end up paying at closing. If you want your pick of homes and don’t mind paying for it, the best time to buy a house ends up being in the late summer or early fall. There tends to be less competition than at the peak during the spring and summer, but still a fair number of houses on the market.
In the winter, there are fewer homes on the market, but buyers often have more negotiating power, since there are fewer of them out house hunting. As mortgage rates continue to climb, you might find some unexpected savings by buying off-season or maybe not. As Mr. Yun, chief economist of NAR, observed: “This year is unusual in terms of having historically low inventory. Therefore, many people got outbid by other buyers. Those who got outbid will still be in the market to look for fresh listings.”
Waiting for rates to come down may not be the best strategy. While the Federal Reserve has paused its rate-hiking campaign after 11 hikes between March 2022 and July 2023, it has not yet started to lower rates and may not until later in 2024. In January, the Fed kept its target rate on the federal funds rate, a key overnight bank lending rate, to a range of 5.25%-5.50%. In its statement, the central bank noted that it remains "highly attentive to inflation risks" and is strongly committed to returning inflation to its 2% goal.
So, if you can find financing that you can afford, it could be beneficial to lock in a rate. There’s always the opportunity to refinance down the road, should rates fall, meanwhile, you're still building equity while you wait.
Donna joined Kiplinger as a personal finance writer in 2023. She spent more than a decade as the contributing editor of J.K.Lasser's Your Income Tax Guide and edited state specific legal treatises at ALM Media. She has shared her expertise as a guest on Bloomberg, CNN, Fox, NPR, CNBC and many other media outlets around the nation. Donna graduated from Brooklyn Law School and University at Buffalo.
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