Timing is everything: Are certain seasons better to buy or sell a home?

It’s the million dollar (give or take, depending on what you’re spending) question. Are certain times of the year better than others when buying or selling a house?

To answer our own question: yes. 

Yay! A simple answer. Well, kinda. While certain times of the year have definite advantages, these upsides are different for buyers and sellers. They also depend on where you’re located. Oh, and whether you have kids. And finally, if Mercury is in retrograde. 

Ha! Gotcha. It really doesn’t matter if you have kids.

Ha! Gotcha again. We don’t actually know what happens when Mercury is in retrograde, but we do know quite a bit about when to buy or sell, so we’ll focus now and get on with it.    

When should I buy a house?

Sometimes you don’t have a choice. Circumstances like a new job with mandatory relocation, health issues or a need to be close to family can dictate when you need a new home. If that’s the case, hire an ace realtor, put on your negotiating cap, and hope for the best. If you do have a little wiggle room, though, a bit of strategic planning can save you some money. 

Fall and winter: Cold weather makes for lower inventory and better deals.

It’s a bit of a trade-off. In most areas of the country, fall and winter represent a slower time in the real estate market. After the buying frenzy of spring—and to a somewhat lesser degree, summer—fewer sellers list their homes in the fall. As cooler weather sets in and the holidays approach, people tend to think buyers will be less likely to shop. And they’re right. To a point.

Think of fall as the beginning of clearance season for home sales. Especially if a seller’s home has been on the market all summer long, they’ll likely be more motivated to sell. What does that increased motivation mean to you? It can mean a lower price or additional perks—like appliances or window treatments—included in the sale.  

Although lower inventory means there’s fewer homes to choose from, you’ll also have fewer people competing for those homes, lessening the likelihood of a bidding war. 

According to Victoria Araj of Rocket Mortgage, “People—particularly parents—who have looked during the spring and summer typically want to be settled into a home before school starts. Once fall kicks in, they tend to put home shopping on hold until the next spring.”

By not acting in those ‘slow months,’ you have a chance to snatch up a deal. Be aware, though, of the challenges that can arise when buying in the off-season, like issues caused by inclement weather. With snow on the ground, for example, your inspector might not get as complete a view of the foundation as they would in the summer. If you’re searching in colder climes, it can also be difficult for you to look past the bleakness of winter. A house that would look truly majestic and impressive on a sunny day might come across as depressing and imposing when skies are gray. 

Still, if you’re able to get past the winter ick and wait out the hot (in more ways than one) weather, you just might score a deal on your dream house. 

Spring and Summer: The sun is out and so are other buyers.

There are perks to buying a house in the spring and summer. Price, however, usually isn’t one of them. Yes, inventory will be up as sellers shake off the winter stupor and start to list their homes, but other buyers are also exiting their warm dens in search of a new one. That means more competition, bidding wars, and higher sale prices. You’ll also need to move quickly when you do find a home. No hemming and hawing and taking days to decide to place a bid. You want it, you bid on it. Quickly. Because if you don’t, someone else will.  

On the plus side, house hunting in warm weather is a more pleasant experience than slogging through potentially sub-zero temperatures. You’ll also have the fun of seeing your prospective house all dressed up with a green lawn and blooming flowers. 

Find your home in spring or summer and you’ll have plenty of time to settle the kids before their new school year, prepare for the holidays, and get any necessary repairs done before the bad weather sets in. You might need a little patience with that last one, though, since the popularity of buying homes in the summer means contractors tend to be busier, too. 

When should I sell my house?

If you have some flexibility and can choose when to put your home on the market, you can benefit from the wisdom of those who have gone before you. If you don’t have any leeway, don’t fret. You can still find the perfect buyer. It just might require a bit more creativity. 

Spring and Summer: Show me the money!

It’s time to get that house on the market! In those areas of the country not lucky enough to be SoCal, the sun is shining (finally!), the grass is greening up, and everyone is feeling a little bit happier at the prospect of longer days and balmier temps. 

As a seller, in many ways, this is great for you. Homes typically show better when their lawns are lush and landscaping can display its true colors. This can come with one small downside, however. While lots of inventory means lots of buyers—and hopefully a higher price for you—it also means your home will be compared to all those other properties on the market. Combat that comparison by doing all you can to make sure your place is in tip-top shape. 

Another benefit for spring and summertime sellers: some buyers enter the market with their pocketbooks feeling just a bit heavier after receiving a tax refund from Uncle Sam. Many buyers are also facing hard deadlines if they want to be in their new house by summer’s end, just in time to send the kiddos off to school. 

These factors all work in your favor, and are the reason spring is typically considered the best time to sell (with summer not far behind). 

Fall and winter: Christmas is coming and the buyers, well, aren’t. 

It’s not rocket science. As summer’s glorious days come to an end and the weather cools, so does the market. 

Unfortunately, winter weather doesn’t help with keeping your home ready for potential buyers to visit at a moment’s notice. If you plan to maintain your listing and you live in a snowy region, be prepared to keep your driveway and sidewalks clear. 

If you must sell in winter, don’t despair. With decreased inventory, you have a chance to get your home more attention. If you typically decorate for the holidays—Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, etc.—your home also will have some festive charm for those doing a walk-through. In addition, buyers who brave the weather to shop tend to be really serious about finding a new home. That’s great news for you!

The bottom line

Whenever you buy or sell, the key tenets still apply. Hire a good agent, get your funding in order ahead of time, and be prepared to negotiate. Maintain your sense of humor and your patience (as much as possible) and you’ll be all set, no matter what time of year it is.

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