It’s counterintuitive, but December can be an excellent time to find a home. That’s particularly true for buyers sick of losing out to others in the busier homebuying months.
Federal Reserve data show that most home sales take place in June, July and August. If summer is the peak, winter is the bottom of the yearly real-estate market. It is unquestionably less pleasant to shop for homes when the weather’s bad, roads are treacherous and darkness prevails.
But if you are savvy — and willing to brave the elements — shopping in the low season might get you into a home for less money than you’d spend in May. Chances are excellent you’ll be able to buy at a discount compared with prices in peak home-shopping months.
A home’s selling price typically varies throughout the course of the year by 5 to 7 percent on average, says The Atlantic. These fluctuations, “as erratic as they seem, actually occur very predictably: The cost of a home is higher in the summer than in the winter,” The Atlantic says.
RealtyTrac, a publisher of real-estate data, combed through 15 years of statistics and found that the best bargains are found in October — specifically, on Oct. 8. The typical sale price then was 2.6 percent below average, a savings of $10,400 on a $400,000 home.
But good deals are still available in December, when everyone — including sellers — is likely to be in a jollier, more-generous mood. Here are five reasons why December can be a magic month for bargain-hunting home-shoppers:
1. Limited competition
In December, there’s no competition to speak of. Other (saner?) buyers are at home, gathered around the Christmas tree, opening gifts and preparing a big dinner.
One worry: You might have trouble finding an agent who’ll write up your offer. But if you don’t wait until the last minute to find a Realtor, you should be fine. As the Wall Street Journal reported last year, some real estate agents are only too happy to work during the holidays.
2. Tax benefits
Looking for some end-of-year tax deductions? If you close your home purchase before the end of the year, you can deduct certain costs from your 2016 tax return. They include:
- Mortgage interest
- Loan points
- Property taxes
Remember, mortgage interest costs tend to be especially high in the early years of a home loan. So, this could be a nice last-minute tax break for your family.
3. Desperate sellers
With the holidays looming and a new tax year nearly upon them, sellers who put their homes on the market in December might be especially motivated to close the deal and start the new year fresh.
People can be forced to sell in December for several reasons. They include:
- A death in the family
- Financial pressure
- Job relocations
If you’re a buyer, that urgency to sell can put money in your pocket. Tim Deihl, associate broker at Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty in Boston, told Bankrate:
“A seller who’s looking to move a piece of real estate during the holidays is a seller who needs to sell, because nobody in their right mind would pick that as the most convenient time to list their property.”
Do you feel guilty about taking advantage of someone who has to sell? Remember, ultimately you are doing the seller a huge favor by taking the property off his or her hands.
4. You get a realistic look at properties
Winter home-shopping allows a chance to see real-estate properties in a clearer light. With flowers gone and curb appeal at a minimum, shoppers can more easily focus on the permanent features of the home.
As you tour a property, pay attention to things such as:
- How well the home is insulated.
- Whether you feel cold drafts.
- Whether the window seals seem tight.
- How well the furnace is working.
Another advantage to winter shopping is that your inspector will get a good look at the home while it is under the stress of lower temperatures, winds, snow and rain.
5. Rates still are low
Mortgage rates are not as low as they were last year, but they still remain attractive compared with historical norms. For example, the interest rate on the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is just 4.03 percent, according to Nov. 23 weekly data from FreddieMac.
However, rates have been on the upswing lately. For example, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged just 3.57 percent a couple of weeks ago. Rates fluctuate, of course, but the large recent rise is a reminder that low rates might not last forever.
The downside: selection
The bummer about winter house hunting is that, even if you are not the type of shopper who needs to try on 20 pairs of shoes before making a purchase, you probably will be frustrated by the thin selection of properties on the market.
The odds aren’t great that you’ll find the home you envisioned. But house-hunting is like that anyway. Unless you’re building a custom home or buying a new home from a builder who offers you the chance to make pre-construction choices, you’ll always face compromises.
For more homebuying tips, check out “20 Tips for Buying a Home in the Best Location, Location, Location.”