Winter is supposed to be a buyer’s market, right? Fewer buyers = way less competition. After all, you have no problem trekking through the snow to find the perfect home. Let the others wait until spring. Right?
But winter home-buying assumptions can cost you. Just because the market moves slower doesn’t mean there aren’t pitfalls lying beneath the powder. Keep in mind these six common mistakes—otherwise, you might just lose out on your dream space. And that would lead to a very long winter indeed.
1. Landing yourself in holiday debt
Your kiddos are clamoring for a few Hatchimals, your wonderful husband deserves the Google Pixel, and Mom and Dad desperately need a new set of artisanal kitchen knives. But don’t rack up new debt buying everyone gifts.
“Even if your credit is in good standing, suddenly racking up a ton of holiday shopping debt will change your debt-to-income ratio and potentially negate your pre-approval,” says Alicia Brison, a real estate agent in Sacramento, CA.
Budget for your generous splurges ahead of time. Or you know what? Tell your family they’re getting the best gift of all: a new home.
2. Failing to use your imagination
Yes, the property looks a bit … drab. But don’t all homes seem sad in winter, especially if they’re not charmingly covered in snow? Don’t dismiss a property because of bare tree limbs and dead grass. Imagine what the home could be in all its springtime glory.
Pretend the trees are blooming and the rose bushes are covered in color. That’s the mental picture you should use to make your decision.
3. Ignoring possible closing date delays
Don’t assume everything will go as planned. This will go wrong, trust us. Does the plumbing need updating? Is the wiring a little funky? These delay-causing problems are always annoying, but in winter they can create a full-on migraine. This goes double for custom or new-build homes.
“While many trades will work through the winter, there are certain processes that cannot be completed during heavy snowfall or dramatically low temperatures,” says Luke Sahlani, the lead project manager and director of Sensus Design & Build. “This can be frustrating and particularly problematic if the home buyers’ closing date on their current home is coming up quickly.”
Build in some buffer time for your new home’s closing—or just a little snow might crash your move-in day hopes.
4. Lacking flexibility
House hunting always requires a certain level of spontaneity—you have to be ready to pounce as soon as you hear a place fitting all your criteria is on the market. But when the weather’s against you, make sure to loosen your schedule even more.
Flexibility “is even more critical during the winter season,” Brison says. “Weather can cause unexpected delays, and buyers need to be willing to plan viewings during the busy holidays.”
Yes, you’re excited for cousin Humbert’s one-of-a-kind pumpkin pie, but if 2 p.m. the day after Christmas is the only time you can check out your dream abode, you might have to skip a second serving.
5. Assuming you’ll automatically score a sweet deal
In the winter (generally speaking), home prices are lower. Sellers are motivated. The competition’s bundled up inside, warming their hands by the fire. Bidding wars are a vestige of the summer months. Now’s a great time to buy, right?
Unfortunately, the math doesn’t necessarily work in your favor.
“A lot of buyers assume they can get a better deal in winter because [fewer] people are competing,” Brison says. “That’s not usually the case. Inventory is lower, so the number of people who are competing is similar.”
No, prices may not rocket to the sky-high levels seen when the weather is warm. But if you expect to score a bargain-basement home deal, you might be disappointed.
6. Lowballing your offer
If you don’t get a discount on a home during the winter months, maybe you think you can create your own discount with a lowball offer. Sellers listing their homes in the winter must be desperate to sell, the theory goes.
“Not only can a lowball offer be off-putting to the seller, but sometimes they can be so offended, they will be closed to a counteroffer,” says Denise Supplee, the director of operations at SparkRental.com.
Work with your Realtor® to craft a competitive offer that isn’t offensive. Nothing is worse than losing the home you love to another buyer because you prioritized the deal over finding a place that perfectly fits your family.