Going on the hunt for houses and home mortgages is challenging enough on its own without the added stress of snow tires and a big puffy jacket.
However, just because the nights are long doesn’t have to mean your odds are short. With a little know-how, you can make the season work for you and increase your chances of landing your new home.
Read on for the latest tips on scoring a new home in the dead of winter.
Not surprisingly, most of the people you’d be bidding against in the warmer months are nowhere to be found.
As such, motivated buyers can benefit from sellers who know they’re not going to be able to sit back and watch frenzied shoppers try to outbid one another.
This may translate into a lowered selling price (and maybe even a successful low-ball offer), extra time to have an inspector go over the place in detail, or the on-site appliances thrown in as a sweetener.
The number of houses you’ll have to pick from, however, will be much lower. In cities that see a lot of ice and snow, you may have as little as a third of as many choices.
This means you may have to get flexible when it comes to defining your dream home. It might not be, “any port in a storm,” but the picturesque two-bedroom split-level with a white picket fence may be off the menu as well.
Unless You’re Just Starting Out
Interestingly, “starter” homes seem to increase in availability during winter. Online real estate site Trulia estimates that 70 of the 100 largest metro areas actually have slightly more options for first-time home buyers.
Opportunities may also be more common for buyers who aren’t put off by the need for some renovation. A house with “good bones” and a low price beats one that might still be sporting shag carpeting and avocado green kitchen counters.
FHA-backed Loans Have Seasonal Appeal
With fewer shoppers, prospects brighten for buyers with an FHA loan. FHA-backed loans have looser requirements than conventional loans and are rarely the first choice for owners who are awash in offers. But in the winter, yours may be the only offer they get and to borrow a phrase, “snow-bound sellers can’t be choosers.”
Home Inspections May Be Incomplete
The condition of the A/C, what shape the roof is in, whether the trees are dying or just leafless are only a few of the questions that may not be answerable in the winter.
Your best bet is to find out as much as you can about how old all of the equipment is, who the manufacturers are, when it was all built, installed, planted, and/or replaced so that you can make contingency plans should something go wrong.
Buying a house in the summer may make it easier to park the moving van, but shopping for a house in the winter lets you know right away how well everything around you is maintained.
Does the snow plow show up on a timely basis? Are the streets wide enough for two cars to safely pass? How well do the streetlights illuminate the walkways? And speaking of which, are the walkways actually walk-able or are they more like tiny, rectangular ice rinks?
When Everything’s Laid Bare
When there are no leaves on the trees or bushes is when you can really see the condition of the exterior walls and the foundation. You’ll also know at a glance how much light you can expect to shine in when days are short.
Snug As a Bug
Winter house shopping makes it easy to find all of the leaks and drafts you’d have no way of knowing about in the summer. Run your hand along all window sills, door jambs, wall outlets, etc.
You’ll also want to check for frozen pipes, a leaky roof, and any cold spots on walls; issues like these point to the general quality of the home’s integrity and level of maintenance.
Give It the Sniff Test
Homes that are sealed up for the winter are great for retaining smells from pets, mold, mildew and such. Weird as it sounds, give it room a thorough sniffing to see if there’s anything that will either need to be thoroughly cleaned, or in the worst case, professionally removed.
Snow Nor Rain Nor…
Nobody likes cold toes, but winter may be the best time to take advantage of the less determined buckling down under blankets and carafes of hot cocoa to capture a snow-covered gem.
Want to get the latest on winter-home-buying tips? Answer a few questions here, and a home lending expert will contact you.