My husband and I started house-hunting in the spring of 2015. The goal: To downsize from a large house in a Massachusetts suburb to a smaller house with charm in Boston. Apparently just about everyone else – or so it seemed – had the same idea. Swarms of potential buyers flooded into every house that popped on the market in our price range. After being outbid on one house and backing out of another after an inspection revealed severe water damage, we gave up.
It looked like we’d be staying put for at least another year or two – that is until my husband sent me a listing that he thought might change my mind. It was mid-November and I had put buying a house on the backburner. But to appease him, I took a quick look anyway. To my surprise, the house seemed to meet my must-have list: Garage – check. Master bathroom – check. Mudroom – check. Walking distance to the train station and shops – check.
We went to the open house that weekend and we both loved the house. Strangely, there were only a few other people there. We thought: "Is there something wrong with this house? Where are the crowds?" We went back for a second and third look the following week with our realtor. It needed work but so do most houses built in 1904. We put in the only offer – for under asking price – and it was accepted. It was the week before Thanksgiving.
Although it’s hard to get a "deal" on a house in a competitive real estate market when many homes go for well above asking price, I couldn’t help but think that we scored big time by buying a house in the fall instead of during the typically busy spring and summer real estate seasons. It turns out we’re not alone. RealtyTrac crunched numbers and determined that October is the best month to shop for a house (and if you can’t shop in fall, some of these truths hold into the winter months, as well).
If you’re on the fence about when to start looking for a house, here are our three top reasons why you might want to begin your search now or save your pennies until next fall:
1. There's less competition
As I found out, fewer people look for houses in the fall and winter. Why? Families are settled into the school year and don’t want to disrupt their kids’ schedules or move to a house in a new school district. Buyers are also focused on the upcoming holidays and not house-hunting. And, if you live in an area ruled by fall football – like New England – potential buyers are more concerned with watching Sunday football games than attending open houses. Yup, this was actually why realtors in my Boston neighborhood felt the open house attendance was drastically lower on a fall Sunday. This combination of factors bodes well for you. Less competition from other buyers means you likely won’t end up in a multiple offer situation, or worse yet, a bidding war, which tends to drive up the house price.
2. Prices are often lower
If you are out house-hunting in the fall, chances are inventory is lower than it was in the spring and summer. During the spring and summer, families tend to list their houses in hopes of selling and moving into their new communities before the school year starts, says Scott Farrell, a realtor and partner at Atlas Properties in Boston. Yet, sellers who list their houses for sale in autumn may have to move for a job transfer or some other reason not dependent on the time of year. These sellers often recognize that there fewer buyers out looking and price houses lower in hopes of a quick sale. Not only that, but sellers motivated to move may drop the prices on houses that have been on the market for several months – giving you an opportunity to swoop in and pay less than you would have only a few months ago.
According to RealtyTrac, the average sales price is 2.6% "below the average estimated full market value" in October. This can potentially save you thousands of dollars – especially when you look at a month like April, where the same study shows buyers overpay by as much as 1.2%.
3. You're the apple of your realtor's eye
In the spring and summer, realtors are generally swamped selling homes and helping buyers find homes. But once the summer ends, their clients with children may have already bought a house or decided to hold off until the end of the school year. Not only this, but many spring and summer listings have been sold, freeing your realtor up to spend more time searching for houses with you. With more time on his hands, a realtor can generally meet you at open houses and get you into homes right when they come on the market. If you like what you see, he can then help you put in a strong offer immediately, positioning you to seal the best deal.