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Salt lakes real estate

Why buying a house in the middle of winter was a smart move

Image source: Getty Images

There are advantages to buying or selling a house in any season, including winter.


Key points

  • Conventional wisdom says that buying a house in the winter is a bad idea. Conventional wisdom is sometimes wrong.
  • Less competition can lead to lower prices and more flexible terms.

My husband and I don’t always decide when it’s time to move. Throughout our marriage, we followed our careers wherever they took us. Sometimes we liked where we landed, and sometimes we felt like aliens planted in a world we didn’t understand. We’ve gotten used to buying and selling homes through it all, no matter what time of year we find ourselves moving.

Now, as we consider another move, I remember all the times we were told that winter was a terrible time to sell or buy a house. Given how well mid-winter buying has worked for us, I wonder who is making up these rules.

Move to Iowa

Moving to northwest Iowa was my husband’s idea, a chance for him to take on a leadership role. The first time I hunted a house there, a blizzard reduced visibility to inches and the whole town looked like an out of this world scene. game of thrones. And yet, I was excited. We had sold our last house to pay for college, and I missed having a place of our own.

We bought the first house we visited. Why? Because the owners had already moved out, it was the middle of winter, and they were more than accommodating. It’s not like other home buyers were flocking to a small town in northwest Iowa that month, and frankly, the lack of competition helped us get a well-maintained home at a price advantageous. Sales people were crazy about the color blue, and it was everywhere (including the walls and carpet), but those were cosmetic issues that we were happy to change. Did I mention the bargain price?

The following summer, as house hunters began to compare one home’s appeal to another, we were already settled into our home.

Here is what this experience taught us:

It’s the bones that matter

Curb appeal can be overstated, especially when it comes to flowers, trees, and bushes. We were drawn to the look of the house from the street. The seller made a smart move by leaving pictures of what the yard looked like in the spring, but even if the snow melted to reveal a messy yard, it was something we could handle. The house had good bones, and in the end, that’s what counted.

Winter closings are faster

Before buying the house, my husband was alone in Iowa. I stayed with the children until we had a home and a school for them. Because there were so few house closings at the time, the mortgage lender completed ours at lightning speed, and we didn’t have to live in different states for long.

Read more: How to buy a house

Move to Michigan

I believe the snow was two feet deep when we moved to Michigan. Again, the sellers had already moved and were eager to unload their old home. It had been on the market for months with no takers, and it didn’t look like spring was coming to central Michigan anytime soon. Here we are from out of state, eager to get into a home and ready to make a deal.

Having just retired, the previous owners worried about low interest rates and what those low rates would mean for their retirement savings. To put things into perspective, mortgage rates at the time were around 7.5%. FDIC-insured investments, such as certificates of deposit (CDs), earn about 3% interest. The sellers knew that if we took out a traditional mortgage on the property, we would pay 7.5% interest, the kind of return they were hoping to collect.

So we made a deal. Rather than borrow money from a bank, the previous owners financed the house. Instead of making monthly payments to a traditional lender, we made monthly payments to previous owners at the same interest rate we would have paid to a bank. This was more than double the rate owners would have earned on a federally insured investment product, and since we didn’t have to pay closing costs, we saved money upfront. By the time we refinanced a traditional mortgage a few years later, the property had risen enough in value to make it easier to appraise the house.

Here is what experience has taught us:

The winter market is less frenetic

It was a big house. It had five bedrooms, three bathrooms, and sat on one of the only lakes in the county. If it had been on the market during the warmer months, I am sure there would have been heavy foot traffic in the house. There were so few people touring in the dead of winter that we were able to strike up a conversation with the owners, which led to a deal that benefited both of us.

Agents are less busy

Given the wrangling that led to a deal being struck with the previous owners, I’m still a little surprised at how easy the whole process ended up being. We had a real estate agent who acted like we were his only clients. In addition to helping us better understand how an owner finance arrangement works, she went out of her way to introduce us to the area. I can’t imagine how she could have offered the same level of service during the busier months.

The next time you read an article outlining why buying or selling a house in the winter is a bad idea, I hope you take it with a grain of salt.

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Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion