Here’s how to find the best time to buy a house.

By Kristine Gill
July 07, 2020
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Ready to start shopping for a new home? You might think the best time of year to buy a house is when your finances are in tip-top shape, but experts say there’s a time of year when you’ll have a bigger selection to choose from as well as an upper hand when it comes to price. Read on to find out when you should start looking and when you should plan to put in an offer. As an added bonus, once you know the best time to buy a house, you’ll also get a sense of the best time to sell a house; ideally, you’ll be able to time it so you can sell your current home and move into your new one with minimal hassle.

Spring is typically considered home-buying season, according to Kimberly Palmer, a personal finance expert at NerdWallet, but you can also expect to find good deals all year long, especially during the periods of time when the market is considered to be slower.

“Prices tend to be lowest in January and highest in summer,” Palmer says. “If you can wait to buy a home until January and February, you have a better chance of locking down a good deal.”

Of course, the best time to buy can depend heavily on your location in the United States, she adds.

“Be sure to take a close look at the trends in your area before buying,” Palmer says.

Zillow lifestyle expert Amanda Pendleton says that buying in spring is best in an area of the country that experiences a break in the weather during those months.

“This springtime pattern is even more extreme in markets with harsher winters: In Chicago and Minneapolis, for example, almost twice as many homes are listed in May and June as in December and January,” she says. “More temperate markets, like Miami and Tampa, have barely any noticeable seasonal pattern at all.”

In many areas, during springtime, you’ll have your pick of the available homes, plus some good summer weather on the horizon to make for a seamless move-in.

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Pendleton says buying a home in the winter could get you the biggest savings, if you’re willing to shop from a smaller pool of homes for sale. Of course, in this scenario, you run the risk of not being able to find a home with all the features you’re hoping for.

“A Zillow analysis finds homes listed in late December sell for 1.5 percent less than average,” Pendleton says. “However, if you shop at the end of summer, you’ll hit the sweet spot between selection and bargains.”

Whenever you shop, Pendleton says it’s typical to expect a home-buying search of about four-and-a-half months. During that time, she says it’s likely you’ll attend 2.6 open houses and 4.4 tours, if you want to get specific. (The coronavirus crisis may mean quicker sales and a shorter search process.)

The question of determining the best time to buy a house for you will depend on whether selection or price is most important to you. Depending on your answer, you could be looking to shop either in winter or spring.

Unfortunately, Pendleton says, there is no science to price cuts, no matter what season you shop in.

“Sellers have different priorities; some want to get top dollar for their home, others need to sell because of a change in their lives and may be more open to negotiation or a price cut,” she says.

But regardless of the time of year, a Zillow analysis shows that a home is less likely to sell at full listing price each additional month it remains on the market. Talk with your real-estate agent about when and how much to offer to secure the best deal in your situation: Sometimes, waiting pays off.

It stands to reason that if you’re the one selling your home, you can also look at the research of buying to see when the best month is for you.

Pendleton says that homes listed early in the month of May sell for more on average than homes listed other times of year. But if you list a month sooner, in April, that’s when homes sell the fastest.

“Homes that hit the market in early May sold for almost 1 percent more than expected, or roughly $2,100 more on the nation’s typical home,” Pendleton says. “But if speed is what you care about, nationwide, homes listed for sale anytime in April sell one full week faster than average.”

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While there might be some science to watching the market and timing your purchase based on how the economy is doing, Pendleton says it can also be a recipe for disaster.

“Even the experts make mistakes,” she says, “and a home is the most valuable asset that most people will ever own, so it’s especially important not to gamble with it.”

Instead, it’s more likely that your first home purchase will coincide with a major life event, Pendleton says: Think marriage or having your first child. Research shows buyers from different generations will have other considerations, such as factoring in their retirement savings.

Before you get too stressed considering all of the potential factors that could affect when you buy, Pendleton says it’s best not to overthink things.

“The best time to buy a home is when it’s the right time for you. That may sound cliché, but at the end of the day, only you know what your financial situation looks like, your time horizon, and your risk tolerance,” she says. “Buying a home, especially for the first time, is both exciting and frightening, but ultimately, it’s an investment in your future and the beginning of a new phase in your life.”

You heard it from the experts: The best time to buy a house is when you decide you’re ready.