Joseph Éamon Cummins, January 05 2018
Buy a home in winter?
Brave icy winds and ominous skies? Even hail, rain or snow?
With good reason — you could save a bundle.
But it doesn’t feel like the right time of year, you say. Of course not, not according to conventional thinking. Which is precisely why you should consider a winter purchase.
The rationale is simple, and well known. Good deals are made when fewer people are searching for them. Savvy homebuyers and investors know that a deal made in winter is often impossible to match in spring or summer.
With this in mind, winter can be an ideal time to shake off the blues and venture out in search of your next home!
If the idea of going after a deal in the gloomy season doesn’t turn you on, winter offers you an alternative benefit. November through March is the perfect time to plan and prepare for a spring home purchase. Use the dark days to discuss, to research and to fill in your home buyer’s notebook, an exercise that is guaranteed to land you a safer and more successful purchase later.
Your notebook contains your ‘homework’ — pardon the pun — which most buyers do NOT do. Invariably, they pay for their slackness with problem purchases, indecision, higher prices and unfavorable terms. For more guidance on this see Not One Dollar More! How to Save $3,000 to $30,000 Buying Your Next Home (new 2018 edition).
Right now, I’ll assume you are willing at least to consider the idea of a winter purchase. First, though, you demand evidence: Why does a winter purchase make good sense?
Well, it all starts in how we think. Our perceptions are affected, mostly unconsciously, by sensations like brightness, warmth, color, order, space, freshness, nature, scent and mood. And it’s no coincidence that these are precisely the senses and sensations — the ‘vibes’ — you get or don’t get when you inspect a home. When you perceive these vibes to be positive, you want to buy. When negative, you don’t.
Naturally, these vibes alone will not determine which home you buy; they’ll feed into the practical factors that have nothing to do with perception. If an otherwise attractive home has two bedrooms and you require three, you’ll quickly reject it. Particular vibes will tempt you but won’t control your decision.
Nonetheless, when your must-haves are met, what pushes you to buy or reject a home is not so obvious as the number of bedrooms. In fact, most of the factors that influence your Yes or No decision emanate from your unconscious.
We rarely stand back and analyze objectively all that is influencing our decisions, certainly not our emotional decisions. Rather, we decide to buy a specific home based on a combination of our must-haves being met and the positive ‘vibes’ we sense. However, when home buying turns distressing, emotions like weariness and despair can, regrettably, trigger our buying decisions.
In short, it is typically these string pullers — our perceptions — that prompt us to buy or dismiss an otherwise appropriate home. We don’t realize this is going on, of course, because our conscious thoughts are focused elsewhere.
But let’s get practical about buying a home in winter. What specifically should you do when you go in search of a bargain? How do you process the ‘vibes’ that can lead you to a good — or bad — decision?
Your first step is to accept that rain and cold and snow and dark skies all affect your thinking. You need then to accept that they also affect the seller’s thinking, very often in your favor — which is the key point to keep in mind.
When you buy a home in winter you have a number of high-potential advantages. To start with, winter tends to dull a seller’s expectation of getting a top price. In fact, it is perceived by both sides to be the ‘wrong’ time of year. And it’s easy to understand why.
All the freshness and color of spring, summer and fall are absent. The home doesn’t present so well. Gardens and greenery look dead, with no new growth; prospective buyers must traipse over withered leaves, lifeless grass, damp and grubby pathways, and so on.
And then there’s rain, chilly temperatures, maybe even snow to contend with. And sellers usually don’t welcome the prospect of shivering, wet buyers trailing through their lounge and bedrooms on the off-chance that one might make an offer.
So, overall, the mood is dour; the situation has many negatives.
But maybe not for you!
Your thinking can be skewed by these surface winter factors, your senses miscued — but only if you allow it.
Clearly a home does not show or glow so well in the dark days of winter. And the full tale of woe doesn’t stop there; every home has its list of ‘faults’ that appear worse in the cold season.
But, as the cliche reminds us, things are seldom what they seem. And therein lies the smart buyer’s advantage. Most of these negative bad-weather perceptions are not necessarily deal-stoppers but can in fact be deal makers — because few point to faults or shortcomings with long-term significance, and when they do, a professional inspection will highlight these.
Instead, it’s time to use your creative imagination, see beyond the discomfort and discombobulation of winter buying and recognize that negatives are often positives in disguise. The grunge and messiness and clutter and other enthusiasm dampeners are excellent bases for going after a better deal than you could get in spring or summer. In fact, these ‘negatives’ arm you to negotiate the lowest price and ideal terms.
In summary, the winter negatives that turn off both buyers and sellers are a bargain hunter’s dream. The motto that could put serious money in your pocket between now and spring, is this: Don’t let winter pull your strings — or stop you going after an unbeatable deal!
Particular Homebuyer Perceptions That Can Cost or Save You Money
Buyers are typically unconscious of the psychological effects winter can have on how they behave when buying a home.
Winter dulls buyers’ perceptions of a home’s true value and potential. And it typically also lowers sellers’ enthusiasm and price expectations.
Consequently, buyers miss opportunities to land a genuine winter bargain. Those who can see beyond the seasonal negatives can negotiate more strongly for a deal that will not be available three or four months later.
And, fortuitously, market forces add to this buying opportunity. With fewer buyers and fewer sales, agents and salespeople need to persuade active buyers to make more offers. This need for offers is made even more urgent because viewings and inspections are curtailed by a shortage of daylight.
So, perceptions, inconveniences and limitations can disadvantage you or reward you, depending on how you interpret and respond to them.
Come spring, most of the seasonal ‘negatives’ will turn positive or disappear altogether. The smart buyer’s trick is to recognize that winter can work in their favor, even more strongly when their financing is guaranteed.
Here is a list of factors that can miscue your senses and cause you to miss out on a winter bargain:
1 Brightness: Dark days and overcast skies lower the appeal of any home. This is why agents switch on house lights before a viewing.
2 Freshness, scents and smells: Few homes are kept as neat, sparkling and orderly in winter. They just don’t have that ‘spring’ scent, often smelling musty or dank or unventilated.
3 Comfort: Home heating systems often work unevenly making some rooms warm and others cold; this is a turn-off for buyers.
4 Feel and touch: Interior mats, runners, and especially plastic carpet savers, provide the wrong sensations underfoot.
5 Space and clutter: People move inside in winter, cluttering up space and making rooms appear smaller. Clutter is a big negative; it makes it hard for buyers to visualize living in the home.
6 Color: The home’s exterior is bare, foliage and flowers scrawny or dead. And the interior radiance of April or May is nowhere to be sensed.
7 Damp, drafts, leaks and bad-fitting doors and windows: In winter these are all more evident to buyers; drafts and chills are particular turn-offs.
8 Basement and attic: Most of the problems listed here are harder to hide at the top and bottom of a multi-story house; they suggest work for the buyer, and they nearly always appear a bigger headache than they are.
9 Sub-optimal home presentation: Because humans stay and play indoors in the colder months, sellers can rarely show the home at its best.
10 Absence of newness. This relates more to our unconscious seasonal moods. We have an internal ‘rhythm’ that lifts us in spring and deserts us in winter. We need to remember that the ‘lift’ always returns.
Capitalizing on one or more of these perceptions, inconveniences or limitations can reward you well. Recognize the ‘negatives’ that are insignificant or easily remedied, then use them to your advantage in negotiating for the best winter bargain you can win. ☐
Author Joseph Éamon Cummins is an organizational psychologist and former licensed real estate agent. His writing has featured in Money, Home, Business Week, Kiplinger’s, CNBC, NBC, CBS and other media. An ex-member of Money Magazine’s ‘Panel of Experts’, he trains and coaches in the business world in the area of human achievement and development (contact: JEC2006@gmail.com).
His classic homebuyer guide Not One Dollar More!, a #1 bestseller, is endorsed by dozens of consumer advocates and has won many top honors. The new 2018 edition (purple and white cover) was officially published January 1st 2018 (www.NotOneDollarMore.com).
© Joseph Éamon Cummins, 2018