For large parts of the country, real estate is a hot market all year round, but when the weather cools there’s no doubt that things slow down. Don’t let that put a chill on your house hunting efforts—it can benefit a committed buyer.

Here are just a few pros and cons of winter house hunting.

PROS

More deals.

According to Karen Millington, a broker with Halifax-based The Mortgage Centre, the time to find deals is between late December through March because a house that’s available then is often owned by anxious sellers. “Maybe they had a job transfer, or they bought a property before selling this one,” says Millington.

What does that mean for buyers? “You’re going to find a deal out there, and usually a seller willing to negotiate, too.”

There are some exceptions in the hottest markets, like Vancouver and Toronto. The real estate market in those areas has a brief warming period from late January to mid February when deals are harder to find.

“A seasoned agent won’t recommend listing in December unless there’s a compelling reason to do so, because potential buyers are distracted with the holidays, office parties, vacations and time with family,” says Rebecca Isenberg, a sales representative at Forest Hill Real Estate Inc., signature branch in Toronto.

Less frenzy.

“You can have a bidding war in the winter, but that’s the exception,” says Isenberg.

“In real estate, nothing is a given, everything is possible,” she cautions, but Christmas, March Break and Spring Break are promising times for deals.

Price isn’t the only advantage though. Open houses scheduled at those times won’t be as crowded as in the spring. “That means you have time to reflect on a decision,” says Isenberg. It’s a big purchase; that extra time is priceless.

winter-house-hunting-the-pros-and-cons
A clearer picture.

If you’re looking at property off-season, chances are the landscaping is barren, natural light is muted, and “fluffing”—bowls of fruit, fancy throws, and other accessories designed to seduce buyers—won’t be so distracting.

That means you’re seeing the actual house rather than the staging. “If you fall in love with a house at that time, it can only get better,” says Isenberg.

CONS

Inspections are tough to complete.

Snow and ice can obscure roof shingles, foundation cracks, or grading around the building. “And an inspector won’t go on an icy, dangerous roof,” says Isenberg, offering a caution about mould spores as well: “They’re dormant in the winter.” So you won’t notice a mildewy smell in the basement in the winter, but you might in the spring.

The area isn’t in full swing.

You’re buying into a neighbourhood, not just a building. In warm weather, house hunters can take the time to walk the streets, explore the area and even talk to shop keepers and residents about what it’s like to live there. In the winter, streets are empty and that due diligence often isn’t possible.

“Drivers are more cautious in winter, too, so there could be less or slower traffic than normal,” says Isenberg.

It’s uncomfortable.

It’s too cold outside, but too hot in the house and you don’t feel like taking your boots off again….

This can frustrate a potential buyer who might not spend as much time examining each home. That could cause them to lose out on a promising property, or rush to make an offer. “When you’re going to showings and open houses, make sure to wear layers and slip-on boots,” says Isenberg. “It sounds silly, but it really makes a difference.”

Want to learn more? Genworth Canada offers a free checklist for house hunting that can be used in any season. Download here.

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