The home-buying experience changes vastly from season to season. Depending on when you’re looking to buy, you’ll face different levels of pricing, housing inventory and competition from other buyers.
For veterans and military members, the challenge is you don’t always get to choose your home-buying timeline. Active duty service members often move every two or three years, meaning military families relocate 2.4 times as often as civilians.
While most people buy in spring or summer, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right time. Each season has its pros and cons, and the best time to buy depends on your own circumstances.
We’re here to help. Let’s take a look at the four seasons of real estate and what veterans and military families might encounter during each.
Pro: If a home isn’t blanketed in snow, it’s way easier to spot potential problems. Issues with the roof, air conditioning and pool are more detectable after the spring thaw, says Sharon Voss, president of the Orlando Regional Realtor® Association.
Also, there’s a lot less pressure. It’s likely there will simply be fewer buyers in spring, especially on the early side of the season. So buying frenzies aren’t as plentiful—or as frenzied. (But beware: In some markets, the spring season heats up right after the Super Bowl.)
Con: Slightly fewer choices than summer, when inventory hits its peak.
Pro: It’s simple—there are more homes on the market.
“Inventory is at its peak in June, July, and August. On average across the U.S., a buyer is going to have more choices in those months,” says Jonathan Smoke, chief economist of realtor.com®.
“This can be very good, especially if you’re looking for specific features or want to live in a particular neighborhood,” says Dave Fry, co-owner of the Fry Group in Saint Paul, MN. You’re more likely to find your dream home when more homes are on the market.
There are lots of reasons why summer is the hot season for real estate. High on the list: If you have kids, it’s easier to move the family. “Summertime moves are less likely to conflict with the school calendar,” Voss says.
Con: Of course, there’s more competition. Lots more.
“The potential for bidding wars can be greater during the busy late spring and summer seasons, so you may not be able to get the bargain you were hoping for,” Fry says. Voss notes that you’ll be vying for attention from busy agents, lenders and home inspectors as the market heats up.
And you can expect firm asking prices.
“You may not be able to negotiate, as someone else may swoop in and offer more,” Fry says. Sellers may reject any lowball offers or any offer that comes with specific contingencies or requests.
Pro: It’s prime time to negotiate.
“Off-season sellers are typically more motivated, thus more willing to make a deal,” Fry said. Since there are fewer buyers, sellers may be more inclined to entertain lower offers or pay for needed repairs. Lenders may also be willing to negotiate closing costs to win business from a smaller buyer pool.
You might just find a steal. Sometimes a house is on the market during the off-season because of an urgent event—for example, a death in the family or a sudden job change, Smoke says. If you’re in an area that’s dealing with massive employee layoffs, or where companies have left town, there could be a glut of homes on the market priced to sell.
Con: Once again, less inventory. Most buyers prefer to wait at least until spring to list their home, so buyers looking for that perfect house can end up frustrated.
So there’s a chance you could end up with a straggler. “Some of the homes that are on the market during the slow seasons are available only because, in essence, they’ve already been rejected by the market earlier,” Fry says. Ask your agent why a home hasn’t sold if it’s been on the market for a while.
Pro and Con: Don’t have kids in school? This could be a good time to shop.
“If you’re not as sensitive to the school calendar, you might find it easier to find a home in the fall and winter months,” Smoke says. But if you’re just as much a slave to the school bus as your kids, moving during the school year could be a major challenge.
Pro: Less competition. By a lot. With fewer people looking for houses, potential buyers are treated with tender loving care. It may be easier to land a better deal when you don’t have to elbow other buyers out of the way.
It’s also a nice time to make an investment. If you’re looking for a home for investment potential rather than a place to live forever, the off-season is a smart time to buy. According to Smoke, investors are more likely to snap up foreclosures and REOs during the off-season.
Con: You thought the pickings were slim in fall? The flow of homes going on the market gets smaller and smaller into the end of the year, and usually reaches its lowest point in December.
It can also be a hassle. Bad weather makes it difficult to get around, holiday obligations can slow down your search and homes become harder to inspect. Snow on the ground—and on the roof—makes an inspector’s job substantially more difficult.
“The cold weather and snow can hide aspects of the home that wouldn’t be as easy to miss if the inspection were conducted in warm weather,” says Mike Mishkin, founder and CEO of Love Where You Live Realty. And while it may not be a structural issue, the same holds true for the landscaping.
Ultimately, the best time to buy a house depends on your own specific needs. But let’s face it: Military members and their families may not even have a choice of timing. That’s where a great real estate agent can be invaluable. So can having an understanding of the seasonal advantages and disadvantages when it comes to buying your home.