With another Thanksgiving Day come and gone and year-end holidays looming nearer, Americans are preoccupied with their traditional holiday to-do lists like party planning and gift shopping. However, some families might find this season is prime for hunting down a bargain on a home.
According to U.S. Census data, average home sales during the last quarter of the year between September 2008 and August 2013 dipped slightly, compared to warmer months. This is due to a number of reasons, like the inconvenience of relocating to a new home in cold weather. Another viable reason home sales are a tick lower during the holidays is that the home is the central meeting place for celebrations with family and friends – it's a time to welcome guests into your home, not discourage them with moving boxes.
For those who aren't hosting guests and parties this year, house-hunting over the holidays is advantageous for a number of reasons. A handful of the benefits buying a home during the holidays include:
1. Homes are priced to sell. Sellers who are actively looking to sell their homes during the holiday months – namely, October through December – are serious about shedding the weight of their residences. This often works in favor of savvy buyers looking to get a deal on discounted homes.
"For a typical residential property being put on the market for sale this time of year, [this] might be indicative of a necessity to [sell], and if so, buyers are in a better position to negotiate," says Bennie Waller, a professor of finance and real estate at Longwood University in Virginia.
This necessity may be a result of a recent divorce, job relocation or other sudden financial shift the seller has faced during an unfortunate time of year.
2. There is less competition. Having less competition on the buyer's side can mean lower prices on homes, in addition to fewer counter-offers to compete against. Without as many buyers eyeing a potential new home, shoppers have a greater likelihood of keeping savings on their side by avoiding the price creep consistent with multiple buyers interested in the same property.
3. Interest rates are still low. Interest rates have been consistently low since the Federal Reserve suppressed rates to near zero. While the Fed has announced rates will remain low on mortgage loans at least into 2015, there's no denying the eventuality that rates are starting on the upward course.
Cody Kessler, a mortgage loan originator and founder of the Kessler Lending Advisors in Maryland, warns homebuyers that the mortgage loan market is "at the cusp" of a turnaround when it comes to rising interest rates. This means that for those who are looking to buy a home, the holiday season may be the last time to lock in low loan rates that could potentially start to climb as early as spring 2014.
4. People are in the holiday spirit. In general, people are more inclined to put in a little more effort to help others out during the holidays. This is also true of companies on the receiving end of the mortgage loan approval process.
People are nicer, but homebuying still requires a process
All the above factors bode well for homebuyers who have their hearts set on a specific property. Yet, as more lenders boast "prequalified" offers on account of the lower quantity of home purchases during the winter season, the fact still stands that there's no easy way to go about initiating, financing and securing a home.
And while it's true holiday home purchases are usually down during the holidays, don't expect a fast-track through typical lending checkpoints. As in all markets, loan origination staffing will be down as employees go on vacation, so seeing a home purchase come to fruition during this time of year can prove just as challenging as peak months.
The bottom line: Saving thousands of dollars on a home purchase may sound appealing, but executing the correct steps to secure these savings and a new property is still just as important. Don't hastily sign anything without first considering whether it makes the most financial sense for the long term. After all, in many cases, you might be stuck with this decision for 15 years or more.
Jennifer Calonia writes for GoBankingRates.com, a source for CD rates, savings account rates, personal finance news and more.