When Is The Best Time To Buy A House?

Illustration to accompany an article about the best time to buy a home Grant Crowder and Getty Images
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When it comes to buying a home, timing isn’t everything. But it’s a big factor. 

Your financial situation and how long you plan on living in a home can drive your decision, too. Broader market and economic factors also play a role in timing a home purchase.

Historically, during the spring and summer, more homes are for sale, and in winter, real estate markets cool down. But how much these differences affect your buying options or prices vary by region. Not only that, but the COVID-19 shutdowns have thrown the historical averages for a loop this year.

Last spring, when you’d normally expect to see a flurry of activity, the pandemic pushed some buyers and sellers to the sidelines. Danielle Hale, chief economist at realtor.com, saw an 18 to 20% drop in home sales in May 2020, which is normally a busy time of year. The drop coincided with a decrease in homes listed for sale

And with so much economic uncertainty, mortgages are harder to qualify for, as lenders have been tightening their standards. 

The Best Time of Year to Buy a House

Like with anything, supply and demand play a big part in getting the best deal on a home. You want to have choices (supply), but you don’t want to have to compete with everyone else (demand). You want to strike a good balance without spending too much energy timing the housing market. 

That’s why it can be invaluable to work with a local real estate agent when determining the best time to buy a house. Marietta Rodriguez, president and CEO of the nonprofit housing counseling network NeighborWorks America, suggests buyers find a real estate agent specialized in the area they are looking to live. 

“If they specialize in a community, they may know facts that can be really helpful to the borrower,” says Rodriguez. For example, a local pro might be aware of a new shopping center coming in or a nearby home going on the market soon.

Here are the general trends of home buying throughout the year.

Winter

In line with the seasons, the real estate market tends to cool down in the winter. People are less active (who wants to move in the snow?), so both inventory and demand are usually low. Prices may be on the lower side — and you’re less likely to get into a bidding war — but you won’t have the full view of available homes unless you wait a few months.

Spring

Springtime is when homes start to go on the market again. More homes will be listed by realtors and sites like Redfin, and you’ll have a ton of options to pore through. According to data from Zillow, April tends to offer the most options. But keep in mind that other homebuyers will be in the market too — so you’ll want to prepare any mortgage application materials in case you find the perfect home.

Summer 

The flurry of activity in the spring tends to continue into the summer. You’ll likely observe high inventory and high competition in the real estate market. Lots of homes will be available still, but don’t be afraid to pounce if you find your ideal home at an affordable price. Because of fierce competition, the option may not exist tomorrow.

Fall

Typically, the best time of year to buy a home is in the early fall. Families have already settled into new homes before the school year started. But the number of properties on the market is still relatively high compared to other times of the year, and sellers can be eager to sell.

Keep in mind that while buyers are, on average, picking up better deals in September, this might not hold true for you. The factors affecting real estate prices can be extremely local. You may find more competition for a property half a block farther away from a busy intersection than one right next to it.

Is 2021 a Good Year to Buy a House?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a big impact on the housing market in 2021, but it hasn’t caused home prices to bottom out. 

“The supply is still relatively limited in the housing market, and I think it’s a surprise to some people, but home prices have been relatively stable,” says Hale.

A shrinking of the housing supply would normally create a seller’s market, where the number of buyers outpaces the supply of homes and prices increase. But in most markets, this hasn’t happened. In fact, home purchases are up because of historically low mortgage rates. Being able to lock in low rates can save you thousands of dollars over the life of your mortgage. There are opportunities out there if you have a solid credit profile and a secure job to qualify for a loan.

But you may have to pay more for a home. The interest rate decrease led to a flood of new buyers on the market — but the supply of homes didn’t increase proportionately. This means you may be facing fierce competition depending on the local market. A home that would’ve been straightforward to purchase a year ago may now be inundated with bids, so you may have to act fast.

However, lending standards have become more stringent. The requirements aren’t as steep as they were in spring 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, but some lenders are still picky because of high unemployment rates. For example, some banks have raised FICO score requirements by 100 points for government-backed mortgages like FHA loans. That means fewer home buyers can qualify for a mortgage.

 If you have a secure financial situation, you may want to take advantage of historically low mortgage rates. Even then, you shouldn’t feel rushed, as there’s no indication that rates will be going up soon.

Pro Tip

Real estate is local. Working with a real estate agent who knows the ins and outs of your market is vital to getting your timing right.

If you have a secure financial situation, you may want to take advantage of historically low mortgage rates. Even then, you shouldn’t feel rushed, as there’s no indication that rates will be going up soon.

When Is the Right Time for You to Buy a House?

Ultimately, the right time to buy a house depends on your finances, goals, and personal timeline. The real estate market has its own patterns and idiosyncrasies, but they aren’t definitive. You’ll want all of your ducks in a row before you get to the offer stage on a home purchase.

Before you start the home-buying process, you should work to get your finances in order. You can’t control what direction mortgage rates are headed, or the housing market, but you can take steps to set yourself up for a successful home-buying experience.

If you take the time to save for a down payment and closing costs and work to improve your credit score, you’ll make the entire process much easier. Having a higher FICO score and more cash in the bank makes it much easier to qualify for a loan. But that’s not the only benefit. Lenders offer the lowest interest rates to those with the highest credit scores. 

Also, bringing a bigger down payment to the table can help you save money by lowering your loan-to-value (LTV) ratio. Your LTV is calculated by comparing the value of the mortgage to the value of the property. So an $80,000 loan on a $100,000 home would have an LTV of 80%. Having a lower LTV can qualify you for better mortgage rates, and if your LTV is lower than 80%, you won’t need to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI) on conventional loans. On average, PMI costs up to 1% of the total loan value annually. So if you’ve got a bigger loan, you could save hundreds of dollars a month by not having to pay it.

It would also help to take the time to learn about housing assistance programs available in your area. A housing counselor can help you understand what down payment or closing cost aid is available. “I would encourage all first-time home buyers to seek out the assistance of an HUD-approved counseling agency,” says Rodriguez. A HUD-approved housing counseling service can help you with pre-purchase counseling and education services. These agencies can charge reasonable fees for pre-purchase counseling services, but the fees must be disclosed up front. And according to HUD, these services must be provided for free if you show you cannot afford the fees