Winter Home Buyer's Guide

Thinking of buying a new house? Winter is a great time to start looking. If you are on a hunt for a low-cost house with good quality, this may just be your lucky season. Winter is traditionally a slow season for home buying, and there may be fewer listings, but there are also fewer buyers on the market, and sellers are willing to cut a better deal instead of just waiting for another eager buyer to come along. Don't jump the gun, though. Before you start busting out the home listings or the mortgage applications, check out some of our guidelines for buying a house over the holiday season.

Know Your Budget
Before you even start checking out houses, you need to know how much you are willing and able to spend on your dream house. Buying a house is probably the most expensive investment you will make in your lifetime, so don't rush blindly into making a purchase. Before you commit, know your capacity. The last thing you want is to become attached to a "dream house" that you cannot afford.

Organize your finances before you start shopping. One of the most common mistakes first time home buyers commit is failing to check on mortgage parameters. When they have set their hearts on their dream home, they end up forgetting to check with a lender if they qualify for the type of loan they'll need to purchase the house and wind up back at the drawing board. So before you get all excited about meeting the seller, set an appointment with your bank to discuss payment issues. Make sure you ask questions on how to save up on taxes and monthly mortgage insurance. You never know how much money you can save unless you investigate every possible option. It's also best to plan these appointments with the bank ahead of time. Since winter is the holiday season, everyone will be busy, and attempting to schedule a spur-of-the-moment meeting with your bank might not be the most strategic planning.

One of the best moves you can make before house-hunting is to get pre-qualified for a mortgage. A pre-qualification letter tells realtors and sellers that you are a serious buyer with the capacity to close a deal, and that's a powerful negotiating point.

Check the Market
Once your finances are ready, it's time to start shopping. Technology makes that process a lot easier than it once was. Gone are the days when you would have to scour the newspapers and even go scouting around for the best match. Using a home-sale or online classified search engine, you can view thousands of home options in-state and nationwide. You can even narrow your choices by parameters such as preferred location, budget range, color scheme, number of bedrooms, floor area, etc. Narrowing down your options using online filters will save you a lot of time and energy in your winter house hunting, especially given the forbidding climate. Once you've cut your list down to a manageable size, though, you'll want to start doing actual inspections of the top candidates.

Schedule a one-on-one meet up with the seller so you can inspect the house from floor to ceiling. The winter setting might not give you the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the lawn and the garden, but it is the perfect time to consider how each home you're considering can withstand the rough, cold conditions. It's also an ideal time to ask the seller any questions you might have and initiate your negotiations.

Things To Watch Out For When Checking A House In Winter
Winter gives you an opportunity to check some features that you might miss during a more benign season. First, is the home insulated well enough to protect you and your family when the temperature drops to its lowest? If there's snow in the area, the quickest spot check is to look at the roof. If there's snow on the neighboring rooftops but none on the house you're looking at, you know heat and money are escaping through the roof. Poor insulation is a major concern, and you should address it before purchasing the house. You can use this problem to your advantage as leverage to negotiate a better price, but be sure to have a clear handle on what it will cost to solve the problem before taking this approach.

Winter inspections are a good opportunity to check for ice dams, a serious problem in areas with heavy snowfall. An ice dam is a ridge of ice that forms on a roof and obstructs melting snow from running off the roof. Pooled up water can then leak through the roof, sometimes causing serious damage. Ice dams are potential problem areas, especially in places where there is normally snowfall. They can form in houses with poor roof ventilation plus a warm attic. Unattended ice dams can easily lead to disaster. It's difficult to check for these in the summer, but if you're shopping in winter, it's a good idea to take a careful look at the roof.

Third, ask the homeowner about the condition of the parts of the house that are not immediately visible, like the pipes and septic tank. When was the last time these installations were serviced? Don't be embarrassed to ask for actual proof, like receipts and invoices. After all, it's your money you're paying for those hard-to-inspect areas.

Finally, ask for photos of the house during other seasons. Why is this important? Since you are buying a house in winter, you should check how the house looks during the other parts of the year. This extra information will help you plan home improvement projects for when spring and summer come.

Master the Art of Negotiation
Ultimately, the price itself will be the deciding factor for purchasing your dream home during winter or in any other season. What's the use of loving a home if you can't afford it? That is why you need to know how to negotiate. Your knowledge about the complete status of each home option will come in very handy here. You can use your information to leverage your price negotiations with each seller. Remember that every negotiation is a balancing act: Don't be afraid to ask below the seller's asking price, but don't attempt to lowball them either. Sellers know their house very well. Even before they list it on the market, they likely have a ceiling and a rock-bottom price in mind. Keep this dynamic in mind, play your negotiations by ear within the seller's parameters, and don't get too cocky either. Make firm but reasonable demands. Winter is a good season for negotiation, as buyers are few and far between, but every seller will still have a lower limit.

Finally, remember that the winter may be the most advantageous season to negotiate because people are more generous during this time. It is the holidays after all, and people are much nicer and happier during this season. So take advantage of the jolly atmosphere and ask for the price you have in mind. You will never know if it will work until you try.

Final Word
Winter may not be the time when most houses go on the market, but if you need to buy a house, it has a unique charm all its own. Make sure you do your due diligence and are ready to put in the leg-work to acquire your dream winter home, and all your efforts are bound to pay off. Once you move in, you can bask in the warmth of a job well done, and a dream accomplished, a sense of warmth that will last all year round.