23 October 2020

Buying a home in winter: What you need to know

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Many buyers are nervous about purchasing a home in the winter. They’re turned off by the cold and worry that the snow will limit a full inspection of the premises. But with the right precautions, buying a property during the cold season can have many advantages.

Want to find the property of your dreams and wondering if winter is a good time to take the plunge? Read on for everything you need to know about buying a home in winter, from the advantages and disadvantages to guidance for your big decision.

Buying a home in winter: Pros and cons

In the summer, it’s easy to see the full potential of the houses you visit: gardens are in bloom, foundations are accessible, lots are cleared, and so on. But what can you expect if you decide to house hunt in the winter? Here are the main advantages and disadvantages of buying a home in the middle of the cold season:

The pros

  • Less demand − With people busy working, planning for the holidays, or travelling, there are far fewer potential buyers in the winter. That means less competition and less chance of being outbid. This makes winter a good time for first-time buyers to enter the real estate market.
  • It’s easy to test the insulation − There’s no better time to see if a home is well insulated than the middle of winter.
  • More bargaining power − The less demand, the greater your bargaining power and the more likely your offer will be accepted.
  • Motivated sellers − People who sell their property during the off-season have good reason to do so, and they want to sell quickly.
  • More attention from your real estate broker − With fewer potential buyers to serve, they’ll have more time for you. They’ll be more attuned to your specific needs and work harder to help you find your perfect home.
  • All systems are on − Heating, fireplace, lighting, and more—it’s all running when you visit. This makes it easier to determine how well it’s working.

The cons

  • It’s harder to inspect − This is the main disadvantage of buying a home in the winter. Access to the foundation is limited. It’s difficult to assess the condition of the lot and landscaping, as well as the roof, gutters, pool, hot tub, and other outdoor facilities. But if you follow our 6 tips for successful winter buying (see below), you can still find the home of your dreams—and avoid any unpleasant surprises in the spring.
  • The weather − Inspecting the exterior of a house is not quite as pleasant when it’s below freezing. You should dress accordingly so you can comfortably take all the time you need.
  • A slower market − Not only does demand drop in the winter; there’s also less supply.

House hunting in winter: 6 tips for choosing wisely

While there’s no good or bad time of the year to purchase a property, house hunting in winter comes with its own special considerations and strategies. Here are 6 tips for hassle-free home buying in winter:

1. Don’t overlook the exterior inspection

When it’s cold outside, it may be tempting to focus only on interior design and decorating opportunities. But even if you’re wowed by the home’s interior, you still need to perform at least a cursory exterior inspection. Here are a few things you should pay particular attention to:

Inside:

  • Doors and windows − When you’re inside, inspect the windows to make sure they are free of ice and drafts. Make sure doors close properly and are level.
  • Walls − Since houses are usually made of wood and wood reacts to changes in temperature, winter can reveal structural problems such as cracks in the walls. Also look for signs of mould on outer walls, such as in closets.
  • The plumbing − Check its condition. Be aware that steel piping is old piping.

Outside:

  • The foundation – Even if there’s snow, it’s important to look for visible cracks.
  • Gutters − Inspect the gutters for signs of breakage that could lead to water infiltration in the spring.
  • The roof – Snow melting on the roof may be a sign that the attic is poorly insulated. Are there icicles hanging from the roof? This is another sign of heat loss and that the roof may be poorly insulated.
  • Outdoor equipment − It may be difficult to inspect the pool and hot tub, but take a look at the shed, balcony, and deck.

Don’t hesitate to ask the owner to clear snow from key areas if necessary. If they have nothing to hide and want to sell, they’ll be happy to oblige!

2. Hire an independent inspector

Although the seller can provide a legal warranty and an inspection report, we strongly recommend hiring a professional independent inspector—whatever the season. An inspection may reveal, for example, a hidden defect that could show up in the spring.

The report may be incomplete because access is limited by snow. In that case, the inspector may recommend a second inspection if they have reasonable doubts about the condition of part of the building. You should follow this recommendation to avoid any unpleasant surprises.

3. Carefully inspect the basement and attic

Winter is the perfect time to spot signs of a rodent infestation. That’s when rodents seek shelter inside houses. Also check that the attic and basement are dry and insulated (not too cold, no ice on the windows, no drafts, etc.).

4. Ask the homeowners the right questions

Remember that sellers are required to report any known issues with their property. They must disclose any defects they are aware of. Apparent defects and those reported by the seller will generally be excluded from the legal warranty. So if you ask the seller questions about items that aren’t accessible during the inspection, they must tell you the truth. Ask for photos of outdoor areas and the house itself in the summer. If the seller mentions having done any work, ask to see the invoices as proof.

5. Don’t be afraid to negotiate

Some sellers list their property in the winter—the off-season, when demand is lowest—because they can’t wait to sell later. For you that can mean more negotiating power and leeway to make an offer below the asking price, based on your own observations and those in the inspection report.

6. Include conditions in the contract

Was the swimming pool totally snowed in at the time of the inspection? That pool might be a big part of the home’s value, so have your notary help you add a reserve clause to the contract stipulating an inspection in the spring and payment for any necessary repairs and replacement. Your notary is your best friend when it comes to purchasing a home in the winter, as they can assist you in protecting your investment under the law.

Post-purchase to-do list

Was your winter house hunt a success? Congratulations! Before taking possession of your new property, remember to do the following:

  • Reinspect in the spring − If your purchase contract included reserves or conditions, have the items that were conditional on an inspection, such as the pool, reinspected.
  • Prepare for your move – Get to work planning your move now so you can save time later. Choosing the right mover and organizing your packing can mean the difference between an efficient move and an unpleasant one.
  • Get home insurance − To make sure you’re covered even while moving, you should get home insurance for your new property before taking possession of it. Don’t forget to tell your representative the dates you are leaving your old residence, moving, and officially taking possession of your new place.

Ask us for a home insurance quote today!