Pros and cons of buying during real estate's hottest season

The Pros and Cons of Renting or Buying a Home
The Pros and Cons of Renting or Buying a Home

Whether it's the warmer weather, the pending summer break from school, or simply a seasonal mental shift, spring is hot for real estate. (In some markets, the spring home sales season even gets an early start.) "Statistically, spring has been the busiest season to purchase a property," says Maria Babaev of Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Roslyn, NY.

But is spring really the best time to buy a house? While there are certainly some advantages to buying during the coming months, there are also plenty of disadvantages. If you're focused on optimal timing, consider these variables.

Pro: There's more inventory

It really is like clockwork: When April rolls around, property listings multiply like crocuses. One reason is that homes simply show better in the spring, with all the blooming flowers and the lack of snow. Sellers also feel more motivated once the warmer weather rolls around. And then, of course, success begets success. Potential sellers hear about all the bidding wars that result from springtime listings and figure it's best to wait out the winter chill, then get a piece of the April action.

Con: There's more competition

There are many more homes to choose from, yes, but there are also more buyers looking at those homes. Many, many more. Spring produces a rush of potential bidders who, like many sellers, have sat out the previous season in hopes of having more options now. And more buyers, alas, means bidding wars and higher prices, says Babaev. Plus, anticipating this higher demand, sellers may have priced their homes a bit higher than they would in winter.

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Pro: It's the perfect time for families to shop

Choosing to move your family is stressful no matter the time of year, but at least in the summer you won't have to balance packing up your house with school pickup and moving dates with graduation dates. To execute the ideal summer move, you have to start house hunting ... now. "Many families that are purchasing homes would like to be settled in their new residences prior to the start of the school year," says Babaev. "With a standard transaction taking 60 to 90 days to close, they must be in contract by mid-June, which means they should really get serious about looking and making decisions in April/May."

Con: The stress of relocating your family can lead to bad decision making

With all the pressure to buy a home before the school calendar starts anew, it's a lot easier to start compromising ... and compromising ... and compromising. If you're looking to change school districts before fall, the desire to purchase anything could start to override common sense. Just remember that it's possible you'll be in your new home for a long time, so don't make a hasty decision.

Pro: The weather makes for easier house hunting

Home shopping in winter really is the worst. Driving through crappy weather, tromping through open houses in your socks because your boots must remain outside, totally guessing about the lovely landscaping because all the plantings are currently dead ... it's not a euphoric time to be browsing. But spring! The birds are chirping, the flowers are starting to bloom, and sunshine streams through the windows of your potential new home, showcasing it in its best light — literally.

Con: You have to move quickly

All that natural sunlight does something to buyers' urgency levels. I bought my last home in winter and still marvel at the sedate pace of the whole process. No competitors, little haggling, and just a chill rhythm to the whole thing. Spring is completely different. The gaggle of buyers often means that time is of the essence. Buyers move in the spring. Which means you have to move too. You won't always have time go home to hash out the pros and cons of a house; in many cases, you'll have to be ready to submit an offer quickly.

Pro: You might have some extra equity in your pocket

Folks feel fairly flush in the spring. Christmas bills are in the rearview mirror, school expenses are dwindling, and there just might be a fat tax return burning a hole in their pockets. Sure, having a little extra cash might not let you bid much over the asking price, but it does let you pay for lawyers and extra inspections and moving vans and all those other expenses that start to build up when you're under contract on a new home.

Con: Spring is a terrible time to negotiate

The thing is, during the spring, you might have to offer more than asking price to stay competitive — or settle for being the backup offer. Simply put, spring is not the bargain season. If competition is fierce, you're also more likely to find yourself in the middle of a bidding war. So while your finances might be a little stronger, as a potential buyer, you're also going to be under more pressure to overspend. Such is the nature of the spring real estate beast.

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