Every year, I’m always a little surprised when things get slow between Easter and Memorial Day. For second home buyers, it seems the perfect time to shop. The weather is better, the days are longer, and if you find a house you can close on it in time to enjoy it for the summer. The seasonal cycles, particularly in the second home market here, are counter-intuitive. Buyers are always surprised when I tell them that the winter — between New Years and Easter — is usually busy. Go figure. Then there’s the spring slowdown, a period you would expect to be busy and it isn’t. Most people think that summer is our busiest season, when it really isn’t. That honor goes to early fall, between Labor Day and Halloween.
I’ve chewed this over with colleagues time and time again. Why the spring slowdown? The general feeling is that people get caught up with springtime commitments, particularly graduations. Another thought is that serious buyers looking to be in a home by summer have already done their shopping, during the dog days of winter, with some of that buying fueled by bonuses. Tax season also takes its toll, with many people sweeping extra cash into IRA’s. Also, second home buyers may be in income brackets where they’re writing a hefty check to the IRS rather than conjuring ways to spend a refund. Tax season may also be the one time during the year when many people sit down and take stock of their finances. Sort of a financial Yom Kippur.
The paradox is that this is probably the best time to shop for a house, particularly this year. Inventory is pretty good. While houses have been selling at a steady clip over the past few months, a lot of new inventory has come on the market to replace it. Typically we don’t see inventory rebuilding from the winter sell off until after Memorial Day; this year its coming a bit earlier. The inventory of single family homes has been holding pretty steady between 1,000 and 1,050. For people looking for something with some acreage, this is also the best time of year to see land. The snow is gone but the trees are still bare.
Real estate brokers are also more relaxed and have more time to spend with you. During peak seasons, particularly on weekends, better brokers and agents tend to be heavily booked. Summer homes may not be regularly occupied yet, making it easier to arrange to see them. Daylight savings time also makes the days longer, so its possible to house shop into the early evening.
There are some downsides to late spring shopping. Sellers often think that the magical summer season is just around the corner, and may be tempted to hold off for a better offer "when the crowds return." This is something that experienced listing agents, aware of market cycles, are pretty good at addressing. Houses just do not fetch sharply higher prices during the summer, and the cost of carrying a house into the fall selling season can offset any anticipation of a higher selling price then.
The other downside is that houses often don’t show as well during the spring. Gardens tend to be scraggly messes. Perennials are just masses of sticks, grass is brown and trees are bare. This year, with the bizarre weather, even the daffodils failed to do their thing on schedule. A lot of summer houses haven’t yet been opened for the season. It can be a little creepy to go into a house with the furniture covered with sheets, and with the outdoor furniture and toys crammed into the living room. This time of year, houses just aren’t at their "Ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille" best.
Even with the downsides, the next six weeks between now and Memorial Day, is one of the best seasons to house shop here in Sullivan County.