The first significant snowfall has hit, and that means shifting into 'winter mode' for showings. Contrary to what most people think, the market doesn't die here in the winter. It's not as busy as the summer and fall, but there are a lot of folks still looking. This weekend, for example, I have three appointments.
Showing houses in the winter is a very different animal than showing in other seasons, and it takes some adjustment. Days are shorter, so showing appointments have to be finished by about 4:30, and driving between houses can be slower. If a house is unoccupied, it can be hit or miss about whether the drive is plowed. Trekking down and back a long unplowed drive can add fifteen or twenty minutes to a house showing.
Unoccupied houses seldom have shoveled stairs and decks, and I always carry a shovel in the event we have to shovel our way into a house. Lock boxes and locks are sometimes frozen, so I bring along a hammer and lock deicer, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. In my Durango I also have a bag of sand and a few pairs of showshoes.
Real estate agents here are very experienced at showing property in the winter. Follow your agent's lead. We all understand that buyers making the trek up from the city want to get in as many houses as possible, but we may suggest shortening a 'to see' list based on conditions. On a four hour trip in the summer you may be able to see six houses, but in the winter you may only be able to get in four or five. We also may cancel due to weather conditions, particularly if there's ice. Remember there's a five to ten degree differential between the city and Sullivan County, so winter drizzle in the city could be ice in the country.
Know the limits of your vehicle and driving ability. All-wheel-drive vehicles can't get through everything, regardless of what you see in the tv commercials. All weather tires aren't snow and ice tires, and an AWD vehicle with all weather tires can still get stuck. Even in my brute Durango with snow tires, I'll get stuck at least once a winter and have to dig out and use sand.
Dress for the weather. Keep in mind that houses that aren't heated can be colder inside than the outside temperature. On a bright and sunny forty degree winter day, it can be downright pleasant outside, but ten or fifteen degrees colder inside an unheated house.
Bringing children requires extra planning. Make sure you have extra layers to bundle them up, and bring dry socks in case they get snow in their boots. Also, their little legs can have a harder time trudging through snow. A long unplowed drive with a couple of feet of snow can be nigh impossible for a five year old, and doing a parent switch out to watch the kids in the car at the road adds a lot of extra time. Also, from my experience, children have less stamina in the winter for house looking. Four houses is usually about the max with pre teenagers in tow.
Adults need to do some extra planning as well. If you're wearing shorter hiking height boots, throw some higher boots in the car if you have them. Six inch hiking boots are a surefire recipe for cold, wet feet in a foot or two of snow. And apart from getting stuck in a snow drift, there's nothing that makes folks grumpier than cold, wet feet. An extra pair of gloves is a good idea, too.
Then there's the bathroom kahuna. A lot of houses, even if they're heated on low, will have their water shut off if the owners aren't there. Don't assume that the water will be on to use the toilet at many houses you'll be seeing. Take the opportunity to use restrooms when they present themselves, because when you're out in the country, it can be fifteen or twenty minutes to get back to the nearest grocery store or coffee shop.
Winter house shopping can be quite pleasant if you're prepared and have reasonable expectations. There's something magical about seeing properties bathed in a winter wonderland cover of snow. But you need to move a little slower, dress a little warmer, and probably see fewer houses.