The Mystery Housebuyer

The season is the reason

Part 5: Know when to jump into the market
Faye Dibachi

Sometimes it can be very profitable indeed to be out of step with everyone else. Just like heading to your favorite restaurant or shop during off-hours can get you a good selection with little hassle, shopping for a home during slow times of the year can have a big impact on whether you find many homes or even have many competing buyers.

“Slow times” is a relative phrase, of course. As we have noted in these pages in recent months, San Francisco has a pretty robust real estate market, one that has come roaring back from the recession.

“Slow here can mean an average of 45 to 60 days on-market for a listing, versus six months or more in other parts of the country,” said agent Kevin Kropp, a top producer at Vanguard Properties.

Kropp says that the inventory of available properties tapers down in November and is very light in December, before expanding again in early January. “Because of this, many people will take advantage of the low inventory and list, then sell their home quickly in December,” he said.

The summer offers the reverse situation; it’s buyers who
are scarce.

“Particularly July and August is when we see a lot of people getting out of town on weekends and committing less time to the home search,” said Kropp. “That is why after the Labor Day weekend, we tend to see a flush of inventory and buyers back in the city and ready to search.”

“Tradition-ally, there are fewer home buyers in San Francisco when people are preoccupied with other things, like Christmas and summer vacations. So December and August are quieter,” Faye Dibachi, a top-producing agent with Zephyr Real Estate, told the Marina Times shortly before Christmas. “Because of the pent-up demand, this year buyers are still shopping and wanting to see properties well after the traditional slowdown of post-Thanksgiving. There’s very little inventory. Buyers – and their Realtors – are hoping we will have the big supply coming
this January.”

She added that if a seller has a property on the market after Thanksgiving, “buyers feel that there may be opportunity to get a better deal.”

I can attest to that. My own experience started during a December lull. We learned that there were fewer properties on the market, but the compensation was that there weren’t as many buyers during the holiday season. We found a nice home on a quiet, leafy street. It was in good shape and had some nice architectural and layout features (nice wood floors before a fireplace and a wall of windows will always make me swoon), so we went back to see it again. And again. Eventually, we started penciling out the purchase cost, expected renovations, even the commuting routes to work.

In the end, we did not purchase the house. We had just started to get serious in our home search, so we did not have financing lined up yet; another homebuyer had financing on tap and bought the house. In the hyper-competitive buying market of late 2012 and early 2013, being slow to make the buy decision or assemble the financing will likely mean the loss of a home to quicker buyers.

In the end, shopping for a home during slow times is a gamble. If you are picky or if there just isn’t anything on the market that matches your needs, either you will be wasting your time or possibly settling for something that isn’t the perfect fit for you.

So if you’re not interested in being out of step with everyone else, you should be happy that we’re heading into primetime for home shopping. “The best times of the year are January-February, after Super Bowl Sunday until mid-May and Post Labor Day weekend.” said Dibachi.

But don’t forget: Whatever season of the year you want to shop for a home, you can still complete the deal. Your bank or mortgage financier wants your money just as badly on Jan. 3 as it does on March 20.

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