I’ve posted here before about things to consider when selling your home in winter, but what about buying in winter. What things are different about the buy-side in winter?
Almost all of the differences involve differences that the winter weather imposes. For one, there is a much smaller window in which you can go visit the house while it is light out. That is important because darkness can hide many things that might otherwise influence your decision. If you only see the house in darkness times, you also won’t know how it looks when sun is streaming in through the windows (or not).
If there is snow on the ground, it might restrict your movement around the exterior of the house to look for defects or problems. Snow can also restrict your view of the roof and will prevent most home inspectors from doing a good inspection job on the roof, increasing the risk that you’ll end up with an expensive roof job in the spring. The pretty snow covers up everything, so you’ll also need to wait until spring to really see what landscaping came with the house.
There are other things that are different in the buying process in the winter month, but they all just add to the fact that the risk of something about the house surprising you in the spring is greater. Make sure that you carefully read the Seller’s Disclosure and ask questions about anything that looks alarming, especially with things that cannot be properly inspected during the winter.
Winter restricts the ability of a home inspector to properly test the HVAC system. He/she might be able to visually inspect everything in the HVAC system, but they will be unable to test the air conditioning portion, since running the air conditioner in winter can actually damage the system. Once again, you could be in for a spring surprise.
Houses with pools pose another problem, since the pool cannot be opened and the pool equipment properly inspected during the winter months. Many agent will add a pool inspection addendum to the offer which would require the seller to agree to escrow certain amount of money and allow the pool inspection to occur after the sale when the weather permits. If problems are found later, when the pool is opened and the inspection can be done, the escrowed money is used to repair them and the balance sent to the seller. Sellers really don’t like this approach, but it is the only way to protect the interests of the buyers.
You need to be extra cautious and get a very good home inspection during the winter months. Your inspector may not be able to get up on the roof and walk around, but he/she can still get into the attic space and look for leaks or problems. When you interview them for the job, make sure that you ask about that and don’t settle for someone who says that they just open the attic access skuttle and peek in with a flashlight.
The bottom line is that there is increased risk involved with buying in the winter and you should take all of the steps that you can to reduce those risks, so that spring just brings more pleasant weather and not surprises about your new home.