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Winter house-hunting checklist

If you’re thinking about buying a home in the winter it's important to realize that houses might look a little different in December than in July. And we're not just talking about the market. Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or have only purchased in warmer months, here are seven things to keep in mind if you plan to buy a home in the winter. 

1. Don't let the winter weather distract you 

A fresh blanket of snow can make your future home look like a winter wonderland. However, the same house may not look as dreamy when the snow melts. Snow is great for winter sellers because it can hide issues that may lie beneath — like a bad roof. Roofs are expensive and you don't want to find out that you have to replace it a year after your purchase.

This is where a quality inspection can save you. Home inspections are always important, but they are critical during the winter months. Inclement weather can hide serious issues or make it difficult for the inspector to do a thorough inspection. Other parts of the house that need special attention during the winter include:

  • Gutters
  • Plumbing (including septic system, outdoor faucets and hoses)
  • Driveway and sidewalks
  • The foundation

2. Take a good look at the home's heating system

How often do you hang around in your home wearing your winter coat? Chances are the answer is never. If the home is occupied, leave your coat at the front door. This may help you to get a true feeling for how warm the house stays during winter months. 

You need to inspect a home's heating and cooling system to make sure it's in good working order before you close the deal.  When you get a home inspection, you'll also want the inspector to check things like:

  • Insulation, including around doorways and in the attic
  • Window seals
  • Fireplaces

3. Go in with an open mind

When you're looking at homes, curb appeal matters. In fact, some people won't even look at the inside of a home if it gives off a bad first impression. During the winter, this can be a big mistake. Chances are the landscaping at most properties is going to look a little bare in winter. This can be a big turn off. However, you need to keep an open mind.

Pay less attention to how the yard looks and think about how it could look. If this is hard to envision, look at Google Earth or even previous listings of the home to get a better feel for how the home may look in other seasons. If you need help with this, ask your realtor. That said, don't ignore any glaring issues. If you can tell there is no yard beneath the snow, you may need to put in new sod. This can be expensive. Keep an open mind, but also be realistic.

4. Try to picture the home through all seasons

Lighting is a tricky issue in the winter. Don't get discouraged if the home feels a little dark. Instead, think about what it might look like if you add a few lamps or build a fire. Plus, once the days get longer, you'll get more light in the house.

However, a home with a lot of natural light may be hot during the summer. A warm, cozy reading nook in December can turn into an unbearable sauna in July. Remember to evaluate the pros and cons of a house throughout the seasons.

Also consider maintenance of the home in the winter. Is the driveway steep or long? Will it require more shoveling or a snow blower? How large is the lawn? Will it require intensive landscaping?

5. Consider the home's amenities

Every homebuyer has their "must-have list (PDF)." Typical items include the number of bedrooms, bathrooms and square footage. These are important. But when house hunting in winter, you must keep in the mind the amenities you'll want in other seasons.

Things like air conditioning and outdoor space will be critical in the summer. And just because it's too cold for your kids to play outside now, you might want to set up a pool or grow your own garden later. Other amenities you want to ask about might include:

  • An in-ground sprinkler system
  • Proximity to summer activities like parks and rec centers
  • A deck or patio

6. Don't be afraid to make an offer

Often, buyers don't want to make an offer on the first home they see because they're afraid they might miss something better, which can happen. However, there are usually fewer houses for sale during the winter months. This doesn't mean you have to settle, but keep the lower inventory in mind when deciding whether to move forward.

7. Pay attention to your finances

You've found the perfect home that checks off all the boxes. Now it's time to make an offer. But it's not just the home that can look different during the winter months, there's one important thing you need to pay attention to — your finances. Buying your perfect home depends on financing. And the winter months can be some of the biggest spending months of the year. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Be mindful of your credit. Your lender will check your credit score when you apply for a mortgage, and they will check it again before you close. Watch your holiday spending and talk with your lender about what’s reasonable in terms of debt.
  • Take a hard look at your priorities. In addition to holiday shopping, you may be hosting family, planning a winter ski trip or stocking up on decorations. Think about where you can save money and look for ways to increase your down payment. A larger down payment can reduce your monthly mortgage bill and may even eliminate mortgage insurance.
  • Don't overextend yourself. One of the biggest mistakes homebuyers can make is pushing their budget. If you have a little extra winter money in the bank, this is easier to do. But what happens when your bonus runs out or you’re no longer getting overtime? Be conservative with your budget and don't put yourself at risk. Use an online mortgage calculator to find out how much you can afford.
  • Don't lowball or underbid on your offer. Winter is a great time to get a deal and homeowners may be a little more motivated to sell. However, this doesn't mean you can go in and make an unreasonably low offer. Talk to your realtor about what a good offer would be in the current market.

Buying a home in the winter can be a completely different experience. If you go in prepared, it can be the perfect time to find your dream home. Ready to get started? Contact a Home Lending Advisor to learn more.

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