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8 tips for fall home buying

house-exterior-fallUpdated By Richard Barrington

Fall is a great time to buy a house, for a number of reasons. But, just as you might break out a different wardrobe as temperatures cool and the leaves change, fall home buying also takes an approach geared to the season.

Adapting your tactics to the particular characteristics of the fall real estate market can help you find and close on the right house, and save money in the process.

Buying a house in the fall: notable factors

How is buying a house in the fall different from house shopping at other times of year? Generally speaking, it's a slower market than in the spring. This means there may be fewer houses on the market, but also fewer buyers to potentially compete with you for a property.

The thinner fall market can be attributed to two things:

  1. Weather. Early fall can be lovely, but in many states the later part of the season can become cold and rainy, or even snowy. That's not the kind of weather that encourages people to travel around to open houses. Also, sellers are conscious of the fact that their properties may not look their best once the leaves are off the trees and the grass has started to turn brown, so all things being equal, they may prefer to wait and put their homes on the market in the spring.
  2. School year. Besides the pleasant weather, another reason why the real estate market is busier in the spring is that parents try to avoid moving during the school year. By house hunting in the spring, families can set themselves up to move during summer vacation. In contrast, buying or selling a house in the fall means facing the upheaval of the move and possibly a change of schools during the academic year, which most parents try to avoid, if possible.

The good news is that you can use the fact that fall is a slower, less convenient time for house hunting to your advantage if you take the right approach.

How to buy a home in the fall

The following are eight tips for fall home buying:

1. Take your time searching for fall house listings

The inventory of homes going on the market may be a little thin in the fall, so be patient. Allow plenty of time for house hunting, and don't feel you have to settle for what's available when you first start looking. Keep following the local real estate market, because new opportunities may pop up if you don't like what you see at first.

2. Singles and newlyweds may benefit from fall home-buying

While parents often try to work their home buying around the constraints of the school year, buyers without children are freer to move at any time. This allows them to take advantage of slower times for the real estate market, like the fall. That could be especially good news for some first-time home buyers, who may be looking to buy a house before starting a family.

3. Understand seller's motivation for listing house in fall

Since fall is not the time most sellers choose to put their properties on the market, try to find out why the house is on the market at this time.

You may discover that the property has been on the market since the spring, and the seller is having trouble finding a buyer. Or, the seller may be relocating for job reasons and has a limited time before having to move. This type of knowledge could be useful to you when it comes to negotiations.

4. Take a tough line in negotiating a fall home purchase

If the local housing market is slow, sellers may be especially flexible when it comes to price cuts or other concessions. Knowing that potential buyers are few and far between can motivate sellers to make a deal on your terms. This is why it is useful to know a little bit about why the seller has the house on the market in the fall, and it's also good to get a sense of how busy the local market is. Knowledge is power, so try to understand how much leverage you have in negotiations.

5. Distinguish your must-haves from your wish list

While sellers may have to make concessions in a slow market, the downside for a buyer is that there may be fewer properties on the market in the fall. That means less choice, so you have to decide what features are really important to you. Know what characteristics are absolutely essential to you, and also decide which things you'd be prepared to do without if necessary.

6. Shopping for mortgage rates may be fruitful

If the housing market is slow in the fall, it means mortgage lenders are doing less business and that can be good news for you. You may find those mortgage lenders are more responsive and possibly more willing to give you a break on your mortgage rate.

Over the past 25 years, mortgage rates have been lower on average in the fall than in any other season. Many factors affect mortgage rates so don't expect them to dip every fall, but history does suggest that the odds are in favor of getting a little better mortgage rate when buying a house in the fall.

7. Get your foul-weather gear ready

It's 45 degrees out, windy and rainy. That's not the kind of weather that makes you want to go visit properties, but guess what? If the weather discourages other buyers, you'll have less competition. So bundle up and get out there -- the worse the weather, the warmer the welcome you may get from sellers.

8. Visualize the house year-round

Use your imagination. The property may not look its best by late fall, and with leaves down from the trees a house may seem more exposed to neighbors than in the spring and summer. Remember that these are seasonal issues you are likely to encounter with any property. Try to picture how the house could look at other times of the year, and if possible ask the seller if they have any photographs of the property in different seasons.

Fall home buying is different from house hunting in spring and summer, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Use the right tactics, and you could be able to turn the timing to your advantage.

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