Conventional wisdom is that spring and summer are the high seasons in real estate, when all the action happens.
This is precisely why the holiday season, during the real estate industry’s slump, is the best time to press the court for acquisition.
Experts on investing of any kind will all agree—buy when others are holding back. The last two weeks of the year, while everyone else sips egg nog and spends too much money on the latest gadget or fashion, is precisely when bargain hunters can score a quick win.
But only if they’re willing to push hard and zig while everyone else is zagging.
Sellers Are Motivated (and Maybe Desperate)
Who sells their home during the holidays? People who need to.
That’s why inventory for sale drops in December by 10% on average according to the NAR’s chief economist Lawrence Yun.
Related: Confessions of a CPA: 3 Year-End Tasks I Wish All of My Clients Would Perform
“But wait a second. Isn’t lower inventory a bad thing for buyers?”
All things being equal, yes—except they’re not equal. Buyer activity drops even more than listings in December.
Seasonality is stronger in real estate than most in the industry know. No, really. Here is the annualized home price growth rate in summer versus winter:
What does that mean? Nearly all home appreciation happens in the warmer months. This makes sense, given that half of all home sales happen in one season: summer (see the Time article above).
What all this means in practical terms for you is that sellers are ripe for lowball offers. But speed will matter—offer to settle before the end of the year, and you’ll find sellers sorely tempted to take you up on your low offer.
You can even sweeten the pot by offering them a choice to settle on December 31st or January 1st (or 2nd, if the 1st will be spent recovering on the couch). Depending on the seller’s tax situation, they may greatly prefer putting the sale on this year’s books or next year’s.
Lenders Are Hungry, Too
It’s not just sellers who are feeling the holiday slump. This is an incredibly slow time of year for lenders, who spend just as much as everyone else during the holidays but earn far less in commissions.
That means they’re also more open to negotiation than usual. Loan officers will be willing to work for lower commissions, to score one last paycheck this year.
It’s worth mentioning that loan officers’ commissions are based on two factors: the lender fees and the interest rate they quote you. Both are negotiable, and lenders will go lower on both when pressed hard and tempted by an extra paycheck (however small) squeezed in before the end of the year.
And because lenders have less work on their desks, they can push your loan through faster than usual.
Even so, most conventional lenders can’t close in two weeks. You may have better luck with hard money lenders.
This isn’t all bad, because they tend to be even more flexible and negotiable in their rates than conventional lenders.
Related: Your Belief That “You Make Your Money When You Buy” Is Holding You Back From the Best Deals
…And Everyone Else Is Just as Hungry
Guess who else is paid on commission? Real estate agents.
Granted, as the buyer, you probably aren’t paying real estate agent fees. But sellers lean heavily on their agent’s advice, and in real estate’s slowest season, listing agents are more likely to say, “This may not be the price you were hoping for, but it’s a quick settlement and can get this house off your books by the end of the year.”
In other words, even the seller’s listing agent will be pulling for your offer to go through.
With real estate agents’ business so slow, they’ll also be more available to give your deal attention and make sure it settles.
This is a trend you’ll see across the board in real estate support personnel in December. Appraisers, home inspectors, and title agencies are all quiet this month, so at every step of the way the process can move faster.
Everyone wants an extra paycheck this year. They’ll do what they can to pave the road for a quick, smooth settlement.
Some of them may even be willing to accept a lower price to make it happen.
One last perk to an end-of-year sprint to score a final property purchase? More deductions for this year’s return.
Nearly every line item on a settlement statement can be deducted by real estate investors in today’s tax code. Make one last push to score a final deal, and lower your tax bill in the process.
While your tax bill may not be negotiable, everything else in real estate is. Push sellers hard over the next few days, negotiate aggressively, and when you find a seller who’s willing to take a lowball offer in exchange for settling by year’s end, then turn around and negotiate hard with your lender.
You’ll find the holidays soften up more than people’s midsections, with far easier negotiations across the board. Press hard, and you can secure the best possible property prices, interest rates, and lender fees of the year!
Ever made an end-of-year drive to score a last-minute bargain?
Share your tips and experiences below!