What to watch out for when buying a house in the winter

Canada Life - Dec 15, 2020
House hunting tips for the winter months
Couple viewing home with a realtor.

There’s no reason to avoid the housing market in winter

Ask a Canadian real estate agent the best time to buy a home and there’s a good chance they’ll point to the spring and early summer months. 

With temperatures rising and snow melting, people can take their time examining a home, both inside and out. It also means there’s a lot more on the market to choose from.

But that doesn’t necessarily make winter house hunting a bad idea. Actually, it may just be the ideal time to enter a real estate market that’s been remarkably hot in recent years.1 Shopping for a home during the winter could mean getting a much-needed leg-up on other buyers who may not be willing to brave the cold.

To find the right home for your family during the winter months, keep the following tips in mind:

Don’t skip the home inspection

If there’s one major drawback to shopping for a home during the winter months, it’s that snow and ice can hide serious problems with a property. Take the roof, for example: how can a prospective buyer spot a potential issue if the roof is covered in snow? The same problem applies to other parts of the home, including the outside walls, foundation, driveway, steps, porch and patio.

That makes acquiring the services of a home inspector very important. Home inspectors can direct a prospective buyer to areas that may be hidden to the untrained eye. In short, they can pull back the curtains and help identify flaws before you make an offer.

So, if you’re going to shop for a home during the winter, don’t skip the home inspection – as some buyers have been choosing to do lately – it’s just not worth the risk.2

Bargain boldly

If someone is selling a home during the winter, there’s a decent chance they’re highly motivated, meaning they really want that home sold soon. This is also a time of year when, depending on where you’re shopping, there should be fewer people competing with you for a great home.

Overall, this means you may be able to offer less for a home and avoid the bidding wars often seen during the warmer spring and summer months.

Check the basement and attic carefully

It’s during the winter months that critters like mice, rats, bats, raccoons and snakes sneak their way into basements, attics and crawl spaces to avoid the bitter cold. A good home inspector will be able to find signs of an infestation in these areas any time of the year, but such evidence may be even more prevalent during the winter months.

Lean on your real estate agent

One of the advantages of shopping during the off-season is that real estate agents tend to be less busy, meaning you can reach out to them for advice more frequently. Additionally, realtors can respond faster and with longer, more detailed replies. They should also be able to schedule meetings and property viewings on shorter notice.

The same should apply for bank representatives, mortgage brokers, real estate lawyers and moving companies, all of whom will figure prominently in a home purchase, no matter the time of year.

Know the signs of trouble 

While it can be hard to spot problems with a home when it’s covered in ice and snow, there are some issues that can be more visible during the winter months. For example, big, long icicles hanging from the roof can indicate the home is losing a lot of heat – a sign the roof is not properly insulated.

When heading inside, pay close attention to the windows – if there’s a steady stream of frigid air coming through them, it could mean you’ll need to replace the existing windows with high-efficiency ones in the near future. Additionally, it’s good to know how cold a house can get during the winter months, as it may help you determine your comfort level in the home and the potential cost of your future heating bills.

Dress appropriately 

Open houses rarely have dress codes, but there are some things to keep in mind when getting ready to view a home during the winter. For one, wear clothes that will keep you warm when outside but won’t cause you to overheat as you move inside. It’s also a good idea to wear shoes or boots that can protect your feet but can also be slipped on and off quickly and easily.

Talk to people in the area

During the winter, it can be difficult to spot problems with a property because a) it’s snow-covered, and b) it’s hard to focus on examining a property when you’d rather be at home in front of the fire.

Hiring a great home inspector can assist with this problem, but it also helps to reach out to anyone you know in the community for their impressions of that home, the homeowners and everything that comes with living in that neighbourhood. You may learn that the homes on that street have had serious sewage problems, that the area is prone to flooding or that crime has been problematic there in recent months. Or, perhaps, you’ll hear the opposite – that it’s a great place to live!

If you don’t know someone in the area, consider talking to local shop owners or asking your real estate agent for the contact information of people with knowledge of the neighbourhood.

In the end, buying a home in the winter isn’t a bad idea. But it can be a unique experience when compared to house-hunting during the spring, summer and fall, when the market – like the weather – is a little warmer.

Contact me to learn more.

1 Armina Ligaya, “OSFI sets new rules for mortgage lending,” BNN.ca, Oct. 17, 2017. 
2 “Toronto home bidding wars so fierce that homebuyers are skipping inspections,” Financial Post, April 3, 2017.