Home Shopping During Winter: What You Need to Know

A generation ago, few would consider trekking out in a foot of old dirty snow to shop for a home on the weekend. But with our always connected, information-flowing society, today’s buyers shop and make deals all year long.

If you’re a buyer looking in a part of the country where you may not see a home’s front lawn until May, keep these points in mind as you shop.

Seeing a home at its worst is a plus

Let’s face it, no home shows at its best in the middle of the winter. It’s cold, dark and often wet. And that’s great news for the buyer.

Why? Because you can discover its flaws, such as a lack of privacy, abundant street noise, leaks or drafty windows. You’ll see the home in its worst “light” – and in some cases, you’ll realize it’s just too dark or exposed.

Come spring, the flowers, grass, landscaping and foliage will only enhance the home.

You can ask to see summer or fall photos

Smart listing agents get exterior photos from their sellers to show off the pool, lawn, flowers, and gardens in bloom. Even though they’re listing in January, they should promote the home’s assets from other times of the year.

If the listing doesn’t include photos, ask to see some. It means fewer surprises when the snow melts, the ground thaws, and it’s now your home and your responsibility.

What about features you’re unable to test?

If the home has a pool that can’t be inspected because the seller closed it for the winter, you need to request that they leave money in escrow or extend the closing time frame. When warm weather returns, you can inspect the pool and its systems to be certain it’s in good working condition, and free of leaks or damage.

Unless a seller provides a disclosure about some part of the pool not working, they’re responsible for remedying any issues. If all works out, the attorney or escrow company will release the funds.

Documentation can help alleviate uncertainties

Frozen ground prohibits digging for contaminates of previous underground oil storage tanks. And homeowners typically winterize sprinkler systems, accessory apartments or cottages. In the event you can’t inspect every feature or get escrow funds negotiated, ask for documentation.

The plumbers, pool company and outside vendors should have records, so you can request documentation showing that all was shut down or closed out properly. Even better, ask to meet with the tradespeople who did the work.

It doesn’t hurt to ask

Although homes sell all year-round, it takes a determined customer to trek through the snow and ice to initiate a real estate transaction. For the right house, a winter purchase could spell opportunity. Double up on due diligence, and don’t be afraid to ask for a longer closing or to arrange to have the home inspected come spring.

Everything is negotiable, so smart buyers should protect themselves. Once a deal closes, there is rarely sufficient recourse.

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Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

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