Sure, you can consider market conditions. But when to buy a house is really all about you.
Timing determines so much when you're buying a house. Although the best time to buy a house is when you're ready both financially and emotionally, there are other factors that can help you decide when to buy a house.
By timing your purchase just right, you can nab a great home that's just right for you.
What Is the Best Month to Buy a House?
Let's make this clear: There's no such thing as a guaranteed "best month" to purchase a home. (C'mon, we never said this would be easy!)
While some conventional wisdom says there is a best time of year to buy a house — during spring home buying season (April to June) — there are pluses and minuses when it comes to what month you choose to purchase a home.
(Note: Real estate is local. Determining a best time utlimately depends on conditions in your local market.)
Here we've outlined some of the reasons different months can turn out to be the best time to buy a house for you:
January to March. Winter isn't such a bad time to buy a house. Though there's less inventory — meaning there are fewer homes for sale — there are fewer home buyers too, so you have less competition. That means there's a lower likelihood of a bidding war, which can be a stressful experience for home buyers. Another benefit of buying a house during the cold-weather months: Home prices are typically the lowest they'll be all year.
Still, there are drawbacks to buying a house between January and March. Inclement weather can also be a challenge, since snow or ice could make it difficult to drive around and view homes or do a thorough home inspection of some elements, such as a roof.
April to June. Welcome to spring home buying season— the peak months for not only housing supply, but also the number of home buyers shopping for houses. Because most families want to move when the kids are out of school, there's a big incentive to buy a house this time of year, since many home buyers need to allow 30 to 60 days for closing.
The warmer weather also makes open houses more enjoyable, landscaping easier to evaluate, and inspections more comprehensive.
Even though it's generally regarded as the best time of year to buy a house, there are downsides to the spring market. For starters, you'll face more competition from other home buyers — meaning you have to move quickly when a great listing hits the market. Bidding wars are a lot more common, you tend to have less negotiating power, and home prices tend to tick up during spring.
July to September. If you can handle the heat (and a little competition), summer may be the one of the best times of year to buy. Now that the spring home buying craze is over, most home prices return to normal, allowing you to save some money. The sunniest time of the year also makes being outdoors and attending open houses more enjoyable.
The hot temperatures also give home buyers the opportunity to test how well a property's air conditioning system holds up in warm weather, which is something they can't usually test during other times of the year.
October to December. The main downside of buying a house in autumn is that there may not be as many homes for sale in the fall as there are in the spring. But it's not like the market goes completely quiet.
Many home buyers consider fall the best time of year to buy a house because of price reductions. Because home sellers tend to list their homes in the spring, sellers whose houses haven't sold yet may be motivated to find buyers, and prices start to reflect that.
Is 2020 a Good Year to Buy a House?
Economic forecasts vary every year, but waiting around for annual market fluctuations isn't the best way to decide when to buy a house. The best year to buy a house is when you and anyone you intend to buy a house with are ready.
To help, complete this home buying worksheet with your home buying partner to help determine if now is the best time to buy a house you can reasonably afford in the location you want. Then take your worksheet to a REALTOR® and discuss your options.
Why doesn't the year matter much? The housing market and your local real estate market do change, but they tend to change gradually. Even if waiting a couple of years for those factors to change can save you a bit of money, the bigger question is how much more money you could gain in equity by owning a home during those two years.
While everyone's financial situation will be different deciding when to buy a house is mostly about the timing that is best for you, not when the market is perfect.
Are Interest Rates Good?
Many home buyers try to time the market by monitoring mortgage rate changes with the hopes of pouncing on a remarkably low rate. But interest rates are like the stock market — no one has a crystal ball that can accurately predict when rates will rise or fall.
Plus, what's considered a good interest rate is relative. Interest rates today are low compared to what they were 20 to 30 years ago. Mortgage rates reached an all-time high of 18.45% in 1981, as the U.S. Federal Reserve drove up rates in an effort to counteract double-digital inflation. By the end of the 1980s, though, mortgage rates had finally crept below 10%.
Interest rates continued to decrease over the 1990s and 2000s. Today, mortgage rates are at historic lows.
Market interest rates are just one part of how affordable a house will be for you at any given time. Your credit score, for example, helps to determine the interest rate a mortgage lender will offer you.
Then, fluctuations in property taxes and homeowner's insurance can affect overall home ownership costs as much as changes in interest rates can. So overall, current interest rates play a pretty small role in the best time to buy a house for you.
Does the Economy Support Home Buying?
Economic conditions are different from region to region and even from one ZIP code to another in the same city, so whether this year is the best time to buy a house can depend on where you are.
One tool you can use to assess the state of your local housing market is realtor.com®'s Market Hotness Index, which tracks home sales and home buyer activity across the country. In addition, the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) measures monthly single-family home sales in the four major U.S. regions (Northeast, Midwest, South, and West).
Still, nothing beats having a savvy real estate agent in your corner to gauge the local market for the best time to buy a house. After all, the right agent knows your local housing market down to the neighborhoods — and can help you interpret the raw housing market data to help you time your home purchase well.
When Is the Best Time in Your Life to Buy a House?
There's no magical age or life stage at which you'll know for sure exactly when to buy a house. There are, however, a few factors you'll want to take into account.
Finances. How's your credit score? Can you afford to take on a monthly mortgage payment? Do you have enough cash to pay for a down payment and closing costs? Sit down with a mortgage lender who can help you evaluate your finances.
You'll also need to budget for home maintenance expenses. One rule of thumb says homeowners should set aside 1% to 3% of their home's purchase price a year for home maintenance and repairs. So, if your home cost $400,000, you'd set aside at least $4,000 annually. (Doing preventative maintenance, however, can go a long way toward staving off expensive repairs.)
Stability. If you’re on solid ground financially, with a stable job to support you, buying a home can be a way to lower your monthly housing costs (real talk: Owning is often cheaper than renting in some cities), gain a valuable financial asset, and, if you itemize, reap some tax benefits.
If you're ready to commit to a home and city (and your job) for a few years, you're probably in a stable enough situation to be a homeowner.
Lifestyle: Owning a house allows you to develop a strong relationship with a local community. Buying a home should align with your life goals. If you're starting a family soon, planting your roots in a kid-friendly neighborhood with a great school district is usually a good reason to buy a house.
There's also something to be said about the pride of owning a home and having a place you can call yours — one that you can customize to your heart's desire.
Should You Buy or Rent?
To rent or to buy a home — it's a common conundrum. Often this is the core financial decision potential home buyers wrestle with when deciding when to buy a house. To sort it out, start with your exit plan.
If you expect to be moving within the next couple of years, you probably should rent. Why? Because the general rule is it only makes sense to buy if you plan to stay in the home for at least two to three years.
Likewise, if you're not ready to take on the maintenance responsibilities of being a homeowner, or aren't ready to commit to a particular community right now, renting an apartment likely makes more sense than buying a home.
The local housing market is also a factor in the decision to buy or rent. In some cities, renting can be cheaper than owning, though price appreciation often brings wealth to buyers. Therefore, the financial benefits of owning a home and gaining equity over time is a better way to spend your money than forking it over to a landlord.
Investing vs. Living
The best time to buy a house for the first time is generally when you're ready to live there long term. Long term, real estate can be a lucrative path towards financial success, particularly if you can nab a low interest rate in the right housing market.
But a lot of factors go into whether buying an investment property is the right move for you, including how much risk you can tolerate and the local economy.
Generally, it's smart to consider your first home purchase all about you. It's about investing in a place you can make your own and live your life day to day.
The moral? There's nothing quite like home ownership. While not everyone is ready for it, if you've determined the best time to buy a house is right now, it can be the beginning of the most satisfying journey of your life.