House Shopping After Summer Ends? Buying Later In the Year Could Save You Thousands

Homeownership, Mortgages
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If you have kids and are contemplating a move to a new school district, you might be planning to do it next summer. That way, you’ll have time to get settled before classes start. In exchange for that convenience, you’ll pay much more on average than if you bought a house in the fall or the winter, a new NerdWallet study found.

To determine the most affordable time to buy, NerdWallet analyzed the past two years’ worth of listings and sales in the 50 most populous U.S. metro areas using data from Realtor.com. See our full methodology. We found that home sale prices — the amount a buyer actually pays — in the nation’s largest metro areas typically peak during the summer, dip in the fall and are lowest in winter, potentially saving off-peak buyers thousands of dollars.

Many homebuyers prefer to move in the summer, but waiting can be worth it from a purely financial point of view. “If your circumstances give you the freedom to be able to choose the best time to look to sign a contract on a new home, there’s no question that the market dynamics favor you the most to do that in the dead of winter, ideally in January or February, right before the activity starts to heat up,” says Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Realtor.com.

Key takeaways

  • Summer is typically the most expensive time to buy. In the majority of metro areas we analyzed, home sale prices peak in June and July. You’ll find the most inventory during those months, but also the most competition for these homes.
  • Sale prices fall in autumn. Home listing prices don’t fall dramatically once summer ends — they only decrease less than half a percent in the fall. But sale prices take a noticeable dip. In the 50 metro areas, home sale prices dropped 2.96% on average — that’s a drop of $8,300 on the median home — from summer (June through August) to fall (September through November).
  • Home sale prices are usually lowest in winter. If you can wait a little longer to buy, hold off until January or February, when homes cost 8.45% less on average than in June through August. January had the cheapest sale prices in 29 of the 50 metro areas, and February had the cheapest prices in 19 areas. There are two outliers: In the Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford metro area in Connecticut, prices hit their lowest in April, and prices in the New York-Newark-Jersey City metro area that spans New York and New Jersey hit their lowest in March. On the flip side, if you try to sell in the winter, know that you’ll likely make less than if you’re able to sell your home in spring or summer. Prices and inventory begin to build up again in the spring.

Where prices drop the most

The degree of seasonal decreases in home sale prices varies across metro areas. In our analysis, the metro area of Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, Connecticut, experienced the largest drop in price from summer to fall at 8.2%. The Cleveland-Elyria, Ohio, metro area had the second-largest drop at 8.0%, and the Birmingham-Hoover, Alabama, metro area came in third with a 7.6% drop in price from summer to fall.

Here’s how much prices dropped in all metro areas analyzed.

Why home prices dip after summer

Sellers typically put their homes on the market in greater numbers starting in the spring and peaking in summer, says Smoke, the Realtor.com economist.

“Sales drop significantly when the school calendar begins in August in many parts of the country, and certainly by the time you hit Labor Day, we’ve really seen a significant amount of people drop out of the market,” he says.

There are even fewer buyers in the fall. And because there’s less competition among buyers, inventory stays on the market longer, leading prices lower, Smoke explains.

Similar dynamics are at play in winter, when the number of homes on the market is the lowest, and there are even fewer buyers. “You have 50 to 60% more inventory relative to the number of buyers, so there’s basically more options per buyer, and that translates into less competition,” Smoke says.

According to Realtor.com’s inventory metrics for the U.S. between January 2012 and August 2016, the median home for sale in January was on the market for an average of 107 days, and the median home for sale in February was on the market for 104 days. In May and June, the median home for sale was on the market for a much shorter 73.2 days.

If you shop for a home during the off-peak season when homes sit on the market longer, “you can have more leverage, in terms of presenting more aggressive offers, asking for contingencies or things you might not be able to in the peak of the season,” Smoke says. He says buyers at all times of the year also typically have more control over when they move, whereas sellers often have more urgency.

If buyers typically have more control over their timetable than sellers, why do so many buy when it’s most expensive? Many families may be concerned about the start of school, but Smoke believes home shopping behavior is more complex.

“I think there’s a certain amount of inertia that exists in the market because people have been told the best time to buy is when the most homes are on the market,” Smoke says, “when, actually, depending on what your goals and objectives are, the actual reverse could be true.”

Listing prices don’t tell the whole story

Homes are advertised at a listing price, but that’s rarely what buyers actually pay in most markets. During peak home buying times like summer, the gap between the listing price and sale price is narrow. But in fall, the gap widens, reflecting buyers’ increased negotiating power.

Here’s how median listing prices and sale prices compare throughout the year.

Data for all 50 metro areas

Scroll through the chart below for data about all 50 metro areas.

Metro AreaSummer House Price *Fall House Price * (Drop From Summer)Cheapest Month to BuyMedian House Price in Cheapest Month (Drop From Summer)
*This represents the two-year average of the median sales price.
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA$213,717$198,617 (-7.1%)February$189,500 (-11.3%)
Austin-Round Rock, TX$256,132$250,565 (-2.2%)January$232,500 (-9.2%)
Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD$288,508$272,750 (-5.5%)February$247,750 (-14.1%)
Birmingham-Hoover, AL$176,023$162,637 (-7.6%)January$156,250 (-11.2%)
Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA$391,806$365,750 (-6.7%)February$342,500 (-12.6%)
Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY$135,250$128,661 (-4.9%)February$115,563 (-14.6%)
Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC$217,708$206,675 (-5.1%)January$189,000 (-13.2%)
Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL$239,635$225,583 (-5.9%)February$209,188 (-12.7%)
Cincinnati, OH$158,720$151,500 (-4.5%)January$139,608 (-12.0%)
Cleveland-Elyria, OH$142,250$130,800 (-8.0%)February$116,500 (-18.1%)
Columbus, OH$175,553$166,592 (-5.1%)January$155,325 (-11.5%)
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX$214,465$209,798 (-2.2%)January$193,750 (-9.7%)
Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO$293,083$287,210 (-2.0%)February$264,000 (-9.9%)
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI$165,333$159,188 (-3.7%)February$139,450 (-15.7%)
Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT$247,575$227,158 (-8.2%)April$218,000 (-11.9%)
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX$219,162$208,438 (-4.9%)January$201,365 (-8.1%)
Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN$171,506$163,776 (-4.5%)January$149,084 (-13.1%)
Jacksonville, FL$208,199$201,258 (-3.3%)January$182,100 (-12.5%)
Kansas City, MO-KS$192,946$181,292 (-6.0%)January$176,846 (-8.3%)
Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV$210,299$215,667 (+2.6%)January$196,373 (-6.6%)
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA$532,667$526,333 (-1.2%)January$491,000 (-7.8%)
Louisville/Jefferson County, KY$163,150$151,362 (-7.2%)January$147,081 (-9.8%)
Memphis, TN$167,133$159,125 (-4.8%)February$147,428 (-11.8%)
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL$238,867$231,000 (-3.3%)February$205,000 (-14.2%)
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI$198,608$187,592 (-5.5%)January$169,750 (-14.5%)
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN$224,042$218,509 (-2.5%)January$205,750 (-8.2%)
Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, TN$214,367$212,241 (-1.0%)January$188,500 (-12.1%)
New Orleans-Metairie, LA$197,250$191,833 (-2.7%)January$182,000 (-7.7%)
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ$399,750$389,000 (-2.7%)March$369,500 (-7.6%)
Oklahoma City, OK$164,083$160,917 (-1.9%)February$155,000 (-5.5%)
Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL$193,333$194,800 (+0.8%)February$170,000 (-12.1%)
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE$245,292$230,530 (-6.0%)February$213,500 (-13.0%)
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ$209,000$209,989 (+0.5%)January$199,000 (-4.8%)
Pittsburgh, PA$158,063$147,150 (-6.9%)February$134,450 (-14.9%)
Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA$293,850$287,888 (-2.0%)January$262,076 (-10.8%)
Providence-Warwick, RI$240,192$228,104 (-5.0%)February$216,500 (-9.9%)
Raleigh, NC$236,042$234,917 (-0.5%)January$222,750 (-5.6%)
Richmond, VA$231,930$222,295 (-4.2%)February$210,000 (-9.5%)
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA$288,167$286,250 (-0.7%)January$263,125 (-8.7%)
Rochester, NY$136,483$128,288 (-6.0%)January$117,500 (-13.9%)
Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, CA$317,750$315,000 (-0.9%)January$284,500 (-10.5%)
San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX$200,196$195,597 (-2.3%)January$187,564 (-6.3%)
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA$466,208$452,625 (-2.9%)January$429,250 (-7.9%)
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA$694,083$677,750 (-2.4%)January$597,500 (-13.9%)
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA$780,300$755,333 (-3.2%)January$652,500 (-16.4%)
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA$363,077$355,650 (-2.0%)January$326,750 (-10.0%)
St. Louis, MO$176,604$164,333 (-6.9%)February$149,500 (-15.3%)
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL$170,092$165,667 (-2.6%)February$147,000 (-13.6%)
Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA$240,683$228,547 (-5.0%)February$214,500 (-10.9%)
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA$397,833$375,682 (-5.6%)January$363,545 (-8.6%)

Considering buying a home? See how much you can afford with our mortgage calculator.

Emily Starbuck Crone is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: emily.crone@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @emstarbuck. Dan Tonkovich is a data analyst at NerdWallet. Email: dtonkovich@nerdwallet.com.

Methodology

We examined Realtor.com’s 2014 and 2015 median listing and sale prices for single-family homes, townhomes and condos in the 50 most populous U.S. metro areas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. We did not include data from previous years due to irregular trends in the housing market as it recovered from the Great Recession.

We averaged the median sale prices for homes sold in the three months leading up to the beginning of the school year (June, July and August) and the three months after the school year begins (September, October and November). Then we calculated the percent difference between the two averages. We weighted each property equally in our calculations.

Additionally, we looked at the months when median housing prices reached their minimum and maximum in each city. We also compared the average median listing price to average median sales price for each location and aggregated the findings during each month to quantify the difference after the summer ends on a national level.