By Mark Weisleder
With an uncertain housing market, more homeowners are opting to put their houses on the market in January.
Traditionally, January is a slow month for real estate as most sellers choose to wait until the middle of February in the hopes of capitalizing on the early spring market. However, given the uncertainty in the housing market right now, more sellers are opting to put their house on the market in January.
This presents an opportunity for buyers. Most people are reluctant to uproot their families during the school year, so that means less competition — and fewer bidding wars. Lenders will not be as busy, so buyers can expect a more efficient process to get approved for a mortgage to ensure they have financing in place before making an offer.
But there are things you simply won’t be able to inspect during the winter. Here are some tips for protecting yourself when making a deal during the winter months:
Spruce up the outside: Use urns with light wood branches to brighten up the exterior of your home, to compensate for any overcast day or snow on the ground.
Get rid of the Christmas lights: homes that look dated on the outside give the impression that they are probably dated on the inside.
Make sure your fireplace is working during any showing, that the temperature is comfortable in the home and that any interior lighting compensates for what is usually grey lighting from outside.
Have pictures of your landscaping available from the summer and autumn, showing how beautiful your home looks year round.
Have available any inspections that you may have done on your air-conditioning unit or swimming pool before they were closed for the winter, as buyers will likely not be able to conduct inspections on these items and will have questions.
Consider inviting a company to do an environmental audit on your home in advance, confirming that there is no moisture behind the walls that could lead to mould and that you have sufficient insulation behind the walls.
If there is anything that cannot be inspected because of the winter, such as the air-conditioning system or any swimming pool, then negotiate an extended warranty in the agreement, to give you until at least May 1, to inspect and have the seller be responsible for any damages. In addition, also negotiate a holdback of, say, $2,000 so that if a problem arises, the money comes out of that fund to fix it and you don’t have to chase the seller in court later.
Be careful about snow accumulating around the base of the home. It will be difficult for a home inspector to figure out whether the grading is likely to cause water problems in the basement later. Consider doing your own environmental audit to check for moisture behind any walls.
If the snow on the roof looks like it is evaporating faster than the snow around the house, it is likely a sign that there is not enough insulation in the home.
Check with your insurance company early as to whether you will have any difficulty obtaining insurance on the home; for example, by finding out whether there have been claims made in the neighbourhood about water damages or sewage backups.
Check whether snow accumulation makes it more difficult for street parking, as this may be the only parking available on certain streets. Also see how bad weather may affect your morning commute.
Check the last electric/gas bills, to determine how energy efficient the home is in winter.
People tend to hibernate and stay at home in the winter, so take the opportunity to get to know the neighbours before you finalize your purchase.
By being properly prepared in advance, buyers and sellers can negotiate a safe and successful winter home sale.
Mark Weisleder is a Toronto real estate lawyer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org