How to Tour Homes to Buy in Winter

blue home covered with snow

The hottest time to buy is the coldest time of year: December 26th. Buying a home on December 26th will save you, on average, $2,500 compared to any other any of the year. If you’ve tried to purchase a home only to find yourself caught up in the fray of a bidding war or properties being snatched up right underneath you, you may want to try buying in the winter.

As the air cools, so does the impulse to buy new homes. That’s good news. Here’s better news: As the temperatures drop, they take prices down with them. Not only is the market more buyer-friendly during winter, but you can find better deals, particularly when it comes to homes that have been listed since the summer.

When a home doesn’t sell during the months of warm weather and hot sales, a seller can start to get antsy. Maybe they had a timeline in mind for when they wanted the house sold by, or perhaps there are other aspects of their life that are being held up by a delayed sale. Either way, if you’re choosing to tour homes to buy in the winter, you’re making a good decision. Here are some tips to get the most out of the process and have a good time, too.

Practice Good Winter Etiquette: No Shoes Allowed

There’s nothing worse than someone who trudges into your home and brings half a snowbank with them. When a seller spends hours cleaning and prepping the house, sweeping, vacuuming, and polishing the floors, the last thing they want is clumps of snow, mud, and those pesky little pebbles grinding into their freshly finished floors. Do sellers a solid and take your shoes off. You’ll earn their appreciation.

It’s also a good idea to be mindful of snow that could be perched on your hat or clinging to your jacket. You know how those little puddles of freshly melted white stuff feel when you step in one? Yeah. Not fun.

Once you’ve shown consideration to the seller, it’s time to consider the home. The winter is probably the best time to tour a home because you get to learn a lot about how it functions. Think of the winter like a home’s stress test. Any house can look and feel great in the summer, but winter separates the wheat from the chaff. Here are some ways to get the most out of your winter home tour.

Check for Signs of Drafts

The house will most likely be well-heated when you go for your tour. As you go into the rooms, take a moment to inspect for drafts. Some may be so subtle that they’re hard to feel with your fingers. That doesn’t mean they won’t cost you serious cash on your heating bills or in repairs. A subtle way to detect sneaky drafts is to bring a very thin thread. Run it slowly around the edges of each window and exterior doors. If it starts to flutter, there’s a draft.

If you want to get particularly picky, you can check the air flow between rooms. The way in which air diffuses from one room to the next can help you predict how heat is going to move through the home as you warm it up to combat the cold. You can use the same string theory to check the function of the HVAC system. If the string barely moves when next to the return vents, that could signal clogged filters that are preventing adequate air flow.

Inspect the Windows

One of the most tell-tale signs of an inefficiently heated home is frozen condensation in the corners of the windows. This signals a leak in the corners or sides of the windows frame. Even though there are usually no signs of leaking windows during the summer, these leaks have an equally wasteful effect on energy spent to cool the home. Ideally, you would be able to tour homes only in the winter—for this reason only. If you fall in love with the house but notice a drafty window system, you can negotiate to include window repair as one of the contract stipulations. Conversely, if you feel you can handle it yourself, or with the help of an inexpensive helping hand, you can use that to negotiate a lower overall price for the home.

Check the Basement for Drafts

Many folks underestimate the effect of a basement on the heating efficiency of a home. Because the basement is lower than the rest of the home, it stands to reason that the basement’s interaction with the heat produced in the home would be minimal. However, the opposite is true: About 20% of the heat loss in a home is caused by the basement. When touring the basement, check it for drafts. Because basements are often unfinished and poorly lit, you may even be able to see light peeking in through the more egregious gaps. Either way, the thin thread technique will help make drafts obvious.

Listen to the Heating System

The noise from a heating system can intrude on the serene calm many people enjoy in winter. If noisy fans or creaking pipes is a detractor for you, a tour in the winter is a great way to evaluate the aural dent of the din. Touring a home during the winter months avails you of the chance to listen to the heating system as it runs. Depending on the setup, you may even be able to listen for weaknesses in the system. Here are some things to keep an ear out for:

  • Clanking, creaking, and banging in a hot water heating system. This could indicate a system that needs to be bled. While this may not be a serious issue, it could also be indicative of a leak.
  • Loud fans in the system. It’s not uncommon for a homeowner to try to limit costs by purchasing a louder system. If this is something that may bother you, the winter is a good time to listen for it.
  • Squeaking, grinding, or loud whirring. These noises could be signs of damage or deterioration. If a fan is particularly loud, it could have a problem with its bearings.

Ask to See the Heating System in Action

When the home is fully heated, the system usually doesn’t have to work too hard to maintain it. Chances are, when you go see a house, the seller will already have it nice and cozy. However, if you ask to have the home cool when you arrive, you can see how quickly the heating system heats it up. This test will teach you a lot about the home’s heating performance. It doesn’t have to be freezing; you can have it set to the temp you would be comfortable waking up to on a cold winter morning, perhaps in the low 60s. Here’s one way to test the heating system during a winter home tour:

  • Choose a temperature that you and your family would consider too cold for comfort.
  • See if you can coordinate with the seller and their agent to allow the temperature to drop to that level before you arrive.
  • Upon arrival, ask to turn on the heating system.
  • As it heats up, pay attention to sounds, smells, and even what you see, such as smoke or steam.

Also keep track of how long the temperature goes from uncomfortable to comfortable. After the visit, consider the data. Share it with your family or other decision makers. You can then use the results as a benchmark for other homes you check out.

Pay Attention to Winter Maintenance Procedures

Examining both the home and the immediate neighborhood will reveal what it may take to maintain a comfortable living experience during the winter. Here are some questions to ask regarding snow management:

  • Is there enough space to put snow that you shovel or plow out of the way?
  • When the neighbors plow or shovel, is the snow put into your [future] driveway, walkway, or yard?
  • Does the street look like it gets plowed regularly?
  • When the plow comes by, does it create a snowbank that blocks your driveway?

Further, a winter tour gives you a chance to take a look at what will be needed to manage ice. You can keep an eye out for the following:

  • Ice dams in the gutters.
  • Large stalactites that could pose a danger.
  • Stalagmites near the edges of the porch roof.
  • How ice builds up on the driveway and walkways.

The amount of snow on the roof in comparison to other homes in the area. If there’s a lot less snow, and it hasn’t been shoveled off, that may signify an inefficient home that is shedding precious heat through the attic or roof.

Even though donning your winter gear, shoveling out your car, and braving slippery conditions may not be how you envisioned spending a Saturday morning, the insights you gain into a house’s performance may be worth it. Try to be considerate of the seller, but at the same time, don’t be shy about gathering all the info you need to make an informed decision.

Book Your Winter Home Tour Now

As the cool winter breezes blow in, so do some of the best deals. If you know what to look, listen, and ask for a winter tour can be even more productive than one in the summer. Start browsing listings now and request your tour!