Shopping for a home can feel a lot like playing the lottery.
It takes a lot of luck and a little skill. There's no guarantee you'll ever really "win." You could jump in and score big right away. Or, you could spend months strategically playing, only to find that waiting wasn't worth it.
Yet, compared with the lottery — and luckily for you — there's a bit more science to the housing hunt. It just depends on what kind of buyer you are.
If you're looking for the home of your dreams, Philadelphia-area readers, you're in the midst of the best time to search. According to data from real estate website Zillow, the Philadelphia metro area posts the greatest number of new listings in April, with May and then June close behind.
Zillow this year analyzed listing and price data from 2016 in 25 major metropolitan areas. Last year, it found, the Philadelphia region had nearly 9,900 new listings come online in April alone.
The data reveal that the number of new listings for our region bottoms out in December, when cold weather and short days typically keep buyers away from open houses. By Zillow's analysis, just 4,200 new listings were available in the last month of 2016 — half of what was new in June.
Yet, having many options during warmer months can come at a price. As home-seekers scramble for the new listings, buyers in the spring and early summer are more likely to face increased competition — and likely will have to shell out more for the homes they choose.
About 16.7 percent of homes purchased in April 2016 in the Philadelphia area sold for higher than the list price, Zillow found. By June, that number had dropped to 14.2 percent, and by December, to just 10.3 percent. (For our region, November offered the lowest percentage, the group found.)
"If I'm a buyer and I'm trying to find the right home, and if I'm not worried so much about trying to get a great deal, now is the time to buy," said Skylar Olsen, a senior economist at Zillow. "But if I'm maybe struggling with affordability and need to find something that works for my savings, it's not the time. Patience pays off."
Like other areas of the country that are particularly sensitive to changes in the weather, the Philadelphia area's market has large differences between the "best" and "worst" times to buy.
But the "worst" times are not bad for shoppers looking for a steal. Many of the homes that were listed in the spring but did not sell could be had for a discount later in the year, Zillow found, as sellers, concerned about impending cold weather or the start of a new school year, slashed their prices to lure buyers. Plus, the combination of these leftovers and new listings later in the year meant that there was nearly as much total inventory in the fall as there was in the spring.
In some cases, that can present less-choosy buyers with greater options. Certainly, the fall and winter bring some new inventory, offering those still looking for their dream home a multitude of options. But at the same time, they brought deals: 21 percent of active listings in September 2016 were listed with price reductions, Zillow found. That September peak was followed closely by June, when 20.1 percent of listings were discounted. October, in third, saw cheaper listings for 19.7 percent of homes.
"When you're a buyer, you have to optimize on these two different dimensions," Olsen said. "What are your options in terms of the homes available vs. when can you actually find a deal? It's this push and pull between high-quality listings and maybe more options vs. something less competitive and more affordable."
Still, for those shopping later in the year, buying later does not necessarily mean lesser quality. It could simply indicate more motivated sellers.