Timing is everything in life. For example, I got fired in late 2007, just before the huge financial crisis, so my unemployment got extended so many times that I ended up getting checks for a full 104 weeks, which is the longest anyone’s ever gotten unemployment in US history. It’s a record I’m very proud of; I like to bring it up when someone brags about their kid’s soccer game or test scores. It has a great effect on the room. But in that same vein, there’s also a best (and worst) time of the year to buy a house. And we happen to be coming up on the best time of year to buy a house. The statistics are clear; buy a house in October (specifically, on the 8th) and you’ll likely pay almost ten percent below the asking price. So bookmark those open house listings and start buttering up your parents so they’ll kick in for the down payment. (“Just calling to tell you that you’re, like, my, uh, hero or something? How’s your stock portfolio doing, by the way?”)
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Why, exactly, is October such a good month to buy?
THE HOLIDAYS ARE BEARING DOWN
The holidays are a big motivator for sellers; there’s nothing more chilling than the prospect of sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner and your mother-in-law being like, “what, you still haven’t sold the house? I told you not to buy that pile of junk! You’re going to have to pay someone to take it off your hands!” Plus, arranging showings and trying to close a deal over the holidays is a huge hassle, what with vacations and family obligations. A motivated buyer becomes a desperate buyer when they see Halloween decorations in the grocery store. And if the house was on the market over the summer, when sales are the most brisk, fatigue has probably set in. They just want to get it over with, like your last friend who was still single and was literally trying to marry the cable guy, Wal-Mart greeters, randoms on the bus, Nigerian spam email princes. Their misfortune could be your lucky break; offer them a hundred grand below the list price and go up a dollar at a time for the best results.
You probably have no idea how important lighting is when it comes to a house’s appearance. More houses sell in summer because the crisp golden summer light makes every house look like a Hallmark card. “Clearly this is the perfect incubator for my hopes and dreams,” people think as they survey a warmly sunlit living room. “This is a place where I can grow into my ideal self.” (Fast forward six months and you’re eating french fries and mayonnaise out of a Styrofoam takeout container while watching “South Park.”) Aesthetics matter. You can even argue that aesthetics are the only thing that matters. And in fall, a house’s aesthetics suck. The gray dim light of autumn and early winter makes every home look like a cramped little hidey-hole to grow old alone in. Even the once-confident seller is going to be looking around like, “what was I thinking, asking $950K for this depression hovel?!” They’ll know they’ve got to knock the price down to sell, which makes things so much easier for you. Go on a rainy day at dusk and you might even convince them to sign the place over for a case of beer.
IT’S FOOTBALL SEASON
Various experts have noted that October is one of the few times of the year when every major sport is in season. The implication is clear: buying a house is easier when the men are off watching football and the women can talk sense. This brings to mind this photo and quote. If I can indulge for a moment in some gender stereotyping, men are inherently unrealistic. Call it the hunter’s instinct or testosterone intoxication, but men always overestimate the prospects of any given situation. Maybe it was useful back in the caveman era, when some guy would be like, “yeah, I bet we could take that woolly mammoth down with just rocks and sharpened sticks,” but nowadays all it produces are sad dudes like your friend who’s a 35 year old IT associate and is saving himself for Natalie Portman. I see it every time I go look at houses with my parents; they’ll look at a perfectly nice home that’s in their price range, and my mom will like it, and my dad will be like, “no way, we can do way better than this!” And no doubt, when they get an offer for their present home, no matter how good, my dad will tear it in half and walk out of the room, confident that he can bid them up fifty or sixty thousand. I’m sadly shaking my head just thinking about. Clearly, the more of this you can take out of the equation, the better.
Numbers say that the worst time to buy is mid-January; that’s when people pay almost ten percent over asking price. The dawn of a new year makes everyone feel irrationally confident, buyers and sellers alike. You’ve made it through the gauntlet of the holidays without legally emancipating yourself from your family, why not play hardball on the asking price? Why not throw in an extra ninety grand if that’s what it takes? You’ll probably get that raise this year. People have probably even been going to the gym for a few weeks, paying down their Christmas bills. Don’t ever agree to anything until at least after Valentine’s Day.