With the holiday season upon us, people are more inclined to be thinking about buying Christmas gifts rather than buying a home. But the winter months can be a really good time for home shopping, if your schedule allows it.

Winter is typically the slowest season of the year for the real estate market, which tends to ebb and flow in step with school calendars. But if you have the flexibility to move when you wish, there are certain advantages to home shopping during the cold months.

Advantages for buyers

For one thing, winter tends to be a buyer's market. There are usually fewer homes on the market, but the sellers tend to be more motivated. If they weren't, they'd be listing during the warmer months. As a result, they may be more inclined to bargain that they would be at other times of year. On average, home prices also tend to be lower during the winter as well.

There are fewer potential buyers during winter as well, meaning less competition for the homes that are out there. It also means less traffic during open houses, so the real estate agent who is hosting it can give you their full attention. And if you contract with a buyer's agent to represent your interests - a pretty good idea, by the way - they'll have more time to focus on working with you, and fewer distractions from other clients.

Get a better look at the property

Home shopping during the winter also gives you certain advantages in evaluating the property, compared to warm-weather months. Exterior flaws that may be obscured by shrubbery and landscaping are easily spotted during winter months, and you're getting a better sense of the home as it is, rather than spruced up with a lot of greenery that really doesn't add much to its fundamental value.

The loss of foliage also gives you a better view of what's in the neighborhood around the home, particularly if it's bordered by woods. Some summer buyers are surprised to discover that their neighbors have a clear view into their family room once the leaves have fallen, for example, or perhaps they didn't realize just how close that trailer park actually was.

Check out heating system

Shopping during the winter also allows you to assess how well the heating system works and whether certain rooms are notably warmer or cooler than others. While you can often seal off cold air drafts that occur in some areas, uneven heating throughout a home is much more difficult problem to solve.

Buying a home in winter can also help expedite the process of getting a mortgage and closing the sale. Since traffic is lower, real estate agents and loan officers have more time to focus on your sale, so you can often wrap things up more quickly than during times of high demand.

Published on December 7, 2013