Tis the season for savvy home buyers

17:00, Jun 19 2013
 The slower winter months give one the opportunity to be a smarter buyer.
WINTER WARMER: The slower winter months can be a good time to buy

Hauling yourself out of bed on weekend morning to traipse through yet another open home can be a test of willpower.

It is even harder when the rain is bucketing down and it is colder than a brass monkey's proverbials outside.

Many aspiring home buyers are growing tired of the hunt, with relatively lean pickings available in some cities.

But those who wrap up warm and pull on their gumboots at this time of year are likely to be rewarded for their efforts.

"It's almost like the best time to judge a house is actually on the worst day," says Properazzi commentator Alistair Helm.

"It's also the least likely day that anyone else is going to be looking or negotiating."


The slower winter months give one the opportunity to be a smarter buyer, he says.

The supply of new properties does dry up a bit but not as much as you would expect.

Realestate.co.nz figures show that almost 10,000 new listings come to the market each month in June, July and August - or about 300 each day.

There were actually more listings last winter than there were this summer.

Sellers usually prefer to list their properties in spring, because they are much more presentable when the sun is shining and the flowers are starting to bloom.

That means some of those who sell in winter are doing so because they have to - whether that be a life event, pressure from their bank, or a change in jobs.

A search of Trade Me's property section reveals 200 mortgagee sales and more than 1500 listings where the seller is described as "motivated".

Helm reckons you may have more scope for negotiation if the seller needs to flick it off urgently, so their loss can be your gain.

Real Estate Institute chief executive Helen O'Sullivan says she is not sure if the theory of buyers hibernating over winter holds true this year, especially in Auckland and Christchurch.

She does not think winter home-hunters will be able to pick up a bargain but they might get the next best thing - a buy.

"At the moment, the challenge is being a successful bidder," O'Sullivan says.

In Wellington, where residents are more accustomed to inclement weather, buyers' agent John Welch reports there is still plenty of activity.

"We went around and looked at some open homes on Sunday," he says. "It was terrible weather, raining, but it was standing room only in at least a couple of the properties we went to."

Even if you can't count on reduced competition, there is another excellent reason to stick with the chase.

"Looking at a property in the middle of winter . . . you're actually looking at it warts and all, at its worst," says Braziers Property Investments principal Tony Brazier.

It is not a hard-and-fast rule but he says sellers usually prefer to wait until they can display nice photogenic properties, well lit with pretty flowers out front.

"As opposed to shortly, the only photos we're going to get is with a foot of snow around the place."

June and July are actually among Brazier's busiest months.

That is because his clients are property investors who have long since cottoned on to this savvy practice.

It allows them to get a feel for dampness, lighting, warmth and drainage issues, he says.

"Rather than looking at it in the height of summer, when the windows are all open and it's as dry as a bone."

A builder's report will set you back from $500 to $1500, so it is useful to have some idea of whether the house is shipshape before you investigate further.

In hilly Wellington, Welch keeps an eye out for any sign of dodgy green stuff growing in the shade and other potential flaws.

"There are smart vendors who will present a property to take away any negatives," he says.

"The old saying: putty and paint make it what it ain't, always holds true."

ConsumerBuild's checklist for home buyers suggests looking out for mould, swollen skirtingboards and stained window or door trims inside.

Outside the house, pay attention to overflowing gutters, the sealing of pipes coming out of the house, and clearance of the cladding from both the ground and the roof.

Of course, there is a difference between minor fixes and actual structural problems.

"If you want to be a savvy buyer, you need to look past the superficial things," says Helm.

"It's a bit risky to rule out everything just because there's a bit of condensation on the window."

For those who have stayed active throughout the winter and still failed to lock down a home, Helm offers some words of consolation.

"It's like you've jostled to the front of the pack in the marathon," he says.

"As soon as the gun goes for the spring release of new listings, you're up to date, you know what's been in the market, you know the pricing."

So don't wait for the long sunny days, when even the most dodgy dunger looks like a million bucks.

Throw off your duvet, put on your raincoat and beat the rush. Fairfax NZ