When is the ideal time to buy or list your home in the New York City market? The right answer may be: There is no right answer. There are some clues, however, that might help you decide what time is best for you, whether you’re buyer or seller. The general theory goes something like this: On one hand, inventory is up and open house crowds are large during what’s known as the “high season,” beginning in spring and lasting through early fall. On the other hand, deals are more likely for buyers in the slower months. To get to the bottom of the “When to buy and sell in New York City” question, we looked at the numbers and consulted several New York City real estate experts, who weighed in on the benefits and challenges of buying and selling in the high and low seasons — and who underscored how in the New York market you have to be prepared for just about anything.
Buying and selling in the high season
When Viktorya Peters bought a co-op unit in Brooklyn in 2013, on the border of Kensington and Midwood, Brooklyn, she chose a DIY route — instead of picking a broker, she scoured the internet for listings within her price range. “I needed to buy before my lease ended in June,” she says. “I didn’t necessarily realize what I was getting into.” She started attending open houses every other night, but was discouraged by a number of buyers who could pay all cash or the number of overpriced apartments she toured in Kensington proper. She was outbid on two apartments before she finally secured her co-op; her search took three months total.
Peters’ story isn’t uncommon, especially since she — and many other buyers in New York City — begin their search in the high season, which according to Douglas Elliman broker Ralph Modica, typically runs from March 15th through the end of July, although it can run into September depending on the year. Why then? With warmer weather comes a desire to get out and about and longer daylight hours, and people with children often want to move before the start of the next school year. These factors put seekers in the mood to buy, and as a result, listings surge and open houses get crowded. The one notable exception is the month of August, a particularly slow time due to vacation habits, which have New Yorkers exiting the city when the summer is at its most unpleasant.
“If you’re looking to sell for a premium, then putting a house or condo on the market during the spring or beginning of the summer is crucial,” says Mordy Getz, of the real estate firm Transition Acquisitions. Getz’s firm purchases rundown Brooklyn townhouses, rehabs them, and puts them back on the market, a practice known as flipping. The group listed a townhouse in Bushwick in June 2013 and achieved multiple offers at ask; they then listed another townhouse in Bed-Stuy in the spring of 2013 and sold the home at full ask. For another Bed-Stuy property, which the firm did not list until August, Getz says that, “The offers [were] not coming in like the others, despite it being an awesome property.” The firm decided to wait on listing a Fort Greene townhouse, currently under renovation, until March of 2014, taking into account the fewer buyers winter brings.
The numbers do show that buyers tend to pay a little more in the warm months of buying, according to market reports from Corcoran. For instance, from the relatively robust July 2013 to the relatively slow August 2013, the average sales price in Brooklyn was reduced — from $979,444 to $860,400. Numbers also support the theory that inventory tends to be higher, as in July of the same year there were 4,020 listings up in Brooklyn that month, while in August the number dropped to 3,949. Manhattan saw a similar price hike with condo and co-op sales rising from $2,142,629 in the slower month of August to $2,155,153 in the more historically robust month of September. The listing numbers went up in a similar fashion, with the 2,149 condo and co-op listings in August boosting to 2,320 in September.
Buying and selling in blackout times
Slower months, known as “blackout times,” usually fall in extreme-weather months and near holidays. “We consider blackout times to be around Thanksgiving, Christmas and general holidays — that’s when traffic dies down. During the sweltering heat of August, when people are vacationing, is another slow time,” says Modica. That doesn’t mean buyers and sellers should completely shy away from the colder and less desirable months, however. In the wintertime, potential buyers avoid the crowded open houses, the numerous all-cash offers and the bidding wars. The tradeoff: They are choosing from reduced inventory. “If you’re looking to buy for a bargain, then start buying in November and stop buying end of February. When sellers see very few showings or very few people attending an open house, then a buyer can put in a low offer and it will get accepted,” Getz says. As for sellers, they can benefit from a reduced marketplace as well, especially if theirs is the only type of home on the market in that particular area.