Winter has once again taken a grip on the US housing market. Though home prices are up year-over-year for the 20th consecutive month, they have – according to market researcher CoreLogic – increased by just 0.2% in October from September and for November, we can expect to see virtually no growth at all.

So what is it with the winter lull – and is now the best time to buy a house if you’re looking for a bargain?

It’s the time of the year when people are short of time and shorter still of money. National home inventory typically falls by around 15% in winter compared with the summer months. But it’s worth bearing in mind that the people putting the homes on the market at this time of the year generally have a pressing need to sell – that means you might be able to take advantage of the lower price they might accept. We see house prices drop by an average of $7,000 after Labor Day, and they’re at their lowest in December.

Also, the reduced competition at this time of year means that you’ve got a better chance of securing the home you want without others coming along and pushing the price up. And furthermore, many investors have disappeared from the scene lately, so you’re less likely to be disappointed by their habit of coming in with higher bids, and taking away the bargains. A recent poll showed that just one in five investors remain interested in buying more houses; that’s about half the number of a year ago.

Generally, homebuyers are feeling less than enthusiastic right now, and the number of mortgage applications has fallen. So if you persevere where others haven’t, your chances of success are increased. Well, that’s the idea anyway.

The weather may seem like an obstacle to selling up at this time of the year, though it’s probably not so much of a problem if you’re selling in the likes of Key West, Florida; San Diego, California; Phoenix, Arizona or Watertown, New York. But for those of us that do experience the cold, dark days of winter – there’s no need to be too concerned, even if the natural light your property enjoys in the summer months is a particular selling point.

If you can make your home look appealing when the weather’s not at its best, then surely that’s a great sign for the rest of the year. A great first impression will be formed in the mind of prospective buyers as they walk into a warm, welcoming environment. What better feeling on a cold day?

If you are selling, and winter is proving a difficult time to sell, you can reasonably expect things to pick up again in the spring. This is a key time for buyers looking for a ‘fresh new start’, and coincides with better weather and better moods. Fall is another fruitful time, but let’s hope it doesn’t take that long for you to sell.

With just three weeks until Christmas, time’s pretty much up if you want to be in a new home this year. But you never know – Christmas miracles do happen.

David Trumper