5 Tips From a City Mom Heading To Suburbia…In The WINTER
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There’s a reason home sales dip from late fall through very early spring. Blame it on the vicious cycle of low inventory, bad weather and, of course, the combination of winter holidays and families not wanting to uproot school-aged kids mid-year. But no matter where you point a finger, one thing’s for sure: a lot fewer families are going from urban to suburban in the winter.
And then there’s US—we’re in the midst of a winter closing and move. We signed the contract on Halloween, are closing on Christmas Eve eve and are planning to move on either Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend or President’s weekend. Clearly, the holidays are our lucky charm.
This isn’t the first time we’ve made a move in the winter either. For us, there are tons of perks that outweigh the drawbacks—less competition, more wiggle room when it comes to pricing and other terms. Besides that, though, closing and moving in the winter gives us months to get our home “just right” before the warmer months when, let’s face it, we’re entertaining more, hosting more and having more friends and relatives hunkering down for days at a time. And that’s when I want my home to be set and read for action.
So that’s the good—but I won’t deny there are some serious challenges to closing and moving in the winter. If you’re considering taking the plunge, be aware of these potential bumps in the road going in. They certainly aren’t insurmountable—not even close. Like I said, we’ve done it twice and I’d absolutely do it again in a minute. So don’t let this list scare you off. Just keep these points in the back of your mind, though, and prepare yourself in advance. If you do, you’ll no doubt have a smooth, seamless transition from urban to suburban even if you decide to tackle it all “off season.”
#1. The Holiday are CONSTANT
If you’re planning a winter close and/or move, don’t forget about the holidays—and all the days that come with. Because just like you, your attorney, real estate agent, contractor and sellers have lots of plans once November and December roll around, and those plans aren’t limited to a few holidays here and there. Our estimated closing date was originally set for December 30—the Friday before New Year’s Eve and after Christmas. Guess who was available to close that day? Literally no one—including us.
Scheduling gets tough on and around all of the holidays. So as you’re mapping out key steps in the process—application processing, underwriting, closing, moving—be sure you’re counting the holiday days as well as the days around it. Thanksgiving week can be a wash potentially, as can the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Once you get into January there tends to be a backlog from that down period, so that week can be tricky, too. Again, not the end of the world but you do need to be realistic and manage expectations all around.
#2. People Don’t Want To Move During The Holidays…
Those sellers and buyers you’re relying on? They may want to push closing to post-holidays because, for many, moving during those few weeks is a real hassle. Again, it’s all about being mindful and managing expectations going in. If you can be flexible, bonus. We had luck allowing our sellers to rent the house for a few weeks post-close. We got our pre-holiday close, but they get to stay put and host family in their house, versus rushing to get their new home set up. It’s a win/win.
#3. EVERYONE Wants To Wrap Things Up—Not Just You
A funny thing happens at the end of the calendar year. People seem to split into two camps—the people who want to coast into the new year, and the people who want every loose end tied up with a big red bow by December 31. In real estate, I’m discovering, many are the latter. That contractor? He wants the deposit before the end of the year so he can hit the ground running in January. Same with your painters, interior designer and landscaper. And if you just closed or are about to close, that might not be feasible. Many lenders and brokers don’t look too kindly onmassive purchases or other charges a few days before close.
We’ve been focused on shoring up all the vendors and contractors we need now, but have been very transparent about our timelines—including limited (and, in some cases, NO) payments before January. Because fewer people move and, beyond that, want to do work in the winter, everyone’s been very flexible with us. The idea of plunking down tens of thousands of dollars right this minute—a week before signing on the line—just doesn’t sit well with us and, I’m sure, with many of other soon-to-be-suburbanites. So we aren’t—and we aren’t letting anyone pressure us away from that decision. Decide what’s comfortable for you and stick with it. You can always spend the money but, once it’s spent, you can’t exactly get it back.
#4. Plan For Weather (or to CONSTANTLY be warned about weather…)
The way people talk about winter weather, it’s like no one has ever experienced snow before! Every time we booked or bought anything that required some level of installation or delivery, we were warned. It COULD snow. There COULD be ice. They MAY need to hold off until spring. While I’m well aware of what New York winters canlook like, I also can’t stop my life or my move because there could be a blizzard two months from now. So I schedule, I book, I plan and I keep pushing ahead. If it snows the day our playscape is being delivered, so be it. We’ll have it delivered some other time. But letting others convince you that the period from December 1 through March 31 is going to be snowmageddon is silly—believe me, though, many will act that way…
#5. Prioritize Wants and Needs
That said, winter makes it especially important to prioritize your wants and needs for your new home. Do you needa new roof? Get it done ASAP, even if that means back burnering the patio you’ve been dreaming about. Cracks in the driveway? Schedule those early) ours are literally getting repaired the afternoon of closing…). If there are repairs or renovations you have to have done, don’t roll the dice with the weather. Get them scheduled pre-close and have them wrapped up right away. The rest—the new couch, the swing set, the the outdoor kitchen—can trickle in after.
We’re elbow-deep in our winter move, so more to come on that front. Last time we were moving from the city to the outer boroughs—still a big move, but nothing like the full-on move-to-suburbia experience. Would I recommend a winter move? Hands down, YES. So if you’re still exploring the ‘burbs or are considering lobbing an offer on a house, DO IT. Don’t wait til spring when competition is fierce, prices are at a premium and all the good contractors, designers, movers and landscapers are booked solid. Embrace the winter move for what it is, and be prepared for a few seasonal bumps in the road. Because, at the end of the day, it’s well worth it.
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