Slush fund: Why it makes sense to move in winter

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The thought of moving in the winter conjures painful images of wading through knee-high snow drifts, carrying stacks of wet boxes to a moving truck, stuck in the snow. But in honor of the wacky weather we have been having, here are some reasons to reconsider your aversion to a winter move.

1. You will get a better deal in the depths of winter. Summer creates a perfect storm of high prices and short market times. College kids are arriving for school, recent grads are getting their first places, and parents are hoping to land in just the right district before the school year starts. And, of course, it's nice out.

The result is a mad scramble for housing that most summer movers think is the norm. When it comes to rentals, you can save as much as 10 percent in the wintertime, in my experience.

2. There is plenty of inventory. Because there are fewer people moving in the winter, apartments stay vacant longer - as much as three times longer. That means there actually is a greater supply of rentals than you will find in the warmer months.

For example, right now the Chicago-area MLS lists 36 two2-bedroom units for rent in Lincoln Park. On average, these listings have been waiting for a renter for 38 days. In rental time, that's an eternity. Back in May, those two-bedrooms in Lincoln Park rented in 19 days. Watch the 2012 trend since then:

June: 14 days until rented

July: 12

August: 19

September: 17

October: 22

November: 33

Market times peaked this year back in February at 58 days! So renters - plan accordingly.

And for home buyers

Prices may be lower... Home buyers may find sellers more likely to accept a lower offer in the winter than they would be in a busy summer market. Case-Shiller home values are even adjusted to account for a spike in prices during the spring and summer. Sellers, dreading the prospect of putting their own moving plans on hold for another few months while they wait out the snow flakes, might just bite on that lower offer.

...but inventory shrinks. Unlike the market for rental properties, for buyers, however, there will be fewer options in the winter. This is because sellers are trained to list their homes in the warmer months, and they aren't bound by a 12-month lease cycle. And this year in particular, greater-than-anticipated demand has stripped the market of much of its inventory. If you're buying a home, it can't hurt to start perusing the listings for cheap deals now. If you find one, go for it. But don't stress if you don't see your dream home right away. There will be more to choose from after the Super Bowl.

So yes, it's cold out. But if you're a renter, this is your shot. Just ask anyone scalded by this past summer's frustrating rental shortage.

And if you're a buyer, start getting your "house in order" when it comes to financing and finding a real estate agent. And don't be afraid to make a more aggressive offer on a property that's been sitting for a while.

You know what? It's feeling warmer already. I might just go open a window.

Mike McElroy is the broker/owner of Access Chicago Realty, Inc., in Lakeview, which connects Chicago buyers and sellers, renters and landlords, and investors and property owners - even in the depths of winter.