You’ll rarely meet anyone who claims to enjoy a UK winter. The cold season might be a time of festivities but it’s also a period of freezing temperatures, all-pervasive gloom and, usually, endless rain.

However, were you to ask the average conveyancer whether the onset of winter materially affects the housing market – beyond the usual pre and post-Christmas slowdown – they’d probably laugh. It might be grim outside but surely this doesn’t have a bearing on whether people actually buy houses. But might we be wrong?

New research from House Buyer Bureau reveals that 54% of homebuyers are less likely to view potential properties after we’ve returned to standard time for the winter. This piqued our interest, so, we decided to investigate.

What Does the Research Say?

The survey of UK homebuyers, commissioned by House Buyer Bureau, makes for interesting reading. 77% of respondents preferred to view a property during the day, with a mere 2% stating that they’d view a property in the dark. In fact, 84% of homebuyers feel a property can’t be viewed properly in the dark and 54% felt they’d be less likely to view potential homes.

Why does this matter? It might sound obvious, but we’re about to enter the darkest period of the year. In most of the UK, December yields a measly 8 hours of sunlight a day. This poses a thorny problem for estate agents and the market if people are unwilling to view properties in the dark.

At this point, you might be thinking, is it really news that homebuyers want to assess one of the biggest investments of their lives in the cold light of day? After all, very few properties are improved visually by drizzle and gloom. We were sceptical too and decided to look a little closer at the government’s yearly transaction figures.

Do Transaction Levels Actually Fall in Winter?

We’ll start with a caveat. For obvious reasons, 2020 was an anomaly so we’ll be excluding that from discussions. However, 2020 aside, in any year you care to look at from 2014 onwards, there is a notable dip in the government’s transaction numbers between October and January. 

To give some examples, in December 2018, non-adjusted residential transactions were approximately 11.5% lower than in November. Meanwhile, property transactions decreased by the same figure between October and November 2015. And we’re likely to see the same trend in 2023 with transaction levels peaking in the summer, before beginning to decline in September.
So it’s clear there is a long-established pattern of transaction levels taking a nose dive as soon as the first cold snap hits, but why?

As House Buyer Bureau’s research suggests, a large part of it is probably aesthetic concerns. You can’t really get a true feel for a place in the dark, nor do houses typically look their best after sundown, but that’s not the whole story. The festive season also plays a part; no one wants to be halfway through a home move during Christmas. What’s more, the last months and weeks of the year tend to be an expensive period for household costs, with everything from festive plans to utility bills draining potential buyers’ cash reserves. 

Finally, there’s something self-reinforcing about the whole process. If prospective homebuyers are less likely to look at properties then, in turn, sellers are more likely to hold fire on listing them until the spring and the whole cycle repeats ad infinitum. Together these factors make for a slightly depressed demand for property in the winter months.

Is Winter Really the Worst Time to Sell a House?

Time for the really important questions. Is winter really such a terrible time to sell a house? And should we all just be instructing clients to wait until the temperature rises a little?

Well, if you look solely at buyer data, then yes. There will typically be more prospective homebuyers and more demand in the warmer months. However, this is too simplistic a way to look at it. Lots of viewings do not equate serious buying intent nor is there any evidence of prices declining in the colder months due to lack of competition between buyers.

Instead, those prospective buyers who do brave the cold, wind and rain (not to mention the dark) are often much more committed to finding a property – exactly what any seller wants. Add to this the fact that many will push for a quick completion process in order to be in for early in the new year and you have a recipe for a satisfying sale.

In short, for all the old maxims about ‘November being the worst time to sell a house’ or the industry going into semi-hibernation between October and January, it doesn’t have to be this way. On the contrary, the winter months can be productive and fruitful for homebuyers, sellers and conveyancers alike.