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Spring and summer are typically a hot time in the housing market. But if you're flexible and looking to rent, shifting your search to cooler months can help you score a deal.
A recent study from apartment listing site RentHop found that renters could potentially save hundreds of dollars a year by timing their apartment search. The data showed that the cheapest months to rent tended to be between December and March, whereas the most expensive fell between May and October.
RentHop looked at trends in 10 major cities across the U.S. The average prices of 1 and 2-bedroom apartments each month were compared to find seasonal cost differences.
The seasonal price differences for one-bedroom apartments ranged from 4 percent to 5.4 percent, and for two-bedroom apartments, from 2.3 percent to 5.8 percent. Potential savings varied widely by city, neighborhood and apartment size.
Another new analysis from listing site StreetEasy found similar seasonal differences for the New York City housing market. With units lingering in the winter, landlords are more willing to negotiate in order to get rid of the leftover inventory — leading to a higher number of discounts, said Nancy Wu, an economic analyst for StreetEasy.
The trend of summer demand isn't limited to big cities, either, said Lawrence Zhou, a data scientist from RentHop. People throughout the country tend to search for apartments more frequently in the summer, he said.
While that increased demand for apartments typically leads to higher prices, there can also be more supply in summer months. Because most apartments turn over in the summer, a renter will have more options, said Zhou.
StreetEasy's Wu agreed, pointing out that summer renters in New York City have access to nearly 6,000 more units than winter renters. Although a summer renter may be paying a bit more, it could be easier to find an apartment suited to his or her specific needs.
Capitalizing on the idea of winter rent discounts may be easier for flexible first-time renters or those with month-to-month arrangements. But switching to a winter rental cycle could prove to be a costly annoyance for those already locked into a long-term lease agreement.
Leaving before your current lease is up requires finding a way to break that lease. Depending on the terms of the agreement and the landlord's flexibility, that could mean paying a few extra months' rent or continuing to pay fees until a new tenant moves in. Experts say it's important to get any agreement in writing.
Keep those potential hurdles in mind when you're calculating whether the seasonal rent difference in your city could pay off.
"Renters with leases ending in the winter may save only between $10 and $30 per month on their next apartment," Wu said. "For many, this is likely not enough to financially justify terminating a lease [early] in the winter based on prices alone."
And you may not be able to keep up with that winter cycle.
"Landlords may offer more concessions to sign an 18-month rather than a 12-month lease in the winter, in the hope of putting the unit back on the market during the busier season," she said.