Where the Spring Housing Season Starts Early

In January and February, the housing market is in full bloom in Florida and Arizona. But upstate New York, New England, and some Pacific markets blossom later.
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In January and February, the housing market is in full bloom in Florida and Arizona. But upstate New York, New England, and some Pacific markets blossom later.

Nationally, the spring housing seasons kicks off in March and stays strong into August before going into its winter lull. But the seasonality of the market - like everything else about housing - is local.

Using data on properties viewed on Trulia's website from mid-2011 to mid-2014, we determined the seasonal pattern for home searches in each local market (see note). For the U.S. overall, January and February search activity is 2% above the annual average, rising to 10-15% above the annual average in the peak months from March to July. It then falls far below the annual average in November and December. However, each local market has its own seasonal rhythm.

Winter Sun Brings Out the Home Seekers

The housing season starts earliest on Florida's west coast. In January and February, home search activity is 22% above the local annual average in
and 17% above in
. Three other Florida metros and the Arizona metros of
are also in the top ten. All but
are in the Sunbelt.
In several smaller metros as well, January/February search activity is 15% or more above the local annual average. All are in Florida, including
, and
. In the Sunshine State, the early-bird special isn't just for dinner - it's also for housing.
The metros where winter home searches are slowest relative to the annual average are in upstate New York (
), New England (
), and the cooler, wetter winter markets on the Pacific (
are on the list of metros that wake up later, too. But the dips are just in the mid-to-low single digits. No markets are as far below the annual average for home search activity in January and February as the west coast of Florida is ahead.
Weather is the most important reason why the housing season starts earlier in some markets. Metros with strong search activity early in the year tend to have warm, dry winters (in much of Florida, for instance, the rainy season is June through September). And most, though not all, of the markets that sleep in a little later into the year have winters that are cold, wet, or both.

But weather isn't the only factor. Another is that the markets that start early have had more foreclosures in recent years. Foreclosures are often bought by investors, and their housing demand is less seasonal. Investors tend not to hibernate as much as conventional buyers do in the winter months.

Home Seekers in Pricier Markets Take Their Time

The early-bird markets tend to have one other thing in common--greater affordability. The median price per square foot is lower on average in markets where the housing season starts early, after adjusting for differences in climate and foreclosure inventory. Not only do lower-cost metros have an early start to the housing season, but, even within metros, search activity picks up more at the start of the year in more affordable neighborhoods than in more expensive neighborhoods. Higher-priced neighborhoods tend to have slightly shorter house-hunting seasons, concentrated more in March through June.

Homeowners looking to sell in lower-priced neighborhoods and early-bird markets will see interest even this early in the year. But sellers in higher-cost areas are likely to have a slightly narrower window to catch peak buyer traffic.

Note: Search activity is based on properties viewed on Trulia.com from July 2011 to June 2014. Data from the full years of 2011--2014 were used to adjust for the upward trend in the data in order to reveal seasonal fluctuations. The housing crisis affected the seasonal pattern of home prices and other housing activities, so the search patterns observed in the recent past could change in the future.

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