Tinsel and lights still gleamed on Christmas trees and New Year's Eve was only days away in 2006 when Richard Gustafson signed a contract to buy a condominium in Forest Park.
If you venture out, like Gustafson, while everyone is at the shopping mall or staying home, you might be surprised at the homes that are available. And builders say there are many others who decide that now is a great time to find a freshly built house.
"One thing about buying in the winter is that there's a lot less traffic in the sales centers. The sales people have a lot more time to spend with you," he said.
If you desire quick responses to your questions or are hoping for an incentive to buy, there is no better time than December and early January. And with a sluggish housing market overall, it may be a great time to look for a bargain.
While other people are purchasing ties, necklaces or blouses holiday as gifts, builders say that those who embark on house-hunting will find it can be rewarding in very tangible ways.
As for Gustafson, he said he got a good price on his two-bedroom condo.
"They had some incentives. They helped with a few months of the mortgage," he said.
Potential buyers will find there isn't a lot of competition in the sales centers.
"Between now and Christmas, the number of buyers slopes nearly to zero. People have other things to do and the weather is not great," said Steve Hovany, president of Strategy Planning Associates Inc. in Schaumburg.
By late January, however, traffic of home buyers always accelerates.
The weeks before and after the Super Bowl serves as the start of the spring market, Hovany said.
"The third week of January through the third week in April is the peak of the house-selling season," he said. "People have nothing else to do. They've been cooped up since November. Both traffic and sales pick up."
To illustrate his point, Hovany cited statistics. During the holiday season, sales of houses in the Chicago area drop to about 1 sale a week for every 10 projects. When the spring market begins in late January, he said sales increase to about 1.3 to 1.5 a week for every project. There are about 1,100 projects currently in the Chicago area.
"Right now, these places are pretty much dying for a sale," he said.
Developer Anthony Tiritilli of Irongate Land Co. said that December and the period before the Super Bowl are considered dead months by many builders. But he said buyers should move quickly if they want a good price on a home.
"The bottom of the market is here. We're in it," he said. "We're giving away tremendous deals."
One incentive his company is offering is free parking, worth about $35,000, at 33Six South Morgan, an 11-story condo building on the corner of Morgan and Van Buren Streets in Chicago's West Loop.
"It is a way we feel we can entice somebody to make a decision," he said.
Tiritelli said incentives are a fact of life in today's housing market.
His company takes the stance, however, that it does not discount on pricing. Buyers who bought months ago would likely not appreciate seeing potential neighbors purchasing at much lower prices.
"For the sake of other buyers, we have to maintain" pricing, he said.
Units at 33Six sell from the mid-200,000s for a one-bedroom unit, to the mid- to high-$300,000's for a two- bedroom condo and to the $500,000 range for a penthouse.
Unlike Tiritilli, Barry McMahon, vice president of KLM Builders, said a sluggish housing market has caused his company to reduce prices on some new houses.
At Woodland Ridge, a community of 120 townhouses in Antioch, KLM Builders has reduced the price of some townhouses to $240,000, from $270,000 four months ago.
"You have to be realistic," he said. "The price today isn't the same as it was a year ago. We're in the same boat.
"There are savings in price and in upgrades," he said. "What we've tried to do is add some upgrades and do them at cost."
Both McMahon and Tiritilli cautioned against buyers focusing too much on trying to time the bottom of the housing market.
"Nobody has a crystal ball," said McMahon. "It's an excellent time to buy a house as far as choice and financing."
Buying in winter had many other pluses for Gustafson. He said arranging financing went smoothly because there were fewer customers trying to get mortgages during the holiday season. Movers were readily available.
Gustafson, who works as a sales consultant, said he is pleased with his new home at The Residences of the Grove, a development in Forest Park that has 140 condominiums and 60 townhouses on six, landscaped acres just next to the Madison Street business district.
"I love it," he said. "The people here are nice. The size of my condo is just right. And it's a good location. It's right next to the Blue Line of the CTA."
As for the problem of looking for a home in cold weather, Gustafson said, "I like winter. It was no big deal for me to go looking."
WINTER HOME BUYING