In the January 14th Toronto Star Business section, Mark Weisler, a Toronto real estate lawyer, offers advice to potential buyers.
Although January is often a slow month for real estate, Mark suggests that more sellers are opting to put their home on the market in January beacuse of the uncertainty of the existing market. This is presenting opportunities for savy buyers. There is less competition and fewer bidding wars. Mark points out that with lenders less busy buyers can expect a more efficient process to get approved for a mortgage to ensure they have financing in place before making an offer.
Mark's tips for buyers for things that you are unable to inspect in the winter:
Negotiate an extended warranty in the agreement to give you until at least May 1st to inspect and have the seller be responsible for any damages.
Negotiate a holdback of, say, $2000 so that if a problem arises, the money comes out of that fund to fix it and you do not have to chase the seller in court later.
Be careful about snow accumulating around the base of the home. It will be difficult for a home inspector to figure out if the grading is likely to cause water damage in the basement later. Consider doing an environmental audit to check for moisture behind the walls.
If the snow on the roof is evaporating faster than the snow around the house, it is likely a sign that there is not enough insulation in the home.
Check with your insurance company early as to whether you will have any difficulty obtaining insurance on the home for things like neighbourhood water damage or sewer backups.
Also, see how bad weather may affect your morning commute.
Check the last electric/gas bills to determine how energy efficient the home is in winter.
People tend to hibernate and stay at home in the winter so get to know the neighbours before you finalize your purchase.