So many variables impact the real estate market, both here in Silicon Valley but across the country. Employment, interest rates, the stock market, the availability of real estate inventory, the confidence of the buying public (say, in the wake of a terroristic attack, announced layoffs, or global conflicts like the invasion of Ukraine) all can move the housing market one way or the other. But they’re not the only forces that do.
Weather and natural disasters can likewise have a pronounced effect on a local housing market too.
My Experience: The ’89 Quake
Anyone in the San Jose area in September of 1989 will vividly recall the Loma Prieta Earthquake, which occurred in the Santa Cruz Mountain Range between Los Gatos and Aptos. Jim and I were buying our first home at that time, in San Jose’s Cambrian district, and in fact did our “final walk through” just two hours before the quake hit.
Our closing got delayed as the lender refused to fund the loan until the home was professionally checked out by an appraiser. They’d seen images of the Bay Bridge, homes off their foundations, fallen chimneys and other disastrous structural failures and weren’t taking a chance on any home!
Luckily for us, the property we were in contract for was essentially unscathed. It was not a young home, but built by a respectable builder, and more importantly it was on solid ground. Thankfully the house was fully vacant since we were close to the planned close of escrow, so there was no fallen furniture or broken glass in the carpeting and most everything was visible and easy to check later for damages. We did close, though it was about 10 days later than expected.
For listings not yet sale pending, it was already a slowing market and the beginning of a correction, but the earthquake plunged the market more deeply into the doldrums. At least for awhile.
Weather Forecasting the Market Activity
There are similar stories with markets all across the state, country, and globe after similar disasters. More recently here in California we’ve seen major impacts on various markets after fiercly destructive wildfires. But mother nature can effect the housing market in much more subtle ways as well, no disaster necessary.
It should not be a huge surprise that it’s harder to sell properties when the weather is inclement, too hot, or too cold.
I have held open houses during +100F heatwaves and rainy deluges. Experience has taught me that weekend open houses will be a little slow when the weather is uninviting, and I’ve spoken with several other Realtors that have seen the same patterns. When it’s miserably hot, or extremely rainy or cold, many home buyers tend to stay home or go somewhere comfortable – the mall, the beach, the movies. Other phenomenon like wildfire smoke, as we had just yesterday, or high winds can also keep buyers indoors and away from homes.
More long-term impacts of climate change are also being felt. As summer heat and fire seasons worsen, demand for good insulation, central air conditioning, and a tight building envelope are increasing. Decades ago when most of the housing stock in Silicon Valley was built, homes just didn’t need this! But now more buyers are starting to expect A/C as a standard feature.
Buyer and Seller Tips: Managing Mother Nature
Going out in extreme weather may give you some insights to the home you are looking at that you wouldn’t have considered otherwise, as long as you do so safely and thoughtfully. You’re less likely to run into other buyers, at the very least.
In the rain, take an umbrella for the run from the car to the porch, and wear non-slip shoes that are easy to put on and take off. Look for puddles and streams forming around the house and by the street – how many are there, how deep, and where are they? Could they impact the structure or your lifestyle? Are there visible leaks in the house, porch, or gutters? And how dark does the home feel on a cloudy day?
On chilly winter mornings, look for frost on the roof – more frost often means better insulation, while more melted frost means more heatloss. Check for icy breezes by windows and doors. Wear good shoes and watch out for ice on the pavement.
During heatwaves you’ll undoubtably notice if a home has A/C or not. Are there are areas of the home where summer sun and heat are more of an issue, or insulation may be lacking? Is the lawn scorched, and do the plants look healthy? Is there any shade in the front or back yard that might make it more comfortable and usable during the hotter months?
And last but not least, study the Natural Hazards Report in the home’s disclosure packet and do your own research on the various hazard zones, such as flood plains and fault lines, and other potential risk factors for natural and environmental disasters.
Preparing your home to show well in any weather can make a world of difference. If you do nothing else, keep the heater or air conditioner on, even if the home is vacant, and set the thermostat to a reasonably comfortable range – buyers won’t stay in a home that is too hot or too cold.
In the rainy season keep the mud outside with inside and outside doormats, and consider asking visiters to remove shoes or wear booties (and provide a place to do so). Clear the gutters and make sure rainwater is diverted away from the house, which can be easily done with downspout extenders for a few bucks. Turn on all the lights to make the home appear bright and inviting even on a cloudy day. And check out my article with more rainy-season selling tips.
In the summer, don’t leave blinds closed and curtains drawn – it may make the house a few degrees cooler, but a dark home doesn’t make as good of a first impression as a bright and open one. Stage outdoor spaces like covered patios. And water your lawn! More tips over at my article on selling in summer.
And in any extreme weather be sure to keep up with maintenance. After a windstorm, for instance, look for and clear out fallen branches and schedule any necessary repairs, such as replacing fenceboards, right away. If the home smells from wildfire smoke, consider replacing or upgrading the HVAC filters. Landscaping may need additional watering during a heatwave, or clearing of fallen fruit. And keep an eye out for any new leaks after severe downpours.
Whatever the Weather Is
We are very fortunate that here, in the Bay Area, heat waves don’t typically last too long and even our winter weather is relatively mild as we enjoy a sub-tropical climate. I have Realtor friends all over the country, many of them also bloggers, and those in more extreme climates have much stronger and distinctive buying seasons (and quieter “off” seasons) than we do. Our market tends to be pretty good year round, and buyers and sellers with good guidance who come prepared can succeed in just about any weather.
So if you are selling right now and finding the traffic a little slow, hang on. The weather has already cooled and this next weekend should be better than last. We may see some early-season rain soon, but prepared buyers and sellers won’t let that hurt their chances.