The "spring" buying season does not necessarily wait for spring to arrive. Trulia's latest look at the U.S. housing market shows homebuyer interest in January and February is up 2 percent from the annual average since 2011, a trend that has paved the way for robust March-to-July buying interest.
Along Florida's west coast and in the Phoenix/Tucson area, pre-March buying is already in full swing, said Jed Kolko, Trulia's chief economist. Home search activity in Cape Coral-Fort Myers is 22 percent higher than the national average in the first two months of the year, and activity in the Northport-Sarasota-Bradenton metro is 17 percent higher. Tucson, West Palm Beach, and the Daytona Beach area also are above 10 percent over national averages.
El Paso, Fort Lauderdale, Phoenix, Kansas City, and Charleston round out the top 10 metros where early-year buying activity is hottest.
Unsurprisingly, early-winter search activity is slowest in harsher climates, particularly in the upper Northeast. But activity is surprisingly slow in some warm-winter environments, such as Honolulu and Houston, Trulia reported. These markets tend to see much-improved activity as March and April roll in.
According to Kolko, these delayed markets do not necessarily see delays due to weather. Almost across the board, activity is slow between Christmas and spring in pricier metros, such as coastal California and Hawaii. Additionally, lower-cost metros have an early start to the housing season even within metros, Kolko said.
Search activity picks up more at the start of the year in more affordable neighborhoods than in more expensive neighborhoods, generally regardless of the metro's overall activity. Meanwhile, higher-priced neighborhoods tend to have slightly shorter house-hunting seasons that pick up in earnest from March through June.
Any dips, however, are 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," Kolko said.
Indeed, according to Trulia, no downswing in activity is worse than 5 percent lower than the national average, this figure occurring in the Cambridge, Massachusetts, region and in Seattle. Long Island, Honolulu, San Francisco (three historically pricey metros), Syracuse, Houston, Buffalo, Rochester, and Hartford are all 3 to 4 percent lower than the national average.
Kolko chalked up the increased early-year activity in less-pricey markets to investors looking for foreclosures.
"Their housing demand is less seasonal," Kolko said. "Investors tend not to hibernate as much as conventional buyers do in the winter months."