The best time to shop for your Tropical vacation home? The most common question people ask me as a real estate broker as soon as they realize that Roatan is the perfect place for their tropical vacation home (which does not take them long) is: “When is the best time to shop for my place here?”
If we are shopping for bedsheets, we may know to look for “white sales” starting in January. But is there a best season to shop for a vacation home? Other real estate brokers are, of course, asked the same question. In this article, I will review their (often contradictory) answers. Then, I will give you my response, which is that this is not the right question.
The most frequent advice agents give is to shop during the times when there are the most listings and the most sales activity. In Roatan, that in general begins toward the end of the rainy season before February, lasting around six months and tapering off again at the end of July. (Note that this is a bit different than in the U.S. and Canada, where the summer is busy as families try to get situated before school starts.)
The reason given for looking during the busiest real estate season is that you will have the widest selection of inventory to choose from, and the home that is perfect for you is most likely to be among them.
The other side of that coin is that more buyers mean more potential competition for your perfect place, and with more demand there is less likelihood of price reductions or negotiated bargains.
The next most frequent advice is, oddly enough, the opposite: to shop during the slow real estate season, roughly mid-summer through the end of the rainy season in January. The reason is that highly-motivated sellers are most likely to offer large price reductions or to negotiate less vigorously when you are the only buyer on the horizon.
The downside, of course, is that there is less inventory. Some buyers take their properties off the market or go into hibernation, as do their agents, and the home you are seeking is less likely to be visible.
Agents commonly advise you to go to Roatan on your vacation and shop real estate then.
Your vacation is the perfect time to get oriented to the island, to fall in love with Roatan, to feel at home here, and to learn what areas you are drawn to. And while a surprising number of sales are made over the internet, you absolutely should check out properties in person. While a picture may be worth a thousand words, a personal visit is worth a thousand pictures.
From the point of view of a real estate agent, your vacation is the best time for you to buy through them. And from your perspective, the least costly way to shop is when you are here anyway. But it would be a coincidence if that were the best time to buy a given property from a market perspective.
This is particularly true if you take your vacation trip over the Christmas holidays and during “Semana Santa,” the week ending with Easter when the tourist industry is booming here. The downsides of shopping during peak tourist traffic are that (other than the tourist businesses) the island economy slows to a crawl and it is more difficult to see something you want to see, let alone to act on something you want.
In cold climates, real estate agents often advertise pictures of tropical beaches, implicitly advising that this would be a fine time to buy. It is hard to resist a tropical daydream after you come in from shoveling ice off your walk-way, or during the second week of staying indoors to escape the weather. Consider, for example, that the average high temperature in Roatan in February (considered by many residents to be the “perfect month) is 84 degrees. In Minneapolis, by contrast, the average high temperature then is below freezing.
The plus of turning your attention to planning in winter is that your motivation is high and you have fewer outdoor activities to distract you. The minus is that you may not have vacation time available then, and you may need to do your shopping from afar. But you can make a lot of progress from afar, as I point out below.
I have friends and clients whose primary residence is in areas with long, cold, snow-filled winters from as far afield as Alaska. They spend most of their time at their island vacation homes between October and March. So, for example, if you don’t turn your attention to looking for your vacation home until the dead of winter, by the time you find it and close the transaction it may be too late for this year.
Certainly, evaluate when you are likely to use your new home the most with family, friends or both. In many cases, this may include Thanksgiving, Diwali, Christmas/Navidad, New Year and Easter/Semana Santa. Whatever your own priorities are, you will want to consider starting your search with enough time to find and purchase your ideal vacation home in time to share it with family and friends when holiday times are most favorable for all to get together.
This also may not in the abstract be the best time to buy real estate in Roatan. But it may be the best time for you.
Real estate agents have additional answers that they commonly give to the question of the right time to shop for real estate. In the U.S., when prices are shooting up, you are told to buy quickly before you are priced out of the market. Those who have seen a real estate cycle or two know this is often not the best long-term advice. Likewise, when prices are going down there, you are told to buy before they go back up. This can work out, but not usually in the short term.
Other common advice is to shop when the economy is looking good, or else when the economy is looking bad. You are also advised to shop when you have come into some money that you might otherwise spend elsewhere. They give many other sage answers.
Considering how often the timing question is asked, and how often real estate agents seriously respond with contradictory answers, you would be right to conclude that there is no universally correct answer. Indeed, some real estate professionals hedge and say that you need to balance the pluses and minuses of each timing strategy, add a dollop of intuition, and stir.
I’m going to break from the crowd and say what is in plain sight: Every property is unique, as are the circumstances, tastes and the means of every buyer, and the motivation and realism of every seller. No one can buy “the market,” only specific properties. And those properties are entering and leaving the market all the time. What is more, on Roatan there is a sizable “hidden market,” where houses and land are not openly for sale but could be if the right buyer came along. And some brokers, like me, specialize in “pocket listings,” to which other brokers do not have access. The differences between properties swamp their commonality of being available at a particular time.
You have heard the expression: “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” In this case it means that a broker who is well-connected, who knows what is on the market, and what could be on the market, who specializes in “pocket listings,” and most important, who has taken the time to learn who you are and what you are really looking for, will match you with your new home much more effectively than you can by just entering the market at a particular time. This might happen quickly, or it may take a longer time. That depends on the rarity of what you are seeking and when you would like to act. But having established the groundwork in a trusting relationship, having educated you about Roatan and its real estate market, and having learned what you want and at what price range, you will be alerted when your opportunity arises, no matter when that is.
So the short answer to the question: what is the best time to start that process? It’s right now! Contact me -I’ll work for you!