Considering the winter housing market


By Gary A. Miller

Even without data or deep analysis, the winter market would be slower than other parts of the year.  Between the focus on the holidays and the colder weather, it stands to reason that fewer people would be buying and selling homes.  In this article, however, I want to take a look at statistics of the late fall and winter market (essentially November through February, which I will refer to as the “winter market” for the remainder of this article) to see if this “logical” perspective is accurate.

Let us begin by examining the number of winter market closed sales in southern Orange County (zip codes of 27510, 27514, 27516, and 27517 within county boundaries) over the past five years, along with the corresponding months of March, April, May, and June for comparison, which I will refer to as the spring market here.

Winter Market Year 2018-2019 2019-2020 2020-2021 2021-2022 2022-2023
Closed Sales 232 228 312 272 167
Spring Market Year 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
Closed Sales 472 373 495 385 309

The average across all five years for closed sales in the winter market was 242.2.  For comparison purposes, I calculated the winter market for 2013 through 2018 and found the average was 246.2.  So, while we see a notable range between the high in 2020/21 of 312 to the low in 2022/23 of 167, the average was quite consistent across the most recent two five-year periods. 

The spring market months averaged 406.8 closings across the most recent five years.  I also examined the prior five-year period from 2013 to 2018 and found the average was 468.2.  Unlike the consistency of the winter market, the two five-year spring market periods show a difference in the number of closed sales on average. This is most likely connected to a reduction in available inventory.

The table below shows the available inventory across the winter market for the past five years, and it demonstrates the overall decline in the four zip codes of this analysis over the last several years. It is this shortage that has led to housing prices remaining high, even as rising mortgage rates have limited the number of buyers in the market.  Even with a slight uptick in inventory year-over-year in 2022-2023, the most recent winter market is still around one-third of the level of just five years ago.  A similar trend is indicated in the spring market.

Winter Market Year 2018-2019 2019-2020 2020-2021 2021-2022 2022-2023
Total Listings 1,680 1,455 796 325 539
Spring Market Year 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023
Total Listings 1,980 1,515 533 470 608

While the decline in available housing is sharp and easy to identify for both the winter and spring markets, this trend is a long-term issue in southern Orange County. The graphic below, which comes from the TriangleMLS and shows the inventory of homes across all months from 2013 to the present day within the four zip codes of this analysis, shows the considerable shortage in the latter half of the past 10 years. Note that this graphic and the table above use the same zip codes, but cannot reflect only homes within the boundaries of Orange County due to how the data is made accessible.

 The last data point I want to share here shows the number of showings per listing for the month of October, just prior to the beginning of the winter market.  While an imperfect indicator, since the number of showings can be impacted by the number of homes to be seen, this statistic gives us a general sense of market activity.

Year October 2018 October 2019 October 2020 October 2021 October 2022 October 2023
Number of Showings per Listing 4.75 4.95 8.23 11.28 7.73 7.65

As you can see, although 2023 is considerably less active than 2021, which was the busiest October of the past six years, it is still notably more active than the two pre-pandemic years included here.  This is another factor in keeping prices in southern Orange County afloat even during a time of year typically associated with a slowing housing market.  In simplest terms, it’s an issue of supply and demand. 

Gary A. Miller is co-owner of Red Bloom Realty.  He has lived and worked in Chapel Hill off and on since 1994, is an avid musician and traveler, and is a former educator of 25 years.

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