As winter's end approaches, the housing market wakes up. All key measures of housing activity -- searches, prices, starts, sales, and inventories -- typically hit their annual lows in December or January. But at the start of each year, would-be buyers come out of hibernation first: search behavior starts to pick up in January, reaching its peak in March and remaining strong through August. Sales and inventories then peak later in the year. But local housing markets have their own rhythms. To see when each state's housing market heats up, we looked at six years of search history on Trulia -- January 2007 to December 2012 -- for properties in every state. (This is based on the state where the property is located, which is not necessarily where the person searching is located.) Of course, Trulia's site traffic has grown dramatically over these years, so we used a seasonal adjustment model to strip out the upward trend and uncover the regular seasonal rhythms of search behavior across the country.
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Nationally, the peak months of search activity are March and April. After a slight dip in May, there's a second peak in the summer months of June and July. As the year ends, search activity drops off. December is the slowest month, followed by November. At the state level, though, the peak month for search activity ranges from as early as January to as late as August. This month, January, is Hawaii's peak month for search activity. Next month, February, is the top month for search traffic in Florida. In these warm states, winter weather is good for home searches and going to open houses. Across much of the country, though, home search activity peaks in the springtime, including in the Midwest, the Plains, and much of the West and Northeast. The summertime -- June through August -- is the peak for most of the South and a few states in the Northwest and northern New England. No state enjoys peak season in September, October, November or December.
Even though the earliest two states to peak each year -- Florida and Hawaii -- are warm, southerly states, and the last two states -- Montana and Oregon -- are northerly, home searches generally peak later in the South than in the Northeast, Midwest and Plains. Why do Minnesotans search most in March and April, rather than in the warmer summer? And why do Mississippians look most in June and July, rather than in the milder spring? To avoid the rain: In most of the Northeast, Midwest and Plains, it rains less in the spring than in the height of summer, but in many Southern states, it rains less in the summer than in the spring. The punchline: Warm weather is good for search traffic, but dry weather helps, too.
Let's take a closer look at what's happening right now. This interactive map shows, for each state, whether search activity is above or below the annual average for that state. (That means every state is above its own annual average in some months and below in other months.) In January, search activity in most states is already out of the winter slump and is above the annual average. In Florida and Hawaii, January search traffic is more than 10 percent above each state's annual average. January search traffic is below the annual average only in four New England states -- Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island -- plus North Dakota and the District of Columbia.
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In every month from March through July, all (or all but one) of the states are above their annual average in search traffic. By October, every state is at least a little below its annual average of search activity, and in December every state is 10 percent or more below its annual average.
It's clear that housing swings with the seasons in every state. But where are the swings biggest? Maine, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, and Ohio have the largest changes in search traffic throughout the year. In contrast, search traffic fluctuates least over the year in Alaska, the District of Columbia, Vermont, Hawaii, and Idaho. So whether you're looking to buy or sell, get in sync with the rhythms of your local housing market. Home sellers looking for the most buyers should list when search traffic peaks. Homebuyers, however, should think about searching off-season -- they might find less competition.
Jed Kolko is the chief economist for online listings site Trulia. This article originally appeared on the Trulia Trends blog.
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