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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Scott Simpson, Summit Sotheby's realtor, shows a parcel of land to a client in Park City on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — While home prices along the Wasatch Front have cooled off a bit in the final quarter of 2018 after a hot housing market most of the year, those willing to brave the falling temperatures can still find their piece of the American dream.

"There are great opportunities for buyers in the wintertime that a lot of people don't think about," according to Salt Lake Board of Realtors President Adam Kirkham. "There are (fewer) buyers and oftentimes you have motivated sellers."

He said homeowners selling in the cold weather months frequently are doing so "out of necessity." He also noted that mortgage lenders, appraisers and other industry professionals are less busy, which makes them more available to help with real estate transactions.

"You can get deals done a little bit quicker in the winter sometimes because there is less inventory selling," he said. Because inventory is lower, prices are more stable compared to the warm weather months during the second and third quarters, when prices typically increase, he added.

New listings during the beginning winter months have increased in Salt Lake County, according to data from the Salt Lake Board of Realtors. Last year, listings rose nearly 6 percent in the fourth quarter and increased 1.52 percent in the final three-month period 2016.

Kirkham said this means homebuyers have more properties to consider with less competition.

"For a buyer, there is a lot of opportunity out there because there is more (inventory) to look at," he said.

Another local market analyst shared some tips on buying a home during the winter, including taking the opportunity to strike a better deal with motivated sellers.

This time of year can give buyers more negotiating power, as many sellers experience a lull during the holidays, said Roger Jones, mortgage division manager at Zions Bank. This "slowdown" can lead to a home being on the market longer, fewer offers, a more motivated seller and a better price, he said.

"When things slow down, there is opportunity for seller concessions that probably wouldn't be present during a really hot spring-summer market," he said. "We start to see either price reductions or offering to pay some closing costs."

Jones said leveraging reduced closing costs can be a big savings for prospective buyers.

"Although many homebuyers and sellers drop out during the holidays, you may want to think twice before you do," he said.

According to Realtor.com, the best day of the year to buy a home is Dec. 26. Buyers who close on that date will save an average of $2,500, or about 1.3 percent, compared to buying on any other day.

Jones said for people who are not quite ready to buy, winter is also a great time to apply for a home loan and get prequalified.

"You can use this time to talk to your banker about your options and to gather and submit loan documents," he said. "That way, when springtime approaches you are in the best position to negotiate an offer on a home."

Being prequalified and in the final stages of the mortgage approval process may be enough to put you ahead of the competition if the seller has multiple offers, he said.

"It's a great time for a customer who is thinking about house hunting in the late winter or early spring to get ready for (the prime selling season)," Jones said. "It will help them really zero in on what they can afford given their circumstances and what the current (interest) rates are."

Meanwhile, a California data research firm last week released its fourth-quarter U.S. Home Affordability Report that showed the national median home price for the period was at the least-affordable level since the third quarter of 2008.

The report from Irvine, California-based ATTOM Data Solutions calculated an affordability index based on the percentage of income needed to buy a median-priced home relative to historic averages, with an index above 100 indicating median home prices were more affordable than the historic average. Conversely, an index below 100 indicated median home prices were less affordable than the historic average.

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All four Utah metropolitan statistical areas included in the report registered with index scores below 100 for the final quarter of 2018. The Ogden-Clearfield metro registered the lowest at 81, Salt Lake City registered at 83, the Provo-Orem metro registered at 88, while the St. George metro registered at 91 for the period.

Nationwide, the fourth-quarter home affordability index of 91 was down slightly from an index of 94 in the previous quarter. However, the year-over-year index score fell significantly from 106 in 2017, the report indicated.