By Sarah Mills, ninemsn Money
Timing is everything when it comes to picking up a discount. Just knowing when to buy a big-ticket item can yield the serious shopper tens of thousands of dollars in one fell swoop. Whether it's a car, a house or jewellery, the savvy shopper can always find the right time to strike a bargain.
Winter is typically the best time to wrangle a bargain on a house. Most new listings hit the real-estate agencies in spring. This is when sellers are at their most optimistic and are testing the market with high asking prices. The longer the property is on the market, the more flexible the pricing becomes.
This is also the low season for real-estate agents and they are more likely to be willing to negotiate a lower price with the vendor. Also, keep an eye out for long listings in any season.
Properties listed in the spring that are still on the market by winter also have the disadvantage of dull garden and weather conditions. Shopping in winter may mean you miss some of the jewels listed in the spring, so make sure you factor this into the equation.
On a larger cyclical calendar, it is best to buy a house in the first quarter of a housing boom, or a year or two after the boom has peaked. A good indication of the timing on this can be rental yields. Rental yields would need to be at least six percent to be reasonably sure of getting an acceptable price.
Timing the purchase of a new car can be a tricky business. Several factors come into play, such as the model, time of week and time of month. Following are a few tips on timing. In order to get the most out of this though, you need to do your research, have a good idea of the best available price (without finance) that is likely to be offered and then stick to it.
- New models: As new models hit the showroom floors, dealers are keen to clear out old stock. The time of year that this occurs varies according to the model. Go Auto provides a website with a New Car Diary that tells consumers when each model is due to go on sale in Australia. Once you have decided on the type of car you are interested in, pay close attention to dealership cycles for that vehicle.
As a rule of thumb, a lot of new stock is shipped in for September/October, particularly Japanese cars given Japan's fiscal year runs on a March to September cycle. Another big inflow occurs between March and June.
This can be a good strategy for those looking to hold a car for the long term. However, if you intend selling within a couple of years, make sure that you factor old-model pricing into your calculations.
- Time of month: Often the end of the month can be a good time to shop for cars, given dealer bonuses are often calculated at this time. If the car dealer just needs to sell one extra car to make his bonus then it could be your lucky day.
- Discontinued cars: Big discounts are usually available on discontinued models, however, the resale on discontinued models can be poor. So again, this is a strategy for a long-term hold. Make sure you buy a model with a strong past sales record so that spare parts are readily available.
- Rebates: At certain times of the year, manufacturers will offer cash rebates on certain vehicles. Wait for these. Know your recommended price to ensure you get the full rebate and then try to bargain down on that to gain a real discount from the dealer.
- Avoid weekend shopping: In the US, the weekend car buyer blitz is called the tuna run. Basically, there are so many people shopping that bait isn't necessary to sell the cars all the dealers have to do is haul them in. If someone refuses to buy at a price then the dealers tend to hold out in the belief that another person will soon. So theoretically, if you shop on a weekday you have a better chance of negotiating a good deal.
- Ex-lease vehicles: Some great deals can be had on ex-lease cars, particular on luxury vehicles. Ex-lease luxury cars are usually about six months old and come with all the extras included. Depending on mileage and condition, they can be very good value.
Once you have decided on the model you are interested in, contact a few dealerships and ask when the ex-lease vehicles will be brought in. Set your price before you buy and make it known to the dealer. Prices can vary as much as $10,000 on the same $50,000 to $60,000 vehicle, depending on the caryard and your negotiating skills.
One of the best times to buy new furniture is in January and February. This is partly because it is a very slow time for furniture retailers trying to compete with the broader post-Christmas sales, but also because they need to clear their stock out by February to make way for new inventory. Another good sale period is around August/September.
At the cheaper end of the spectrum, large American retailers such as K-Mart tend to have spring and autumn sales where they clear the floor of old outdoor furniture stock at knock-down prices.
The rule of thumb here is to avoid Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and Christmas. Outside of peak periods, there can be very good opportunities to negotiate, particularly with the non-chain retailers on price. Generally, though, the price of jewellery is influenced more by who you buy from, than when you buy. Owner operators without a shopfront, such as VM Jewellery in Sydney, have lower overheads and can offer very good deals. If you are opting for a retail jewellers, March and end of financial year can offer some bargains.
It's always easy to pick up a bargain for a holiday in the off-season but this can sometimes be less than satisfactory. A ski holiday isn't much chop in the summer and not many people feel like taking a dive in the surf during winter.
Spokesman for Flight Centre Haydn Long suggests consumers hoping to travel in peak season should keep an eye out for early bird deals. This is particularly the case for international travel.
"If you want to travel in peak season in 2008 for example, then the time to buy is between September to December 2007 when the early bird sales are released for the following year," says Long. "This particularly applies to European, North American and Alaskan packages, including cruises."
On a more general level, he said it was often possible to get some good last-minute deals on accommodation (although I wouldn't recommend this strategy for Christmas in New York), but this rarely works with flights.
"When it comes to airfares it is usually best to book in advance when you see a good deal, because cheap flights go fairly quickly."
The big months for weddings in Australia are November and April. Spring and autumn tend to be the peak seasons generally, so those hoping to secure good prices on anything from venues to flowers should plan for the off-seasons.
Winter probably offers the best bargains. This is because even though few wish to conduct a wedding in the blazing heat of midsummer, there is generally still strong competition for wedding-type services such as venue hire and catering during this period given the Australian penchant for celebrating anything on a summer night.
Planning a winter wedding can also help clinch some bargains on honeymoon flights and accommodation.
Wedding dress retailers, like most retailers, tend to clear stock in January and February, and again in June and July.
When to buy small-ticket items