Secrets of Savvy House-Hunters
Real Estate Council of Alberta
Experienced home buyers know that there’s more to look for than a good neighbourhood and a sturdy foundation. They shop with their hearts, their heads – and with the expert advice of a real estate professional. Before you get caught up in the excitement of searching for the perfect home, here are some savvy steps to follow.
Know How Much You Want to Spend
Don’t get caught in that trap of finding a perfect home that you can’t afford. Do your homework and define your budget. Get a pre-approved mortgage or consulting with your lender of choice, and keep your eye on the market, since any changes could impact what you can afford.
Scope out the Neighbourhoods
Before you start looking at individual homes, figure out which neighbourhoods you would prefer to live in. How close are schools? Stores? Access to highways and public transit? These all have an impact. Also, check common areas in a community like parks and playgrounds – they can say a lot about how the residents feel about their neighbourhood, so look for tell-tale signs of neglect or proud upkeep. Your agent can also let you know how well certain neighbourhoods are selling, which is a good indicator of where people want to live.
Make a List
Smart shoppers never head to the grocery store without a list and neither should you when you head out to an open house. Organize your thoughts on paper and come up with a master house wish list that you can refer to. Divide it up into must-haves, would-be-nice items and deal breakers. Carry this list with you so that you can compare homes on the basis of your personal wants and needs.
Find a Home Inspector
Even before you locate your ideal home, have a home inspector at the ready. He or she may even be able to offer you some pointers for things to look out for when you first see a place.
Take Your Time
Don’t try to squeeze more than four viewings into a single day – it can be more confusing than convenient. Take photos and make note of the pros and cons after viewing each property so you can take a look at the next home without struggling to remember details about the one before.
Be sure to ask about mutual driveways, parking, zoning bylaws and upcoming construction. You may be in a neighbourhood that is about to be receiving power line upgrades or road repairs that can wreak havoc on getting from point A to point B after you move in.
Be a Legal Eagle
Ask for a survey of the property and take a good look at it. Fences may not be on actual property lines and right-of-way issues may come into play in the future with the sale of the home next door. Don’t just rely on your judgement; hire a lawyer to inspect all of the paperwork related to a prospective purchase and to advise you.
Get a Second Opinion
If you’ve found a home that really appeals to you, show it to someone else like a good friend or relative. Let them do all the talking in case they see something you hadn’t noticed. Having someone who isn’t personally vested in the property can give you the objective opinion you need before you make your decision.
Think It Through
In a hot market, it can be hard not to make an immediate offer. While that may work in most cases, be sure to step back, pull out your list and carefully gauge if this property meets all of your must-have criteria. Savvy house hunters say that when you find the right property, you can feel it down to your bones. If that’s the case for you, see if you can wait a day (or a few hours) before making an offer. The only thing worse than buyer’s remorse is letting a dream home get away.
First-Time Buyers Plan: 8 Steps to Buying Smart
Navigating the World of Canadian Home Buying
Step 1: Figure out How Much You Can Afford
Falling in love with a house you can’t afford can be heartbreaking. Avoid disappointment by figuring out your budget before you start looking.
First, decide how much you can afford for your down payment. The Home Buyers Plan lets you withdraw up to $25K per person (or up to $50K per couple) from your RRSPs – tax-free – to be repaid over 15 years. More on that. The bigger your down payment, the less principal you will owe, and the less interest you will pay.
Don’t forget about closing costs, like insurance, legal fees, home inspection costs, land registration and land transfer fees. Add those to your moving expenses and service hookup fees, and they can add up surprisingly fast.
Your monthly housing expenses (mortgage, taxes, heat, etc.) shouldn’t use up more than 32% of your income. (If your combined monthly income is $5000, for example, 32% of that is $1600.) If you have car payments or credit card debt, the rule of thumb is that debt repayment shouldn’t be more than 40% of your income.
Get pre-approved for your mortgage. It’s a good way of finding out how much you can borrow – and it speeds up the process once you’ve found the home you want to buy.
Step 2: Figure out What Type of Home Is Right for You
Sit down and make a list of must-haves and nice-to-haves. Be realistic, but be clear about the features you can’t live without. How many bedrooms do you need? Bathrooms? Do you want a home office? A garage? How about a big backyard? Hardwood floors? Eat-in kitchen? Consider your lifestyle and your stage of life. If you’re planning kids in a year or two, the studio loft might not be your best bet.
Step 3: Decide Where You Want to Live
Living in an area you like is as important as buying a home you love. Do you want a busy urban lifestyle, a house in the ‘burbs, or a quiet place in the country? Do you want to walk to work or are you okay with a longer commute? Do you need to be close to good schools? Rec facilities? Shopping?
Step 4: Start Looking
Go to open houses. Visit mls.ca. Check the classifieds. Drive around neighbourhoods you like looking for For Sale signs. Talk to your REALTOR® about your needs and start looking at properties.
Step 5: Build a Team
Put together the right group of experts to help you buy. Start with a REALTOR® you trust, then look for a reputable lender or mortgage broker, a lawyer (or a notary in Quebec), a home inspector and an insurance broker. Your REALTOR® works closely with all of these professionals, and will be happy to recommend people you can depend on.
Step 6: Make an Offer
You’ve found the perfect place – now it’s time to make an offer. An offer to purchase includes the purchase price you’re offering, chattels to be included in the purchase (like appliances or light fixtures), the amount of the deposit, the closing date and any other conditions.
Your REALTOR® will help you prepare your offer, and will present it to the vendor, who will either accept it or make a counter offer (which asks for a higher price or different terms). You can accept or reject the counter offer. If everyone agrees, the home is yours. If not, you can make another offer, or you may have to keep looking.
Step 7: Get a Mortgage
Once you’re approved, you’ll need to decide what type of mortgage works best for your needs. Will you go with a fixed or variable interest rate? Will your mortgage be closed or open? What will your amortization period be? Will you make payments monthly, biweekly or weekly? Your mortgage broker or lender can help you find a mortgage that suits your needs – and saves you the most money in the long term.
Step 8: Move in and Enjoy!
*Trademarks owned or controlled by The Canadian Real Estate Association. Used under licence.