With a rapidly-shifting market, legislative changes, and some of the city’s lowest inventory in years, buying a house in Toronto isn’t easy. But there are clear ways to make navigating Toronto’s real estate market easier. Don’t forget these dos and don’ts when buying a home!

When it comes to choosing a Realtor…

DO: Hire an experienced buyer’s agent

Here’s an industry secret: most agents don’t work 50-50 with buyers and sellers. Many get close to an even split, especially with more time and experience in the industry. But most agents often specialize in one type of client more than the other, and prefer to work with one over the other.

To hire an experienced buyer’s agent, make sure you ask about past buyer clients, or the number of buyers they’ve helped in the last few years. Find out their negotiation experience by asking about certifications or for anecdotes about times they’ve used their negotiation skills to help a client.

DON’T: Skip meeting with several real estate agents

Another industry secret: most buyers sign with the first agent they meet in person. Which means, for real estate agents, getting that first meeting is crucial.

Maybe that’s not a secret. But it has a rippling effect: most agents spend a lot of their money on marketing to get in front of new clients.  The first agent you meet isn’t always the right one for you. And finding a good fit can take a bit of work.

Interview a few agents, asking similar questions, and take your time in deciding which one is right for you. Ask questions about market conditions, buying in your budget, target neighbourhood, negotiating experience, and what compromises the agent thinks you should make on your wish list.  What is their reputation like?  Check online for testimonials and reviews or visit their website to see what other clients have said.

When you’re planning what you want…

DO: Make a list of needs, wants, nice-to-haves

Sit down with all of the stakeholders in your move – kids, partners, pets, and more –  discuss what they love about where you’re living now, and what they’d like to see in their new future home.

Make a list of your needs, wants, and the nice-to-have bonuses, and bring that into your real estate agent meetings. It’s much easier for me to find your dream home when you have some guiding principles in mind, like type of home, number of bedrooms, if you need a backyard and garage, or where your dream neighbourhood is.

DON’T: Be too tied to your list

It’s a tough buyer’s market out there – even now, during the first slowdown in years. Being flexible on things like location, style, and “move-in condition” can save you headaches and even some money in the long run.

If your list of wants exceeds your budget, then it’s time to think about compromises. Consider townhouses or condos, which are appreciating well right now and can be a good stepping stone to your dream home.

There are other ways to work around your list. Think about up-and-coming or transitional neighbourhoods instead of established ones. Maybe reduce the number of bedrooms you’re looking for, or compromise on parking. There are ways to get what you want – but, often, it means compromise.

When it comes to viewing homes…

DO: Show up prepared

Before you go to your first showing, get mortgage pre-approval. It’s not optional in Toronto – any offer you make likely won’t be accepted unless it includes pre-approval.

It makes the buying process much easier in the long run. When you have pre-approval, you’ll know exactly the kind of move-in ready home that fits into your budget, or you can budget more flexibly for a fixer-upper.

Remember that interest rates will likely go up in the future and that the “stress test” isn’t the whole picture when it comes to paying your mortgage.

DON’T: Fall in love with a house at the top of your budget

I’d recommend avoiding houses at the top end of your budget. Many properties are still going for well over asking price, and so you might be setting yourself up for heartbreak by viewing only the homes at the top end of your budget.

And don’t forget about the Land Transfer taxes, moving costs, closing adjustments, and lawyer costs. Keep these in mind as you view and select homes!

When it’s time to choose “the one”…

DO: Sweat the small stuff

An old friend of mine worked as a hiring manager at a large firm. He once told me that if there was something that annoyed him about a person in an interview, he knew that he’d be firing them over it in a year’s time.

The idea is that we often notice small drawbacks during viewings, but write them off as “I’ll get over it”. But some annoyances don’t go away – and can turn into massive problems if we live with them for too long.

An awkward staircase that even stagers can’t work around, an uncomfortable kitchen layout, or too few windows is not something to take lightly. Talk about these drawbacks as much as you talk about budget and inspection reports – because you’ll be living there!

DON’T: Waste your time chasing a home that doesn’t exist

No home in your price range and dream neighbourhood is going to be exactly what you’re looking for. If it doesn’t exist, you’re in for a long search.  Consider the cost of waiting: home prices have risen significantly every year for the last 15 years, and it won’t be stopping anytime soon. The longer you wait, the more expensive homes in the city become, and the more out of reach your dream becomes.

Instead, think about your five-year plan. Find something that works for the next five years, and how you can work towards your true dream home while building equity in your mid-term home.

When you’re ready to make an offer…

DO: Prepare to act quickly

Try to keep your schedule open and flexible for last-minute showings. Homes, especially those in hot neighbourhoods like Seaton Village and Bloor West, sell fast.  Once a desirable home hits the market, make plans to see it as soon as possible.

Make sure your finances are in order, taxes are up to date, credit score is acceptable, pre-approval is in place, and you know your monthly costs. This means you can act quicker, submit an offer quicker, and maybe score a hot ticket before someone else does.

DON’T: Expect success with lowball or highly conditional offers

When it comes to offers, trust an expert: open strong with a clean, competitive offer.

Lowball offers (or even listing price offers) that include conditions won’t cut it in today’s environment.

Know the neighbourhood, what other homes are going for, and how long the house has been on the market. In some cases, homes that don’t sell are taken off MLS and then re-listed to avoid the languishing reputation. Use this information to your advantage to craft an appealing and fair offer.

What do you think? Did I forget anything?  Let us know in the comments!


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