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Searching for a home in Toronto


This is the best part of the real estate experience (and the most physically exhausting)! Find out the details so you’re fully prepared for the journey.


Whenever I think of house hunting in Toronto I always imagine a man dressed to hike The Himalayas – goggles, boots, rope, backpack, hat, ice pick, etc, etc. The real estate market conditions in Toronto are similar in terms or harshness and unpredictability so it’s imperative to be ready for everything.


The truth is, especially for first time buyers, it’s a pretty dog-eat-dog situation out there and if you don’t have the confidence, knowledge or resolve to win, then you will be looking for your first home for a very long time.


Get pre-approved for a mortgage.

Unless you have a pre-approval on a mortgage and know exactly what you can afford and under what terms, do not start looking for anything. The reality is that you will be wasting everyone’s time if you go looking for a house without your finances figured out. If you find the perfect place, put in an offer and then find out that you can’t actually be approved for a mortgage – that will be a big no-no for everyone involved. So save yourself the trouble and disappointment, go to the bank (or mortgage broker) first.


Sit down and figure out what you want and what you can afford.

Recognize that a lot of the times, those two are completely different and you will need to make compromises. Decide what the compromises will be and take it seriously. This will save you a lot of money and time. Dreaming of and planning for a $800,000 condo when you can only afford a $400,000 place will lose you many real opportunities. Remember, you can always upgrade when you have more financial freedom to do so. Think of the absolute must-haves, what you could potentially live with or without, and what you absolutely will not accept.


No house/condo is perfect.

This really can’t be stressed enough and the sooner you accept this reality, the easier the process will become. 100% of the time, you will find something negative either about the property, building, or neighbourhood. Shopping for real estate is like dating – some are great dates, others are terrible, when you get married though, are you marrying someone who is 100% perfect? Absolutely not, and real estate is the same. Get it out of your head that you will find the perfect house. You will find YOUR perfect house, but it will have some negative attributes to it, guaranteed.


Thou shalt not blindly trust information on MLS listings.

Let me break it you – a lot of that information is wrong, misleading, missing and incomplete. Houses in real life are miles (and miles) away from houses on MLS. Sadly, there is a small percentage of listings that get across how good a house is so get into the habit of visiting many properties, comparing them and getting to know the housing market. After you get familiar with a neighbourhood you love and see a number of homes, bam, you will know which one will be yours when you walk in.


Don’t get emotionally attached.

Easier said than done, hands down, but this is one of the most important aspects of house hunting. Don’t get overly excited about anything as this can greatly impact your judgment.  Even if you aren’t buying for investment purposes, you must still look at this as a financial decision and carefully analyze all aspects of the purchase. Especially try to keep your emotions at bay during a bidding war. It’s not personal.


Learn to see through that furniture and the décor.

It’s not necessary to develop x-ray vision for the task of finding a home but seeing past the staging, amazing lighting and great accessories will really help you out in the long run. There is a reason why the staging industry has exploded in the last few years – because it works. Staging is supposed to add to the property but sometimes, buyers fall in love with what seems rather than what is. As a buyer, your job is to see the real attributes of the property and not get attracted to the wrapping.


Ignore the filth.

Yes, sometimes homes are not cared for in the best way and it can be really (really) hard to see past the lack of attention. However, you must remember that you are buying the structure and not the content so inspect everything around the filth and always have some spare socks with you.


Focus on the big picture.

Whenever you get overwhelmed by the weight of the decision you’re making and the money you’re spending – look at the bigger picture of home ownership. Remember that you will no longer be paying rent to your landlord but toward your equity. Remember that it’s not worth losing a great home over being stubborn and refusing to raise your offer by another 5K to meet the seller. How much is that 5K going to add to your monthly mortgage payments? Probably less than what you spend on coffee that month.


Don’t be stubborn.

Very similar to the above. Having sound criteria and a good understanding of what you want is essential however, flexibility is an absolute must. This is why you need to figure out what you can compromise on. If you can live with that ugly wall to wall carpet in the basement for a few years until you have the money to upgrade – don’t pass up a great opportunity. Remember that you are buying the house and the property and everything (well, almost everything) can be changed, don’t lose sight of how good a house actually is because you’re too focused on the details and refuse to budge on your opinion.


Wear comfortable clothes (shoes), bring water, and just one car.

This will help you stay alert, organized and ready to see many properties if need be. Seems pretty trivial but if you don’t account for all the little things during those long days you may start to hate everything and that is not conducive to buying success.


If your mom/dad/uncle/brother etc, will be involved in the purchase of the property – bring them along with you to the showings.

Here’s why. First, if they are financially involved, it is imperative for them to know what you’re buying and considering before making any commitments. Second, you may not get a chance to bring them back because by the time you manage to gather everyone together, that house or condo may be gone. Third, it saves you A LOT of time. If you’re making this decision with someone else, you need to have their opinion right there and then so that you don’t waste your time visiting a property that they refuse to even go into. If you’re buying with your significant other, make sure you are both present at all the showings for the same reasons – saves you time, disagreement and no lost opportunities.


When you see that perfect place, don’t delay.

By the time you show it to your grandma and third cousin twice removed, the property may be in someone else’s hands. Yes, the market is that fast paced and yes, you must be prepared for it. Realtors work basically 24 hours a day so even if it’s crazy early or crazy late, the offer doesn’t wait (hey, that rhymes!).


Some general tips

-       Visit the property at various times in the day. You will need to know if the school kids across the street will drive you insane and if that ravine is prime real estate for racoon living

-       Get to know the neighbourhood. The area adds or subtracts a lot of value from a property and we’re blessed with a variety of different neighbourhoods to choose from in Toronto

-       Neighbours are important too; make sure there is no funny business going on, hence visiting the property at various times in the day is beneficial

-       Sometimes deals fall through even when everything looks like it’s perfect. You may lose that bidding war (more than once depending on what you’re looking for) but as soon as something doesn’t go your way, move on and look for the next best opportunity. 


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