Buying your first property is monumental. It will probably be one of the biggest purchases, if not the biggest purchase, you’ll ever make in your life. And with all the complexities of the GTA real estate market, navigating that first purchase can be overwhelming.
But as Strata agent Kenan Yousef says: “There is never a ‘right time’ to buy your first home — only the right circumstances.”
Those circumstances primarily being whether you can afford the property, and if you even like it. However, there’s a couple other things you might want to consider when embarking on this important journey.
“The most common mistake buyers make on their house hunt is not knowing their actual budget,” says Strata realtor, Rajiv Gupta.
Figuring out a realistic budget before you start looking is critical, so you don’t end up putting an offer on something you can’t afford.
“Buyers should have enough savings for the downpayment and closing costs,” notes fellow agent, Upsham Kamboj.
“They must not only factor in the expenses involved in acquiring the property, but also keep some money separate to make repairs if needed,” adds Gupta.
Ultimately it’s important to budget for things like legal fees, property taxes, land transfer tax, and moving costs – not just the house itself.
In addition to having enough savings, it’s also crucial to get pre-approved for a mortgage. This can give you a competitive edge, especially if you’re competing against other offers. However, you do need to time that pre-approval just right.
“Never rush into a pre-approval if you’re not committed to the process because those rates will eventually expire. And once they expire, you’ll have to re-qualify all over again,” warns Yousef.
“Another mistake [people] make is not using a realtor to help them,” explains Gupta.
“People don't realize that the professional expertise of a realtor is at no cost to the buyer, and that it can save you from unfair negotiations or going into a purchase blind.”
A good agent will scour the GTA looking for homes that meet your needs, and could even bring you properties that haven’t hit the market yet. However, it’s important to pick the right realtor. We recommend collecting referrals from recent homebuyers, or interviewing a few agents (and requesting references) before committing to one.
As the saying goes in real estate: Location, location, location.
GTA neighbourhoods each have their quirks. So always consider where the home is situated, and whether it will suit your lifestyle over the long-term.
For example, if the neighbourhood is walkable with amenities close by — this might be key if you don’t own a car. And for young families, child-friendly areas in good school districts will likely influence your final decision.
We suggest visiting a potential neighbourhood several times to get a feel for the community. Go at night, on the weekends, or random hours during the day. Check out what the parking situation is like, if the neighbours are noisy, and if the residents are looking after their lawns.
Remember: You can change almost anything about a house, except for the location. So you better make sure you like it.
Do you want a condo, townhouse, bungalow, or something entirely different?
Whatever your taste, it’s important to think through the pros and cons of each. Not to mention what it means for your lifestyle and budget.
For example, if you’re buying a condo — you’ll want to look into the cost of maintenance fees, the health of the board's reserve fund, and if they allow pets or Airbnbs.
“Condo buildings that permit Airbnbs may attract some noisy neighbours, or even reduce the safety of your building,” comments Kamboj.
On the other hand, if you’re buying a heritage house, you’ll want to know what you can and cannot do legally when it comes to renovations.
“Buyers should be aware of properties that are sold on an 'as-is-where-is' basis. The property may have been neglected for a long time, requiring tons of work,” warns Gupta. “There could also be hidden issues in the mechanical or structural areas of the property.”
Meanwhile, adds Kamboj, “Buyers should watch for homes that were renovated without a permit, as these properties can eventually come under scrutiny by the city.”
“Unique features may charm you into purchasing the property, but buyers must evaluate for themselves the practicality of such unique features as they may become an obstacle for resale,” says Gupta.
Gupta also adds, “Another thing to check for are possible pest infestations. Generally, buyers go in for a house inspection. But I'd certainly encourage them to invest a little money for a pest inspection as well.”