Find a House that Feels Like Home
Just like with neighbourhoods, deciding on your must-haves and nice-to-haves for a home will help you narrow down what you're looking for.
Your Home Search
From online listings to touring open houses, looking at homes can be both fun and stressful. Most people start their search online, and make their final decision partially based on how the home fits their wishlist and partially based on gut feel while seeing a home in person.
Using REALM for your home search
Once you know some areas of the city you're interested in, there are multiple sites online where you can apply filters and look at listings. REALM is a new home search tool made to help you narrow down your search and collaborate with your real estate agent in your home search. You can do in-depth searches, favourite listings and message your agent about them, get notified of new listings matching your specifications, and get suggestions based on listings you've liked. You can also see detailed information about listings, like market analytics and historical listing data. Ask your real estate agent for an invitation to REALM.
What to consider when looking at homes (online or in person)
- Look beyond the staging, or lack thereof. You're not buying the rented designer staging furniture (or the seller's mess). Find out about the age of the roof, the furnace, cracks in the foundation, mold in the basement, and all that unsexy stuff. A currently ugly house could need very little to make it great, and a beautiful house could have all kinds of problems.
- Consider how you and your family really live, and your plans for the future. Will you really use all the rooms? Will you really want kids' stuff all over the open concept house with no playroom? Will three flights of stairs be too much as you age? Do you plan on having more kids than there are bedrooms in the home? Do you want to maintain a large garden? It's easy to fall in love with an ideal life in an HGTV house, but this will be your home every day.
- Really dig into the cost and hassle of various renovations, especially in older homes. For most people who buy a real fixer-upper, this means many months of living in a construction site, either doing backbreaking work yourself or having a steady stream of people constantly in your house. And hardly anyone stays even close to within their original budget.
Your real estate agent will be able to get you set up so that you see only listings relevant to your needs and budget, rather than all homes available. Your agent is also a great source for information on home prices (both list prices and real sale prices), typical prices for different home types in your neighbourhoods of interest, and more. When you're touring a home or looking at one online, your agent will also be able to spot red flags that you might miss, and should be able to either give you an estimate of what you'd be looking at for necessary renovations or refer you to a good contractor who can give you a more specific estimate.
Building your home-buying team
The vast majority of buyers work with a real estate agent and a mortgage lender, as well as a real estate lawyer. This team of professionals will make sure your home-buying experience goes as smoothly as possible, and handle any problems that come up with the process. Choosing people you trust, who understand your needs, and who are experienced in situations like yours is key to a good buying experience.
Your Real Estate Agent
The real estate agent you choose can be a huge asset. It's worth it to take the time to talk to several agents and find someone you work well with, who understands you, and who you trust. In particular, a real estate agent should have expertise in the particular neighbourhoods you're considering and with the home types you're looking for, and experience working with buyers like you. Your real estate agent will also likely be able to recommend other professionals they and their clients have worked well with before, like lawyers and contractors.
Just like with a real estate agent, lenders can have different focuses too. Be sure the person you're talking to, whether a representative of the bank or a mortgage broker, understands and has expertise with your particular situation. Mortgages for first-time buyers, self-employed people, investors, people in the middle of a divorce, people with lots of debt or a checkered credit history, and so on, can all have different considerations.
Your lender should be able to explain to you what factors will affect the mortgage they can offer you and if there's any steps you can take to improve your chances of approval at a great rate.
A real estate lawyer is important in the final stages of buying a home - they help you make sure everything is set up properly so that the home will be yours free and clear, and your rights are protected. Your lawyer will confirm the home's current owners and legal status and investigate things like builder's liens, easements, rights of way, and so on, as well as the details of all your legal agreements. Missing anything here can be expensive or even disastrous, so choosing an experienced lawyer is key.
On closing day, your lawyer will check for last minute claims to the title of the property, and handle the closing day financial tasks: releasing funds from their trust account to the seller's lawyer, and paying any money required on the date of closing, like land transfer tax.
A good real estate lawyer for your situation will have local expertise in the type of property you're buying, and will specialize in real estate law. Your lawyer should be able to explain all the legal factors involved in the home buying process on your side and on the seller's side, in plain language instead of the legalese that will be in the documents themselves.
Learn more about real estate lawyers in the GTA here.
Other home professionals
Home inspectors, handymen, painters, cleaners, flooring installers, landscapers -- depending on the home you buy, you may need a whole team of other professionals for both necessary and nice-to-have home improvements. Your real estate agent likely has relationships with professionals in these fields as well, and can recommend someone to answer questions like "Are these hardwood floors salvageable or do I need new flooring?"
In very hot markets, buyers frequently waive home inspection conditions, but missing major issues like structural damage, plumbing problems, or electrical problems can be incredibly expensive. Having a home inspector who can walk through a showing with you is one strategy buyers can use to help protect themselves, if home inspection conditions would sink your offer and the seller isn't including a pre-listing home inspection.
Learn more about other home professionals here:Home Inspectors
Home Insurance Brokers
How to Make Compromises that Count in Your Home Search
What do you do if you can't find everything on your home wishlist within your budget? This is the case for most of us, especially in expensive and competitive markets like Toronto.
There are a few different factors you can compromise on, and which ones are first on the chopping block will depend on your particular situation - your family's needs, your work location, your budget. But when every neighbourhood and house has its own compromises, how can you tell which compromises are worth it?
Would you rather have a 2 bathroom house in a neighbourhood that meets less of your needs than a 1 bathroom house in a neighbourhood that meets most of your needs? What about a townhouse in a neighbourhood without a dog park, vs a detached home where you wouldn't have an extra bedroom for an office? What about a longer commute for you but your kids can attend a particular school program, vs a higher rated school and shorter commute but at the very top of your budget?
It can be really hard to even determine which of your preferences a neighbourhood and home meets and doesn't meet, much less keep track of this information of all the different areas you're interested in and compare them against each other. We developed the Homebuyer Hub, and in particular, HoodQ Neighbourhood Insights™, to help with this.
After a one minute quiz, your Insights™ neighbourhood recommendations will tell you which of your wishlist items aren't met in each recommended neighbourhood. For example, if you'd prefer a 15 minute commute, it will tell you that this neighbourhood isn't 15 minutes away, but it is under 30 minutes away.
If there aren't any listings that match your specific home preferences within a particular neighbourhood, Insights™ will recommend ones that are as close as possible to your specifications - and it'll expand its definition step by step so you get the closest listings to your preferences. If there are no exact matches or homes under your minimum budget number that match, first it'll include homes with fewer bathrooms that match all your other specifications. If there are still no matches, it'll include homes with fewer bedrooms, and then homes of a different type (like townhouses when you wanted a detached home), and then homes a small percentage over your maximum budget.
If you'd prefer a map experience, our CityLife Map™ also recommends neighbourhoods and links you to our Neighbourhood Guides™, though Insights™ provides more personalized detail about each recommendation. Our School Locator™ tool is another option if schools are one of your top priorities.
Buying a House in a New City
Homebuying is a stressful process for anyone, but moving to a new city (or province, or country) has its own particular challenges. You may only be able to visit a couple of times, and it's hard to get a sense of the city and neighbourhoods, never mind each house you're considering.Get to know neighbourhoods virtually
Not sure where you want to live? The Homebuyer Hub was designed to help you out. Our Insights™ quiz takes just a minute to capture your wishlist, and recommend neighbourhoods from across the region that fit your needs - and explain how each neighbourhood matches and doesn't. Insights™ also shows you specific current listings that match your criteria in your recommended neighbourhoods. Our School Locator™ and CityLife Map™ tools have many filters to help you narrow down neighbourhoods. And our Neighbourhood Guides™ are perfect for deep diving into each of the neighbourhoods you're considering.
Besides the tools in the Hub, Google Streetview can help you virtually walk around in a neighbourhood, and Google Maps can tell you what the traffic is like on the route you'll take to work at the times you'll be travelling.Make your visits count
Line up as many house tours as you can, of course. But also make sure to spend time in the neighbourhoods you're considering. Ideally, visit them at different times of the day. The same street can be pretty different during the day when everyone's at school or work, vs a Saturday afternoon, vs a Friday evening.Lean on any locals you know
If you have friends or family in your new city, you probably already have someone who could be willing to go to a few neighbourhoods and open houses and tell you what they think. If you're a member of a faith community or any other community with chapters/groups in different cities, you may be able to find someone local who is willing to give you the inside scoop. Of course, there's always the internet - check out local forums and online groups and ask for help.
Your real estate agent will be essential in this process. They'll be able to explain all of the particularities of your new city, from areas where there will be lots of new construction to the hidden gems. They should be able to give you a local's opinion of different neighbourhoods you might be considering.Use technology to help with the buying process
One benefit of the pandemic's effect on the real estate industry is making virtual tours standard in many markets. These can really give you a good idea of what it's like to walk through a home, more so than photos alone. You should also ask your agent to give you a video call tour of your prospective homes when you can't be there in person.
Many of the paperwork tasks involved in buying a home can now be either automated or done online with new tools. The old days of rushing out to a 24 hour copy shop to fax a signed document are mostly gone!
While it's never going to be stress-free, it's easier now than ever to relocate, with lots of helpful technology to assist you in the process.
Advantages and Disadvantage of Different Kinds of Homes
Homes come in all shapes and sizes, and it can be tough to decide which is the right fit for you.Detached and Semi-Detached Homes
Many buyers are interested in detached homes to get the most privacy and space. The primary disadvantage of detached homes is pretty obvious to any homebuyer: they're the most expensive. And areas where there are a lot of detached homes can be quite far away from anything else, although there are definitely walkable neighbourhoods with lots of detached homes as well as community services, shops, and dining. Also, many people want a detached home for a big yard for the kids or dogs, but don't fully consider how much yard work they'll have to do with a large yard.
In a semi-detached home, you'll share one wall with a neighbour, but otherwise generally have the same advantages as a detached home. Semi-detached homes may be less expensive than detached, and may also have smaller yards requiring less maintenance, with only front, back, and one side of space.Freehold and Condo Townhouses
There are two different kinds of townhouses: freehold townhouses, and condo townhouses. A freehold townhouse is legally the same as a single family home - you own and are responsible for the entire house inside and out.
In a condo townhouse, you will have a similar condo association structure as a condo apartment. You will likely get some condo-typical amenities, such as a pool for residents, and may not need to do some or any of your own lawn and snow maintenance. External updates and repairs like a new roof may also be handled by the condo association. Townhouses may be in a row, or may be stacked (especially for condo townhouses), so you could have downstairs or upstairs neighbours as well as side neighbours.Condo Apartments
Condo apartments are a favourite for buyers looking for lower-cost, minimal maintenance city living. No yard work required, and many big ticket items like roof replacement are off your plate. Condos usually have amenities for residents, possibly including a gym, pool, outdoor spaces, a concierge, and/or a spot in a parking garage. Some condo buildings have retail stores like food markets and dry cleaners on their lower levels, agreements with car sharing companies, or various other building specific options.
If you're considering a condo, it's important to find out all you can about the condo corporation, fees for both regular monthly costs and upcoming major upgrades you will need to contribute to, specific details about your responsibilities and rights and their responsibilities and rights. You should also find out about any restrictions that matter to you (like pets, bikes, barbecues, smoking, if you can remove walls or make other significant renovations, etc), and shared living factors like how noise carries, if there's a lack of space in the parking garage, or if your unit would be next to the garbage chute.Using Insights™ to decide on a home type
If you have no idea what kind of home you want to live in, or aren't sure what kind of home you can actually afford, our Insights™ tool can be a great help. Choose several or all of the options for home type, and the recommendations page will tell you whether each of your matched neighbourhoods has listed or sold homes of that type within your budget - and how many of the recent listings/sales fit.
So then if in a particular neighbourhood only 5% of detached homes were within your budget, but 67% of townhouses and 90% of condos were within budget, you know that you're probably looking at one of the latter options if you want to live there.
Some other Homebuyer Hub features that can help you include the CityLife Map™ page and Neighbourhood Guides™. If you'd prefer neighbourhoods that have predominantly one or two home types (e.g. mostly detached and semi-detached homes), you can choose that as a filter along with your budget and home criteria. Each neighbourhood's Neighbourhood Guide™ also tells you the percentage of each type of home there, and other relevant information.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a House
It can be overwhelming to tour houses, even when it's exciting and fun. There are many things to consider when looking at homes. Here are a few.The Size of the House
Think carefully about the size of the house that suits your family’s needs and fits your budget. While most families want at least two bedrooms, you may need more if you have children. An extra bedroom can always come in handy as a guest room, office, playroom or workout area. Likewise, consider how many bathrooms your family needs. An extra bathroom will be useful when your children grow older or when guests visit.The Age of the House
While older houses can be more charming and larger than smaller and more expensive homes, they may also need more repairs and upgrades. Also, older homes tend to be less energy efficient than newer homes, resulting in higher energy bills.
While newer homes can be costlier, they usually feature energy-efficient designs, modern fixtures in the kitchen and bathrooms, and contemporary architecture. Ultimately, there are pros and cons to both types of homes, and the final decision may depend on your personal preference.Driveway, Lawn, and Yard
If your family owns multiple vehicles, then look for homes with extra parking space. If your future home doesn’t have a garage, then you may need a driveway big enough to accommodate multiple vehicles, especially if curb parking is forbidden in the neighbourhood.
If you have kids or dogs, then you may want a home that either has a sizable yard, preferably fenced. You can also use these areas to socialize in the summer by hosting a barbeque.The Appliances
The appliances that come with a home can vary greatly. Some homes feature the latest stoves, fridges, microwaves, and even smart home devices such as AI-controlled lights, thermostats, and security cameras. Conversely, others may only have an ageing fridge and stove. The appliances can also vary by type. For example, while some homes feature electric ovens, others have the gas-powered variety. If you have strong preferences for appliances, then you may need to spend significantly more to upgrade if a potential home doesn’t have what you demand.
These are some features you should consider before buying a new house. While there are multiple factors to consider, you can make the process easier by staying flexible and prioritizing your wants.