Anecdotes and Advice from a First Time Home Buyer Part 4 – What To Buy

by Mike Holman

My friend Christine has kindly agreed to write a series of posts on her experiences with buying a home for the first time which will be posted occasionally.
See Part 3 - Choosing a realtor.

Prioritizing a wish list

Be realistic about what you want or need in a home. There are so many permutations of features in houses and condos out there that you have to think about what you absolutely cannot live without and then be clear in explaining your needs list to your realtor.

Creating a wish list is a process of evaluating what is realistic balanced against the market and is a good starting point for your realtor. A condo or a house? A fixer-upper versus a newly built home? How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you require. Do you need parking? Close to the night life or a quiet subdivision? Are you willing to commute? Do you wish to rent out part of the home? Are you a gardener or do you hate the idea of outside maintenance?

What we are looking for

My ideal home is downtown, has at least four bedrooms with as many bathrooms, and has an open, Hotel W aesthetic with immense closets. The dream is achievable, but not in Toronto and not on my budget.

With a $500-600,000 budget, the home that I am seeking is walking distance to the subway in central or north Toronto. While my budget seems generous, the buying power of our money is greatly reduced by the location. My husband and I require three bedrooms and would like to have at least two bathrooms. Within our budget, a detached home is unlikely. Our hope is to find a house that is structurally up-to-date in terms of wiring, plumbing and the roof, such that only cosmetic updating would be needed.

However, we are trying to remain open-minded and are also considering fixer-uppers which our agent feels may be available in the $400,000 range. Within our budget constraints, a fixer-upper would potentially allow us to stay downtown and may give us added space. In terms of future resale potential, it may also be wiser to fix up a solid home in a developing hot central neighbourhood than to buy a starter home in an established one. Some of the smaller renovated homes that we have seen in the Annex were not renovated to our standards or tastes and did not seem to justify the $700,000+ price tag.
Home buying is all about timing, so we shall wait and see what is available in the months ahead.


By far the biggest factor in the cost of a home is location. The neighbourhood that you choose will have a great impact not only on your lifestyle, but on the cost of a home and the type of home that is available.

For my husband and I, location is our top requirement. We wish to be close to the Annex or the Yonge Street corridor, and walking distance to the subway. We are true urbanites who like to be a short walk to everything from grocery stores to restaurants and jobs.

If you are new to a city, check with friends and colleagues about different neighbourhoods. Form your own opinions by visiting open houses, talking to neighbours and looking around the area. If you have children, check into the reputation of the schools nearby.

Some good neighbourhood references are the real estate guide on the Toronto Life website, and a book called, what else, Your Guide to Toronto Neighbourhoods by David Dunkelman. These sources each give an overview of the type of houses in different areas, and, in the case of Toronto Life, fairly recent housing prices. Keep in mind though that the descriptions do not give a complete picture in terms of area safety, noise levels and the type of current residents, factors which you should evaluate in person. Regardless of lifestyle, your real estate agent is a valuable resource for providing up-to-date advice in this regard.

If like myself, neighbourhood “walkability” and nearby amenities are important, is a wonderful tool. Just type in an address or postal code, and up pops a list of everything from coffee shops to parks and their proximity. A walk score rating out of 100 is also listed. Also helpful for pinpointing location is the mapping program on

Finally, on Fridays, the Globe and Mail has a real estate section with helpful profiles on recently sold homes and their asking and selling prices.

Read the next post in this series “The Search“.

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