Anecdotes and Advice from a First Time Home Buyer Part 9 – A Reflection

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 8 – Condos and Taxes.

Several months into the Search

After a few months of searching for a house, what have we learned about ourselves and what compromises are we willing to make in our quest towards home ownership?

It has definitely been a learning experience as we grow more comfortable with the market and narrow down the neighbourhoods. We are only starting to accustom ourselves to the dizzying whirl by which houses are bought and sold downtown. The majority of houses are sold within a week of being listed. A day or two can mean losing out completely on a house. Oftentimes we were not quick enough to even visit a house before it was sold. Photos while useful, are not always accurate and do not replace an in-person visit. We also find it stressful having to decide on a house within just a couple of days of seeing it.

My intention of taking a practical approach to the house hunt seems to have flown out the door. Hubby and I have had strongly positive or negative reactions to the properties that we have seen. Other times, we have felt indifferent about a property which for us is not ideal considering the half million dollar price tag. Despite the quantity and variety of houses out there, we have not yet been able to match a house to our requirements and budget. I feel like picky Goldilocks trying to find a house that is just right instead of too small, too dark, too far, too much work, or too expensive.

While we recognize that it may be foolish, there are developing areas in large swathes of the city that my husband and I have discounted because they are too rough for our liking. Early evening “stroll tests” have helped us determine if we would be comfortable in a particular area. Some of the downtown areas undergoing transition are rather deserted in the evening and have rundown buildings popular with the homeless.

With our modest budget, is the search an exercise in futility? We are not ready to panic yet. Downtown is still realistic for our budget if we can imagine the potential of a fixer-upper. The trick is in finding the right house with an affordable amount of work. Our real estate agent has advised us to keep the neighbourhood in mind when considering renovations. In other words, don’t put more money into a house than the area is worth. Expensive finishes and renovations in some neighbourhoods will not be recouped when a house is resold, and thus should only be chosen for personal enjoyment.

Our friends have asked us if the over-inflated downtown prices are serving to change our minds about wanting to stay downtown. We have vacillated for months with the idea of moving farther out, but our forays out of the downtown core are showing us that a house is less important to us than staying downtown. Therefore we are definitely more open to condominium ownership than we were previously, but are not yet ready to take that route.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mr. Cheap

Great series! The evening stroll test is a great idea to figure out how comfortable you’d be in an area…

2 FourPillars

I guess if the “evening stroll” turns into a “run for your life” then the area fails?

3 Gates VP

I can imagine the emotional journey that you are taking. It’s probably worth remembering that owning a place in downtown TO or Vancouver is really different from owning a place anywhere else in Canada.

The premium price tag comes from living in a premium city. So if you’re finding it hard, it’s b/c it is. And nothing short of picking a different city will make it any easier.

Though I am impressed with your patience.

4 Mr. Cheap

Mike: lol. I guess it *is* kind of like testing a bridge by walking across it…

5 Potato

I have no experience or expertise with real estate, but I understand that at the moment the Toronto market is particularly hot because of the fear about the upcoming land transfer tax. Have you thought about sitting it out until the new year?

Also, looking back through the series I see why you like the areas you’re searching in, as well as the type of house you want… but I don’t see a big driving reason for wanting to own vs. rent. Have you considered renting in the target areas?

6 Samantha

Thanks for sharing your story. It sounds like exactly what we were going through. After months of looking and “stalking” various neighborhoods we were starting to feel the impatience of our real estate agent. We kept walking into places that met our budget but were too dark, too small, too ugly or in a neighborhood that had a grocery cart sitting on the corner. I made irrational statements like “I’m not living somewhere that grocery carts are decorative”.

Its hard to remain practical and make the lists you promised yourself you’d make and take the time you promised yourself you’d take when houses are sold so quickly. In a lot of ways as you get farther into the house hunt you just get faster and summing up the pros and cons and rejecting the ones that aren’t right.

Then one day…you will, and we did, walk into a house and know instantly that it’s “right”.

Be patient and you will find the right place.

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