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, www.torontothegood.com 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, www.walkscore.com 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 www.google.com.
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“.
13 replies on “Anecdotes and Advice from a First Time Home Buyer Part 4 – What To Buy”
I am so glad you mentioned the Walkscore index! It was just recently that I found this very useful site and since then I have checked a couple of street addresses myself. Walkability is surely one of the factors that can influence your decision on where to look for your future home. Location is the key, we all know that.
I don’t like the walkscore site. It doesn’t seem to take into account proximity to subways/streetcars (which are vital to hardcore walkers like me – I don’t even have a drivers license). It also assumes waaaay too small a walk zone – among other examples, the gym I walk to or from just about every single day is not considered walkable from my house!
Sorry, and to make my comment more substantial, though it sometimes lags behind MLS, I like browsing http://www.housing123.com as a tool too.
Guinness – I guess any index is subjective. The definition of “walkable” can vary.
For example I live a five minute walk from Loblaws which I consider “walkable” however I frequently see my neighbours there getting out of their cars…
I really found my agent was helpful in figuring out neighbourhoods that met my criteria (affordable and near a subway). I think this is one of the most valuable services they provide…
I agree that the Walkscore site is limited and definitely needs to be expanded. However, there is nothing else out there.
Mike is also right to point out that “walkable” varies for different people. I know suburbanites who have lost the habit of walking a few blocks, while some eldery people I know can only walk 10 minutes at a time.
Although I currently walk between 6 and 15 km a day, this changes greatly in the depths of winter when I only want to dash to the nearest subway stop. It also depends on what you are doing. For mundane everyday things like groceries, I really don’t want to trudge 10 km back and forth even if I can do it.
Great post! Since I’m still dreaming of owning my own place (and saving for the down payment), I think about what I want…but not what I would require….
Wow, Walkscore.com… what a great idea, it would be better if it didn’t suck though.
I just punched in my old Winnipeg address. It listed a grocery store that no longer exists and a theatre that has moved. It fails to list the fact that I had branches for all 6 major banks within 1 mile. It missed the fact that the interior strip mall has a Safeway and a Zellers and failed to point of the multiple bus stops across the street. It missed the convenience store, the post office, the liquor store, the 3 pizza places, the two tailors and the 5 places to get your hair done.
All of these were within a mile, many were within 800m! I got a 40 walk score!
I tried my most recent place in Edmonton, literally across the street from a small mall: Safeway, Drug Store / Post Office, Liquor Store, Convenience Store, multiple restaurants, gas station, dentist, medical labs… etc. The address doesn’t even come up.
Of course, I really loved the rest of your post. It’s awesome that you put your dream first and that you know what your dream is (even if you can’t have it yet). This target is so important.
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