Real Estate

Dealing With Real Estate Agents And Other Real Estate Resources

My parents (Hi Mom and Dad!) are planning to buy a new house in the near future after living in their current house for 40 years.  Right now they are in the process of figuring out how to get a real estate agent.  Unfortunately I can’t be of much help to them since I don’t live in the same city but I did offer to share all my writings on real estate agents.  The following is a list of posts we’ve done on real estate and agents with a brief description of each.

The next series of posts were written by a first-time home buyer who explains all the various steps she went through:

That’s it!  Good luck with the house hunting!

Real Estate

11 Things To Think About When Buying A House

Buying a house is a very difficult decision – there are large sums of money involved, the transaction costs and hassle of moving mean that you can’t just buy another house if you don’t like the one you end up with, and you don’t have enough information to make a completely informed decision. The best you can do is try to educate yourself in all aspects of the house hunt, keep a clear head and buy a house that fits your situation.

Here are some things for house buyers to be aware of when looking for a new home.

1) Location

  • How far is it from where you work? Can you handle the time/money involved in the commute?
  • If you have young kids or are planning to have them – how far from the grandparents from the house? They tend to be the best babysitters.

2) Budget

It’s nice to say “buy within your budget” but that might not realistic. Do a quick budget estimate, look at some houses that you might be interested in and then revise the budget or revise the houses. If you really can’t afford a house then don’t buy one. There is nothing wrong with renting.

3) Know your market

It’s critical that you know the market you are looking in. The asking prices for houses are often not indicative of their true value and the only way to be able to estimate a house value is to look at as many houses as possible. Take notes and find out what they sold for.

4) Don’t trust your real estate agent

I would suggest that most house buyers use an agent but keep in mind that although they may be very competent, their commission structure ensure a huge conflict of interest. Please read this post on why you shouldn’t trust your real estate agent.

5) Don’t end up house poor

Sometimes house buyers “fall in love” with a house or neighborhood or even just the idea of owning a house and they place too high a priority on it. This can lead to regret when the novelty wears off and you don’t have any money to do the things you like to do. Try living for six months on a “pretend” mortgage payment and see how it goes.

6) Take your time

Until recently, many buyers were afraid of missing out on future price gains or being “priced out of the market”. If you are renting and saving as much as you can, then you will be fine. Here are some tips for renters to be able to keep up (or down as the case may be) with their house owning friends.  Note – this one isn’t as relevant as it was last year!

7) Make a decision

Previously, I said to look at lots of houses to learn the market. At that point you should be able to purchase a house fairly quickly. If you are looking for the perfect house or trying to time the market then you will never buy a house. I know people who did ten year house searches which is a big waste of time. The reality is that you will be happy with a good percentage of all the houses you look at, so as long as you can eliminate the worst choices then you will be thrilled with your new home.

8) Don’t worry about the down payment

Yes, I know – it sounds pretty shocking in the sub-prime era to suggest that a down payment of less than 20% is acceptable, but in my opinion, the ability to make the mortgage payments is the main factor for affordability. In other words, it’s the size of the mortgage that matters. Of course you can get better rates with a larger down payment so it’s better if you have one, but don’t sweat it if you have a small or zero down payment.

9) Don’t blow your budget on renovations and furniture

Most people end up buying a house that has mortgage payments large enough that the buyers have to “make the payments fit” into their budget. While this is not the best way to buy a house, some of these buyers then make things worse by spending more money on renovations and house decorations. Unless you buy a total wreck of a house, you do not need to spend big bucks on renovations. You can live with the non-granite kitchen counter and the couch set that doesn’t fit the room perfectly. I don’t care if the house has full-on 70’s decor – you can live with it for a year or more until you can fit the extra expense in your budget.

10) Be careful of flip properties

There are people and contractors who will buy a house, fix it up very quickly and turn around and sell it for profit. The problem with these houses is that they tend to look very good on the surface ie nice paint, trim, granite counters etc, but on the inside they are pretty ugly and might have substandard electrical, insulation etc.

If you are interested in one of these houses then make sure they have closed permits and check with the inspector to see if their inspection notes. Better yet, just don’t buy one.

11) Don’t buy the perfect house

If the house is livable and you have a good life, then you will be happy with whatever house you end up buying. If you spend more money on a “better” house, then you will quickly get used to it and will be no happier than if you had bought an “average” house.

My opinion is that it’s just a house. The people inside are what make it special.


Learn as much as you can about real estate, your budget and your local house market, but be prepared for the fact that buying a house is all about compromise, incomplete information and a lot of doubts! If you keep at it however, the odds are very good that you will end up with a home that suits your needs.

Other posts

10 mistakes I made as a first time home buyer.

Personal Finance

How Much Life Insurance Do I Need?

Calculating the amount of life insurance you need is a lot like planning for your retirement. You need to figure out your financial goals, calculate how much income is necessary for those goals then figure out how much money you need to make that income happen.

Please note: this only applies to term insurance. Universal insurance (which I don’t recommend by the way) is an entirely different product. Term insurance is insurance where you pay a monthly or annual premium for an amount of insurance for a set amount of time which will be paid into your beneficiary if you die. For example someone might buy $250,000 of insurance which is valid for ten years. If they die within those ten years then the $250k will be paid to the beneficiary or the estate.

Calculate how much life insurance you need

I’ll use myself as the example on this calculation. My wife doesn’t work and we decided that our goal for life insurance was to get enough to ensure that she wouldn’t have to work again. This doesn’t mean retiring in luxury but making enough money to pay the bills and hopefully have a similar standard of living to what we have now.

Annual Living Expenses

First thing to do is figure out how much money is needed to maintain our current lifestyle. We kept track of our expenses for the first six months of this year and determined that our basic living expenses are about $32,000 per year. This does not include mortgage payments or any other debt payments since they will be paid off with the insurance. Since the plan is for my wife not to work and she won’t qualify for any government pensions for quite a few years we need enough insurance to be able to pay off our debts and then generate $32k net income per year which is about $35k gross assuming a portion will be coming from Canadian dividend stocks. I’m assuming that any of the $32k in expenses that are because of me, will be able to cover expenses for our one child. If you have more kids then you might want to increase the annual amount to compensate for this.

Required Portfolio Size for self-insurance

How much do you need to generate $35k per year? The normal figure for retirement planning is to use the 4% rule. I think for this purpose assuming that you can take 5% of a portfolio is safe enough that you won’t run out of money. So therefore $35k is 5% of $700,000. We need enough insurance to make sure that we end up with a portfolio of $700k and no debts. If my wife worked then I would subtract her income from the $35k amount.

Currently we already have a portfolio of $230k and our debts are about $200k.

Therefore: insurance needs = final portfolio amount + debt – current portfolio = $700k + $200k – $230k = $670,000. In fact I have about $750,000 of insurance which is too much.


  1. Calculate a gross income desired according to your financial goals. Use for guidance regarding taxation amounts.
  2. Use the following formula: insurance amount = (gross income desired – survivor income) / 0.05 + total debt – current portfolio.

A couple of points. I use the divisor of 0.05 but if you want to be more conservative then use 0.04 (4% rule).

I’m assuming in my example that the beneficiary is reasonably young and won’t collect any type of pension for a long time. If the survivor will be older ie 50+ then you might want to increase the divisor to 0.06 because they will be eligible for government pensions which will eventually reduce the amount of insurance income necessary.

When I talk about taking 4% rule or 5% rule this refers only to the amount of money withdrawn from the portfolio in the first year. Every year after that is the initial amount adjusted for inflation. Ie in the example above, the withdrawal in the first year is $37k. If inflation is 3% then the withdrawal in the second year is $37k + 3% = $38,110. In the third year you would take $38,110 = 3% = $39,250.

You’ll notice that two of the main factors in determining the amount of insurance needed are current debt and current portfolio value. Because of this there is no point in stressing out about the perfect amount of insurance to get because that ideal amount will change every year. This is why you don’t want to get too much insurance – more about that tomorrow. Generally speaking if your debt is going down and your investment portfolio is going up then your insurance needs are going down so if you buy too much insurance today, then in a few years you will have way too much insurance.

Another thing to avoid is to have too much insurance for too long. You might need $750k or even a million dollars according to your plan but you probably don’t need it for 20 or 30 years. Try to figure out how long you need this insurance for and buy accordingly. In my case I bought $500k for 10 years (plus $250k I already had from a group plan) and after that I might only need $250k for about another 5 years or so. Once I’m retired or close to it (hopefully in about 15 years) then I won’t need any insurance at all because our debts should be zero and our investment portfolio will provide all the necessary income.

Why Over Insuring Is Like Buying Lottery Tickets.

More info

Senior Term Life Insurance