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.

Real Estate

Higher Than Normal Rent Scam

With scams the best defense is often to discuss them and let people who haven’t run into them know how they work. Unfortunately, talking about scams can seem like a “how to” for scam artists, which IS NOT my intention here. I always love reading about scams and cons, in part to protect myself, and in part out of amazement at how devious people can be when they’re trying to part us from our cash. Depending on the level of interest, I may occasionally post more scams I’ve encountered, what the person was trying to pull and what might have happened if someone fell for it.

Some people starting with real estate investing, buy into the guru hype and will run around trying to buy stuff as quickly as possible. One scam that preys on this group is what I call the “Higher Than Normal Rent Scam”.

How it works is you find a piece of property that’s already tenanted, and it seems to be a great price for the rent it commands (say it costs $200K and is earning a rent of $2500 / month). You plug the numbers into your “get-rich-quick fast-calculations (patent pending) calculator” and decide this is exactly what the guru ordered. Talking to the seller, he encourages you, saying he’s selling to buy bigger investments himself and that this one will make you tons of cash. There’s only 1 month left on the tenant’s lease, but “he’s going to stay forever” you’re assured.

Soon after closing, the tenant contacts you and reluctantly informs you that he’s been moved elsewhere and won’t be renewing his lease. You wish him the best of luck (plotting not to return his security deposit depending on which guru low life you’ve been listening to) and decide to raise the rent and make it even more cash-flow positive (“this is how the rich think” you say to yourself, patting your own back).

The next month no one is interested in renting your place for $2700 / month (even though it would help you be cash flow positive, the nerve of these tenants!). You reluctantly drop it down to $2500. Still no takers. Time goes on, and finally you manage to rent it out to a shifty looking guy who has “lost his ID” and promises to get you a first-and-last month deposit “real soon” if you let him move in now.

Depending on who you are you may be thinking:

1) Can’t wait until the new tenant pays me! I’m on the fast track!!! Someone who says this doesn’t know it yet, but they’ve got a long, hard life ahead of them.

2) I guess I’m not a entrepreneur yet, I better hire a mentor for $200 / hour. Maybe I can hire that nice man who sold me the place to show me how he was able to get so much rent!

3) I guess the market has changed, I’m so unlucky. I’d best tell everyone how the world is against me and nothing is my fault.

4) Real estate is for suckers, I’ll never rent a property again and will sell this one as cheap as possible as soon as possible.

5) I’ll look into what comparable units are renting for. Then when I’ve found out they’re renting for $1200 / month, I’ll set my rent according to the market rate and screen tenants carefully. Looking into comparable properties, it seems like I paid 50% more for the property than I should have. Since it seems very suspicious that someone would have happily been paying more than double the going rate (sadly there aren’t a whole lot of dumb, rich people running around), I may begin to wonder if the lease was set up to justify an expensive property value and sucker me into over paying. Perhaps the seller and the former tenants weren’t the perfect strangers they pretended to be.

It’s easy to read a scam over and say “how could anyone be so dumb as to fall for that”. Clearly scams exists because people DO fall for them. I came across this one here in lovely Toronto. New real estate buyers may skip the step of determining FOR THEMSELVES what market rates are for a property they’re considering buying, and trust that nice seller who was so friendly and split a beer with them.

If you’re reading this thinking “good idea, I should try that next time I’m selling!” you’re scum. Sadly, there are bad people in this world and you’re one of them.

What scams have you encountered or, if it’s not too painful to discuss, fallen for?