Where to start? Buying your first home is just so exciting!
It’s such a huge step and an important commitment. One year ago, in July 2019, we were in the process of buying our first house! It’s been nine months since we moved into our new home, after close to two years of searching.
So here’s a short recap of our experience, along with my top tips for future homebuyers.
Advice #1: Make a list of your search criteria, such as neighbourhood, style of house, future needs, upcoming projects and maximum budget, getting preapproved for your mortgage, setting aside your down payment, etc.
We wanted a turnkey (ish) home, but one we could fix up to reflect our tastes. It’s always been a project of ours to purchase a home and renovate it. There weren’t really that many available pieces of land for sale in the neighbourhood that we were looking to buy in, so building our new home was never an option.
Our criteria included a large backyard (preferably without a pool, as we wanted to have a new one installed at a later date), a garage for the cold winter months (read here: to keep my car warm), a room for our offices, and a relatively spacious kitchen, but not necessarily ultra modern. At the risk of repeating myself, our goal was always to buy a house with potential, one we could renovate, add a bit of “us” to, and make our home sweet home over time.
None of the renovated houses we visited had a kitchen like we wanted. Therefore, we decided it would be better to just redo the kitchen ourselves (and by that I mean with the help of an interior designer, my Nico, and our friends and family, of course!).
We did set aside a budget for the house itself, and a separate budget for the renovations. We also went ahead and got preapproved for a mortgage, which I believe is a really important step, especially when there are several offers on a house. Without going into details about the amount of our down payment or the cost of the house, we decided to put 20% down. I’m not saying that putting less than 20% as a down payment is bad, but according to our calculations, it’s what made the most sense for us. I’m not going to lie—this is not a small amount that can be put aside in two or three years’ time. We’re talking years of savings and investments. Try to see your down payment as an investment rather than an expense —I’ll circle back to this later, I promise.
Advice #1: Make a list of your search criteria.
Advice #2: Your a first time home buyer, don’t be shy to visit lots of houses and to ask lots of questions.
Once all these steps are taken care of, the exciting part begins: visiting houses! I remember it like it was yesterday: we would head out for the day, armed with our little checklist.
We must have visited around five houses. Although I remember feeling discouraged when, at the end of the day, we still hadn’t found “the one”, visiting several different houses allowed us to put into perspective the things we liked, the things we disliked, what mattered most, and what wasn’t that much of an issue after all.
It also helped us establish what renovation potential meant to us, and to imagine the different possibilities in each home. I have to be honest: sometimes after just five seconds in a house, we knew it wasn’t the one for us.
You can’t shy away from asking questions. It’s completely normal to not know where to start, what types of questions to ask, etc. It’s also your real estate agent’s job to guide you during these visits (I’ll come back to this shortly). Don’t get discouraged. Sometimes, the solution is simply to take a step back and think about what could help you with the homebuying process.
Advice #3: Find a real estate agent that really knows the market and make sure you have a real connection with them.
We met our real estate agent, Sara, during a pivotal moment. After close to two years of searching, visiting houses, and making offers that fell through (sometimes post-inspection), we met up with Sara in a café to talk. We talked about our search criteria, our aesthetic tastes, the neighbourhood we wanted to buy in, our maximum budget, etc.
During this initial meeting, we looked at 30 or so houses. I say “looked at”, but we really just skimmed over most of them. I have to admit that we were a little difficult, particularly because we were in no rush to buy, and after looking every day for about two years, we knew exactly what we wanted.
I think it was the next day when we realized we were maybe in love with one of the houses Sara showed us. From that moment on, everything moved really quickly. Sara contacted the other agent to schedule a visit. It was so exciting!
You definitely need to use your imagination when visiting a house, because most of the time, the colour of the walls and the decor aren’t necessarily in line with your own personal tastes. But when it came to this house, we say the potential straight away! We fell in love with the big backyard, the spacious room (which was being used as a second living room) we thought would be perfect as an office, the big master bedroom, and the other rooms that we thought would be perfect for our future family. We met with the owner and we hit it off. The next day we made an offer.
Of course, things are never that simple. Just like all the other houses we made an offer on, we weren’t the only ones interested in this house. Therefore, we had to increase our offer in order to outbid the others. The whole process lasted close to a week, then finally it was time for the inspection.
We fell in love with the big backyard, the spacious room, the big master bedroom, and the other rooms that we thought would be perfect for our future family.
Advice #4: Have the house inspected by a professional and take the time to carefully read through the written inspection report.
I say that now, but a few months ago I tended to do the opposite, just because I wanted things to move along quickly or to avoid hearing bad news. Never skip a house inspection just to win a bidding war or to accelerate the process. An inspection will reveal all the minor and major issues a house has. We learned this the hard way when we retracted an offer after dishing out $600 on an inspection. In short, an inspection protects you and really helps you make more informed decisions.
This time round, I think we got pretty lucky. The house had been properly maintained. Of course, there are always some small problems when purchasing a home that is over 10 years old, but thankfully, Sara did a great job guiding us following the inspection report. This helped us negotiate the price down. Without delving into the details, I think what I really took away from the experience is that it’s important to trust your agent and to follow their advice. For us, it really paid off.
Between appointments, credit checks, and all the paperwork, we FINALLY made everything official about two or three weeks later, on July 9, 2019. I still have the text from our agent saying: “CONGRATULATIONS, the house is officially yours! It’s officially your future love nest!!!!” We were beyond thrilled! Only one step left to go: the notary.
Advice #5: Be informed about the additional costs and be financially prepared.
Evidently, buying a house comes with a ton of responsibilities and bills to pay. You need to be very aware of the related costs: notary fees, school taxes, municipal taxes, the land transfer tax, which usually arrives a few months after your purchase (we received ours just after the holidays . . . ouch!), home insurance, and so much more!
Nico and I have always shared the dream of one day becoming homeowners. Like the majority of people, we enjoy travelling, going to restaurants, taking weekend road trips, and we never stopped ourselves from doing any of this. However, there are sacrifices to be made here and there when you plan on buying a house. We’d been saving money for a long time. There’s no magical solution behind it: you just need to save.
What really helped me was sitting down with a financial adviser when I was around 18 years old to learn about the different investment options that I had. Right then and there I started putting money into my RRSPs, with the goal of one day withdrawing a portion for my first home. I strongly recommend that you meet with a financial advisor who can offer you sound advice in terms of investing, RRSPs, TFSAs, etc.
So now we’ve circled back to the big day—our final appointment with the notary to officialise the sale of the house. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that there are two notary appointments: one during which you’ll issue the bank drafts for your down payment, and a second one where you’ll sign all the official documents and get handed over the keys to your new home (!!!). So there you have it. We became the happy owners of our new love nest on September 23, 2019, we moved in on October 1st and so many things happened since then! We are more than excited for the arrival of our baby in less than a month!
So many things happened since then! We are more than excited for the arrival of our baby in less than a month!
I hope you enjoyed this article and I hope I was able to answer some of the questions you might have had about becoming a first-time homeowner. Please note that real estate is not my area of expertise; anything written here is to the best of my knowledge (and memory). Talk to you soon!