Welcome home: 10 things every first-time homebuyer needs to know before placing an offer

So, you're looking to buy your first home.

You log onto Centris, confident and determined to find your dream haven... and then immediately get overwhelmed by the amount of choice, conditions and consignments on every page.

Whether you decide to wander down the path to home-buying on your own, or you employ a professional to hold your hand, there are a few things every first-time homebuyer should know — and do — before dipping a toe in the real estate pond.

Assess your financial health

Before you do anything, you have to make sure that you can afford a home, as well as know how high your budget can go without breaking the bank.

"You really have to make sure that you're financially ready, especially in this very aggressive seller's market," says Amelia Grich, a real estate broker in the Greater Montreal area. "Sometimes, we have buyers who make very, very good revenues, but they have debt on this side, they have that on the other side."

Vibe with your realtor

Any homebuyer's best friend must be their realtor, Grich insists. Interview a few different people and don't blindly hire your friend or family member.

"Sometimes, you have a realtor who your parents know. Sometimes it's a friend; sometimes it's a colleague, but you never know who you're really going to click with, right?" she explains. "It can become very informal and you realize the person may not really take the steps they need to help you. It's very difficult, as a professional, to divide those things."

Ask all the questions

Do you know what your realtor's obligations are to you? What is the process like? What are your commitments as a buyer? These are the types of questions every homebuying rookie should ask.

"How do I go from today where I am, maybe as a tenant or living with my parents, to actually getting the keys to my house or my condo?" Grich asks. "You really have to understand those steps."

Strategize, strategize, strategize

With your realtor, do some research on the types of homes you'd like to buy — and don't forget to look at what different neighbourhoods have to offer, Grich says.

"It's difficult for buyers in this market, but the more you're prepared, the faster and more successful you will be," she said. "I don't like crushing people's dreams, I want them to get what they want, but I want them to be realistic. I want them to have a clear, real picture of what the market is."

Get that insider knowledge

With the market the way it is now, Grich says it's not enough to look at listing prices — you have to know how much other homes in the area actually sold for.

"Every time I meet with new buyers... At the first meeting, I share my screen with them and I show them the sold ones," she says. "I say, 'OK, this sold for $500,000,' and they say, 'I don't understand, this is not as nice as the ones I saw listed at $500,000'... It's because the ones that sold at $500,000 were actually listed maybe at $400,000 or $420,000."

Create an action plan

Once you have all that real estate knowledge in your back pocket, the next step is to come up with a plan of action.

"You don't understand the market by looking at what's listed on Centris, you will never understand it," she insists. "Things that are listed at this amount, how much do they sell for? How long does it take to be sold? How many offers do people submit on a property? Do you understand a bid? What kind of offer does a seller look for in this market? What is an appealing offer versus a less appealing one?"

Don't waste your time

If you're just browsing, or you're not sure you really want to buy a home just yet, don't waste your time going to open houses, Grich states.

"I've seen a lot of people come [to my listings] without brokers and I can tell that something's really off...and then I realize they're not ready," she tells CTV News. "I'm trying to explain [to people], if you're not in a hurry, then it's only going to get worse because prices are increasing every month, every week."

Manage your expectations

There's buying your dream home...and then there's what you can afford. Grich says she always asks potential buyers to give her two lists: the 'must-haves' and the 'nice to haves.'

"You're dreaming of a single-family home in DDO and then you start looking at the sold prices and realize, maybe I could get a semi-detached instead, maybe I could get a townhouse, maybe I should go further west," she explains. "To be honest with you, most people have shifted their criteria, most people in this market have made compromises that I didn't think they would have made before, especially in the location. Location has been the first thing people compromise on."

Be ready to fight

With the market the way it is -- a lot of people looking to move and not a lot of homes for sale -- Grich states all buyers should ask themselves, 'why am I moving?'

It can be a headache, she admits, to get into a multiple-offer bidding war only to lose out on a home and have to start the search all over again if you're not truly committed. 

"I'll be very honest. I always tell them, 'do you guys need to make a move?' Like, is it a necessity? Is it just, you know, 'it would be nice?'" she asks. "Because if it's just a 'nice to have,' you're not going to fight; you have to be ready to fight."

Don't make decisions you'll regret

Grich notes a lot of people contacting her nowadays are looking to move away from the city because they're teleworking or think they won't be heading downtown anytime soon.

The biggest error anyone can make, she insists, is buying a home thinking only of the short-term.

"It's a bit dangerous because when life comes back to normal [after the pandemic], I'm sure half of these people are going to have to come back to the office. What do we do then?" Grich notes. "I always warn them, don't think short-term, think long-term. It's extremely important. I think that's the mistake that a lot of buyers make...and then at the end of the day, when it's time to resell, they don't sell well."

Though home prices continue to skyrocket and limited inventory means sellers still have the upper hand, Grich predicts that the market could calm down post-pandemic in 2022.

Amelia Grich is an award-winning residential real estate broker with RE/MAX Royal Jordan in the Greater Montreal area.

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