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How To Buy Your First Home 

This how-to guide for first time home buyers is full of good tips to make the process as painless as possible.


Congratulations on deciding to buy a home!   Because buying your first home can be complicated, we have written this article to guide you through the steps to home ownership. As well, we have included links to the major banks. Since every bank is slightly different, it is good to check them out and decide who you will want to handle your mortgage. We have supplied you with a Canadian Mortgage Calculator so you have an idea of what your payments will be.  Current interest rates are listed on the banks' websites to help you make the most accurate calculations.

Banker or Mortgage Broker.  What’s the Difference? 
Both of these agents are doing the same thing. The only difference is that while a banker only represents the bank that he works for, a mortgage broker approaches all the banks to find you the best mortgage for your particular needs. There is no cost to you for using their services, since they are paid by the banks that they deal with. If you have dealt with the same bank for many years and feel a certain amount of loyalty, go ahead and approach them first. Most banks have their own “broker”, but these are not brokers in the true sense. Just remember that an actual mortgage broker doesn’t work for any one particular bank.

Pre-approval.  What’s that? 
When you begin your search for a house, you will need to know how much the bank is willing to lend you, based on your current income and expenses. The bank will want you to come and see them (and some will even come and see you!) with your financial information, and will put together this information for you. You are not committing yourself to anything at this point, and if you decide that you would like to find a mortgage elsewhere, there is nothing to stop you from doing so. This is just a guideline so that you will know in which price range you should shop for a house.


Choosing a Realtor
Many people, when buying their first home, choose as their realtor the agent who has the listing contract for the first house they are interested in. Be aware that when the realtor acts as both the seller’s agent and the buyer’s agent, the realtor will give precedence to the best interests of the seller. Since the realtor is paid a percentage of the selling price, they will probably not negotiate as hard for you as they will for the seller. One strategy that works well for most people is to try out several realtors, and when you find the one who you would like to have on your “team”, ask them to help you with your search for your home. They should be happy to send you information and listings on houses that suit your criteria.  You might also be interested in reading our article on How To Choose A Realtor.

Searching the Listings
You can easily search the listings in any area online. The website that contains all the Canadian MLS listings is www.realtor.ca.  You can easily select your search criteria: price, location, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and numerous other choices. Keep your ranges as broad as you can to view the most listings. 

If you are viewing many, many houses, it is wise to take your camera with you. Your agent will give you a listing sheet of information about the house, but there are lots of details to take in, and after a while it’s difficult to remember which features belong to which house.  As a courtesy, check with your agent first if they are okay with you taking photos.  If so, take pictures of the front of the house first, and then you will know that the subsequent photos belong to that property. If you have a video camera, that is also a good tool, especially if you add commentary as you go through the home. Be sure and take pictures of the “not-so-good” as well as the things you especially like.  

Flooring, cabinetry, and appliances are important items to take note of, as well as things like parking and yard space. It’s likely that if you fall in love on first sight, you will want to come back and see the house again, so if you have forgotten a few things, it’s no problem. Many people walk into a house and the first thing that jumps out at them is the “stuff” that’s in it. It’s important to look at the actual house, and not the furnishings or furniture arrangements. Try to picture yourself in this home, and keep in mind that it’s fairly simple to clean the windows, paint a room, or even have new flooring installed. However, you should factor in these costs when reviewing the price of the house. One thing that can be more difficult to take care of is odors. If you need to repaint the entire house, replace all the flooring, or worse yet, the sub-floor (due to pet nastiness), this could be a costly repair. Test things like water pressure, open and close doors and windows, look under the sinks for any plumbing leaks or other issues. Any repairs that need to be made may affect the move-in date, unless you think you can live in a renovation arena for some time!

Making An Offer
Okay, you found the right house for you and now comes the exciting part!  When you are certain that you will be happy with your choice of house, location, price, size and condition of the house, it’s time to make an offer. If you can, try to remove all the emotion from this part of the process. It’s the step that most people find the most stressful and the scariest. In reality, your real estate agent is the one who will do most of the work, and all you need to decide is what is the most that you are willing to pay for this particular house. Once you have that figure in your mind, go ahead and try to negotiate a better deal.

If you want this house so badly that you are willing to pay top dollar, your first offer will be different than if you are slightly out of your price range and would like to see if you can get the buyer down to your affordability level. Don’t worry about making an offer too low. If the seller is “offended” and refuses to come down in price, you can certainly make a counter offer. Most real estate deals are only reached after a few negotiations, until both parties are satisfied. Keep in mind that a few thousand dollars will not make a huge increase in your mortgage payments, and if you’re nervous about increasing your offer, check out the mortgage payment calculations again. You’ll probably see that there is nothing to worry about. 

Price is not the only negotiating tool. If you can be flexible with your time frame, a seller may look more favourably on you if you allow them to choose the closing/possession date. For them, it may make a difference of a few weeks at a hotel, or paying two mortgages, or staying longer due to work or school schedules.

Subjects and Conditions
As your agent is writing up your offer, he (or she) will ask you which subjects and conditions you would like to have included. Conditions and subjects are a way of protecting yourself from being locked into a deal that you might need to reconsider. The following is a sample of the conditions and subjects that are most commonly attached to an offer:

This offer is subject to the buyer arranging necessary financing at current interest rates and at a lending institute of the buyer’s choice, on or before______.

This offer is subject to the buyer being satisfied with a pre-purchase home inspection report on or before_______.

This offer is subject to the buyer’s lawyer approving all documents by _________.

You may want to include these conditions as well:

All attached and unattached goods are to be in good working order at closing.

All attached and unattached goods as seen and photographed on ________.

Items you may want to have included with the house are things like appliances, window coverings, area rugs, freezers and other items that are not attached to the house. These items can be used a negotiating tools, so if you see something you want, don’t be afraid to ask for it, and you can always make a concession to get a better price.

Important time considerations
You will need to leave enough time to make all the necessary arrangements prior to taking possession of the house. It’s wise to leave at least three weeks for things like arranging a mortgage, getting a home inspection, and making an appointment with a lawyer or a notary public. Also keep in mind that sometimes negotiations take a little longer than you anticipate, and this will affect the amount of time you will need to make all these arrangements. Always make sure that the dates will work for you, and if a long weekend interrupts the process, you should build in some extra time. And since banks, lawyers, and other professionals are sometimes closed on weekends, consider those implications.

You will need to choose your possession date wisely as well. If you are currently renting, you will have to give proper notice to your landlord before you move, or you will risk having to pay rent as well as a mortgage. And finding friends to help you move on a long weekend can be daunting too.

If your offer has been accepted, you will have to pay an amount of money as a show of good faith. This money will go towards the down payment at closing. Never give the money directly to the seller. Make sure that it goes into your realtor or lawyer’s trust account.


Finding A Mortgage
When your offer has been accepted, you will have to make a decision regarding which bank or broker you will deal with. It is important to start this process as soon as possible, since you only have a limited amount of time and you may risk losing the deal. It is always possible to have dates extended, but should not be necessary. If you do find yourself running out of time, contact your realtor and explain that you will need to change the subject removal dates. 

If you’ve decided to use a mortgage broker, give them a call. They will tell you which bank will has the best current rates. Make an appointment with your broker, and ask them what paperwork they will need you to bring along. Keeping organized at this point will make things a lot easier, so get yourself a notebook and write everything down: appointments, to-do lists, questions you may, and so on. Keep a file of important documents such as your offer to purchase, any financial information like pay stubs for the last three months, bank account information, credit card information, and a list of any assets you may have. 

If you are intimidated by this part of the process, remember that a bank will only make money by lending money, and should be eager to have you as a customer. Don’t be afraid to ask your broker to explain things in terminology you are familiar with. Some words and phrases are baby talk to him and he may forget that he speaks a different language than you do. The bank will want to have an appraisal done. Some banks will cover the cost, but only if you ask. 

Down Payment
Your bank will require you to pay some money towards the purchase of the house. Banks require 20%, but if you are unable to come up with that sum of money, you may also qualify to pay less.  In that case, the bank will go through an insurance company such as Genworth Financial or Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). CMHC is a corporation owned by the Government of Canada who provides mortgage insurance to the banks. These insurance fees will be added to your mortgage payments. 

Home Inspection
After you have received approval from the bank, you should schedule a home inspection. There is no point in paying for a home inspection unless you are certain that you will go ahead with the purchase if the inspection is favorable. When you are deciding on which home inspector to use, ask him about the things that he does not inspect. Not all inspectors cost the same, so call several to see what they charge. If you are concerned about the plumbing or wiring, you may also want to bring along a professional to have those items checked. There will usually be some things that the inspector will notice, and he should go over the report with you personally. Putting a dollar value on necessary repairs will help you to decide if you would like to re-negotiate the price with the seller.

Closing Day
You will have to have an appointment with your lawyer/notary on or before the closing date, so be sure to set aside some time for this. 

Lawyer vs. Notary Public
This is strictly a matter of personal choice. It pays to shop around, since sometimes a notary will be a little cheaper. The only time you will need a lawyer is if a deal falls apart at the eleventh hour and there is a breach of contract. 

House Insurance 
The lawyer/notary may want proof that the house has been adequately insured, so you will need to arrange for this before closing day.

Just a few things will happen at this appointment. You will have to bring along the balance of the down payment and any fees and closing costs associated with the purchase. The lawyer/notary will phone you ahead of time to tell you how much to bring with you to this appointment.  These fees include your lawyer/notary fees, disbursements, which are the amounts owing for property taxes, etc. and various other taxes such as property transfer taxes and sales taxes. The lawyer/notary will pay the seller. He will register the home in your name, and now you are a home owner! You will receive the title to your home in a few weeks, along with copies of all the documents and paperwork. You will receive the keys from either your realtor or the lawyer/notary.


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