Greg Bennett - The Home Expert

Providing Premium Real Estate Services

This may seem like a strange statement, but its an important, and often overlooked consideration. 


When you’re buying a home, you certainly want it to represent who you are and to meet your needs. However, you should always keep in the back of your mind that possibly, somewhere down the road, you might want to sell this house. You may want to upgrade. You may want to cash out and travel the world. Who knows? But at the heart of it, you’re probably buying a home in order to accumulate equity. That is, put money in your pocket, and not into your landlords. It’s an investment.


​So here’s the thing. If you buy a home that is too ‘unique’, you may have a hard time selling it in the future. Or more specifically, you may have a hard time getting the money you have put into the house back out of the house somewhere down the road. This may seem odd to be thinking about selling your home before you’ve even bought it, but you would do well to keep this in mind. I have seen people buy a small 1 bedroom home, with another bedroom in the basement, which at the time, was in their budget and sufficient for their needs. But down the road, when they wanted to make a change, they had a hard time selling. The majority of buyers are often looking for a minimum of 2 main floor bedrooms.
 
So the bottom line is this. Certainly you need to think of your house as a home. Your safe place where you live your life. But it is also an investment. Something you are putting your hard-earned money into. If you invest in something that nobody, or very few people will want at any point down the road, you can argue it is a bad investment. Overly small homes. Fixer-uppers. Homes way out in the country. All of them may have their charms, and depending on the type of person you are, they may be just perfect for you.
 
However if you are buying this home because its all you can find in your price range, you might want to simply be patient or expand the scope of your search. Be careful not to get yourself locked into a bad investment.

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When you are considering a home purchase, you should always be thinking of it in terms of it being 'Your Dream House'.


Now you may not end up buying a sprawling 10,000 square foot mansion, with Brad & Angie living next door, but you should at least have an image in mind of the things that would really make you happy. You are going to come home to it every day for the foreseeable future, so there should be some things that make you smile when you pull in the drive.

Most people start their search by looking on MLS. Nothing wrong with that at all. And people often only focus on one specific area when looking for homes. Now granted, some people have made up their mind on an area, town or neighbourhood. Family, proximity to work and other factors can come into play, and they should. However a common mistake people make when buying a home is ‘settling’ on something they’re ‘OK’ with, simply because it’s all they were able to find where they were looking. Its fairly normal for people to initially feel uncomfortable considering locations they are less than familiar with. But honestly, have you ever gone to visit someone living in an area you are unfamiliar with? Did you actually feel uncomfortable when you got there? Probably not.
 
So as long as the areas you are considering meet your locational needs (like proximity to work / transit, good services, etc), why feel uncomfortable? Let me give you a scenario, which demonstrates the value of at least considering ‘a bigger picture’ in terms of location.
 
A husband & wife were middle aged with 2 20-something sons still living at home. They had always wanted a home with a little more property than their current ‘standard city-sized lot’, and ideally wanted a bungalow. Everyone in the home was working, so proximity to work / transit options were key. With the new 404 extension, the buyers figured homes with larger lots would be abundant in that area, and with the highway there, commuting wouldn’t be a problem. Well they did find some homes in that area, but began to realize the type of home they were looking for just didn’t seem to be available. And because the area was still growing, the services like shopping, transit, and so on just wasn’t there yet.
 
So they had pretty much given up thinking that bungalow on a couple of acres was in the cards for them.
 
Sharing their disappointment at a get-together they attended some time afterwards, they ended up talking with a few different people who mentioned a couple of areas they hadn't even considered. They later mapped out a few of these places based on their original criteria. Near a highway, distance from work, transit, services and so on. They were astonished at how many options they had overlooked. From there, they were able to then start looking at the availability, and came up with a number of amazing places.
 
Where they ended up was just a little west of the 404 corridor, along the 400 corridor. In fact, the area they settled in had better services than in their current location which was closer to the city. They simply had no idea this particular area had advanced so much. But it stands to reason. Ontario is growing & changing. There are places that years ago were not really considered viable given common criteria. And yet now, these areas have developed into some of Ontario's Best Kept Secrets. One of them may be just right for you.
 
And as you can imagine, you may find that moving a little further out from the city center translates into a significant difference in housing prices. You may find you can afford more or have to spend less, depending on how you look at it. Now depending on your situation, any increase in your commute to and from work may not be something you are willing to accept. Having done the commute to downtown myself, I can completely understand. But as housing prices increase and people are literally being pushed out of the downtown area, improvements in train & bus service to these outlying areas are making them much more attractive.
 
So with that in mind, try not to be too narrow-minded when considering the locations you look in. You may find your dream home is out there. You were just looking in the wrong location.

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OK, so you’ve lined up some homes you’d like to look at. You’ve got a sense of what you’re looking for and a basic shopping list covering number of bedrooms, kitchen particulars, parking, type of lot, etc. So lets get shopping!

 
Well once you walk through that front door, your mind is probably going to start placing furniture and picturing yourself with a bag of popcorn watching movies.
 
And you want to do that. You do have to live her, so you want to project that on the home. Will your stuff fit in this room? Is the kitchen big enough to have friends for dinner? Will your bedroom set fit in this bedroom? This is all good stuff. But as a potential buyer, you should also know what things to look for that might be hiding a potential issue.  Your agent should help point out issues to you, but you shouldn’t rely on them exclusively.
 
I’ll list off some things here, which if you see them, just means you should at least take a closer look. It doesn’t necessarily mean run for the hills.  These are the types of things that can lead to costly repairs and/or small issues that can get bigger if not dealt with. And as a general rule, I suggest that you do a home tour during the day and in decent weather if you can. It gives you the opportunity to walk around the outside as well. There can be as many external issues as internal issues. So in no particular order:


Anything that doesn’t look straight 


As you are getting out of the car to walk up, stop and take a look at the outside of the house. Builders generally construct everything with nice straight lines and 90 degree angles. You want to look at the line of the roof, the steps going in, any openings like a door or windows. Does anything look crooked or curved? Things that started straight and aren’t now, will not likely get better on their own.
 

Anything that doesn’t look flat 


Generally floors, walls and ceilings should be flat (unless designed otherwise, which you can typically tell). Look for a change in the surface. A patch to walls or ceilings can mean there was (and may still be) a problem somewhere.

​A floor that doesn’t seem flat or appears to be slanting one way or the other can potentially mean a serious structural problem.
 
Wallpaper can simply be a choice made by the seller, and is not necessarily a problem (unless its…well….really ugly), but you should pay close attention to wallpaper because it can sometimes be used to cover up problems with the wall.
 
Anything where the colour doesn’t look right 


Again, back to the floor, walls and ceiling. If you notice that the overall color is white, but you notice a couple of spots that are noticeably yellow or darker, you could have a problem related to something leaking or that has leaked before.

You want to pay particular attention to hardwood floors that are showing stains, primarily because removing stains from wood can be particularly difficult.

Now if you see anything that has black stains, particularly in the bathrooms, under the kitchen sink or in the basement, you want to make note of it. It may be mold, and that can result in real health problems down the road. A little surface mold in a bathroom might not be the end of the world, but if it looks like something you couldn’t clean up with a basic cleaning product, you should be wary.
 
Anything that doesn’t smell right


Now lets be honest here. If you smell ‘food’, it is usually something either temporary, or something that can be dealt with by a fresh coat of paint. Often, furniture can hold food smells. So when that furniture is moved out, you may find the food smell goes with it.
 
That said, there are some smells that you don’t want to encounter in a home. Anything damp or musty may be cause for concern. Also, anything that smells ‘industrial’ like oil, gas or something found more commonly in a garage might be noteworthy.
 
Garbage smells can also be something to make note of. A real estate agent would advise most clients to make sure their garbage is taken out regularly, so if you are catching a whiff of garbage, you want to be sure that something hasn’t leaked and seeped into the structure. You don’t want to have to be ripping up some part of the floor just to get rid of the smell.
 
Also, if the opportunity presents itself, run the taps with your head just over the drain. You should make note of any odd smells coming from the water or drain.


Anything that doesn’t open & close right 


Now on this point, when going through a house for the first time, you should probably stick with checking the doors. Specifically, do they open and close all the way smoothly. Doors that don’t close all the way can be fixed, but that sticking might point to a structural issue.
 
Again, if you have an inspection done, they should be checking to make sure all the doors & windows are operating smoothly.

   

Outside



Everything outside is subject to the elements, so even though it should be as pristine as anything else, the key things you want to be looking for are the things that might let the outdoors become an indoor problem.


- Check around the edges of external windows and doors to make sure you don’t see any cracks or gaps where anything can leak in

- Check the general shape of the yard, specifically looking for depressions where water might pool.

- Check the eves troughs for cracks, gaps or other forms of deterioration

- Check the roof for damage, missing shingles, or any dis-colourations

- Check the driveway and stone paths for splits, lifting or plants growing through

- Check the exterior covering (brick, vinyl, wood, metal) for any damage or dis-colourations

 

Other things to ask about 


One of the key things you will want to keep in mind when looking at a home is its age. It stands to reason, the older something is, the closer it is to a normal end of life. Now that isn’t to say that just because a home is older, it is going to fall apart. You can find homes greater than 100 years old in most towns & cities. What it really comes down to is how well a home has been maintained.
 
Over the years, construction methods and product have been changing. Where houses built prior to 1970 might have plaster walls & ceilings, it is more common to see drywall now. Conversely, older homes might have nice hardwood moldings, where now painted pine or MDF are commonplace.
 
Where you want to pay close attention is the mechanical systems of the home. Electrical Systems. Heating & Air Conditioning Systems. Plumbing Systems. If the foundation, roof & walls of your home represent a skeleton, these systems are the internal organs. If they don’t function well, you are going to have a big problem. And if these systems are in bad shape, even if they still work, they can also cost you more money to run your home longer term.
 
Unless you are in the business, you can usually leave determining the health & welfare of these systems to a certified home inspector. However, it doesn’t hurt to ask about the age of these components or if there is any paperwork related to regular maintenance. 


So to button this all up...


There are a number of things you should keep your eye out for. And even if things appear good on the surface, there can still potentially be issues. You cant let this keep you awake at night. And at the end of the day, you now have a better idea of what to look for. So when you get to the point of putting in an offer, it is almost standard practice now that you have a Home Inspection clause in the agreement. In doing so, you can have 'an expert' look at your home from top to bottom, and provide you will even more piece of mind.

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When you’re buying a home, chances are, everyone and their dog is going to have a something to say. And like comments on a YouTube video, some are worth while, and some…. Well, you know. But that isn’t to say you should to just dance your way through this, and not listen to anyone. That’s dangerous. Real estate is a complex process, so you want to get good advice from people who know their stuff.

 
Now before I go on, possibly the most important thing you should understand about this subject is….
 
Advice


... is information you should use to help you make a decision on a home. You should be the only one who makes the final decision. You are going to have to live there. You are going to pay the bills. So you want to be comfortable with the decision you make.  Not a decision made for you. You should not feel rushed or pressured. If you don’t understand something that someone seems to be warning you about, you should ask questions until you do understand their concern.
 
Now as I’ve indicated, there is a difference between advice and an opinion.
 
Opinions


... don’t always apply to everyone’s reality. It’s often just someone’s personal preference. I’ve found the best way to translate people’s feedback into advice is, when someone is giving you ‘advice’, always ask why they feel that way. Someone might say only buy a house with a metal roof. When you ask why, hopefully they can provide you with some info on metal roofs, and their benefits over other types of roofs. Now you know more about all roofs. Not just metal roof = good. This is the type of information you need.
 
Now setting aside the advice from your friend Stella and your Uncle Hank, there are some very key people you will want to get advice from.
 

  • A Lawyer (unless you are one, you’ll need one)

  • A Financial Advisor (to set you up with your Mortgage and possibly help you with some budgeting ideas)

  • A Real Estate Agent (to help you sort through and understand the advice you get, present you with appropriate homes to consider, steer you through the purchasing process with the least amount of stress and surprises, get the deal done)

 
There is one additional person who has become commonplace in Real Estate. A Home Inspector. Hiring a Home Inspector is usually only something you do when you are putting an offer on a house (usually a favourable inspection is a condition of your purchase). However, like everything else we’ve discussed here, they are going to give you information on which you can make your decision. They wont tell you ‘buy or don’t buy’, but they will provide you with a report of all the things they looked at, and will give you a good idea if the overall house is in good shape or not, and where potential issues might be found. They do cost money, so you want to make sure you are comfortable with the service they will be providing. But they are absolutely money well spent.


So again, lots of people will have lots of things to tell you as soon as they find out you are considering buying a house. Be mindful to separate the opinions from advice. Be sure to get answers to the all the questions you have (no matter how small an items you might think it is). As much as is possible, seek out expert advice.

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I can comfortably say, the one part of the home buying process that stresses people out the most is surprises when it comes to paying for various things along the way. The stress doesn’t always come due to the amount, but when the money needs to be available.

 
So to help you avoid these problems, I’m going to try to outline as many (but probably not all) of the payments you will encounter as you finalize your home purchase, and when they are due.
 
In most, if not all cases here, your lawyer will investigate and provide you with the details of any moneys that need to be paid. I raise these items simply FYI.


Deposit


In most cases (in fact, I’ve never personally seen an exception), when your offer is accepted, you will be expected to place a deposit on the home. Usually in the form of a certified cheque or bank draft. Usually almost immediately after the purchase is finalized. Deposits vary in size, but 5% is not uncommon. In fact, it will be outlined in your agreement to buy. So even if you dont take possession of your home for a few months, you will still need to have this money available to you once you sign off on the purchase.


Provincial Land Transfer Tax


As a buyer, this is something you will have to pay. The payments are based on the sale price of the home, and are tiered (which is to say, you pay ‘x’ % for the first ‘y’ dollars, and so on). You should have no trouble finding a Land Transfer Tax calculator online. It is worth noting that in Toronto, there is an additional Municipal Land Transfer Tax you are required to pay. This amount is generally due when you finalize the purchase of your home.


Lawyer Fees


You will almost always have a lawyer handle the purchase of your home. They are generally the ones who pull everything together, tie up any loose ends on the home, and finalize the transfer of title to you. Lawyer fees do vary, but typically not too broadly for a real estate transaction. You should work out the fees with your lawyer in advance (again, to avoid surprises), work through with him/her what the process will look like in terms of their engagement and what information they will need from you (like who you are arranging your financing with, etc.).
 
The lawyer should tell you when they require their fee, but it is not unusual for them to collect their fee as part of the final closing activities.


Pre-Paid Taxes/Utilities


This is the one item that trips people up the most. So pay attention. If the current owner of the home you are buying has paid their property taxes in full for the year, and you buy the home in the middle of that year, you will need to reimburse them for the balance of the taxes paid. So if they paid $1000 for the year, and you take possession right in the middle of that year, you will have to pay the prior owner $500. The same is true of any pre-paid utilities like gas, electrical, water or sewer, although the amounts pre-paid for utilities are generally lower than for taxes.
 
This amount is generally due when you finalize the purchase of your home.
 
Circumstances can vary from purchase to purchase, so don’t be surprise if there are other little ‘gotchas’ along the way. Also, you will need to have insurance on the property from the day you take possession (and just FYI, you will probably need to supply proof of that policy). You will need to set up your utilities as well (which could mean up-front admin fees). So you should go into the home buying process with all your cash & financing squared away and available to you.
 
I personally suggest having some form of access to $1000 over & above what you think you’ll need to have available. If you don’t spend it now, I’m sure you will find a way to spend it once you move in.
 
One final thing I’ll mention is, if you have money tied up in some kind of mutual fund or other financial instrument, keep in mind, you may need some time to cash it out. So my recommendation is, all the money you have should be in a bank account ready to be disbursed on the day you are ready to sign an offer.

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We’ve talked about a Real Estate Agent in a number of places here. If you hadn’t gone through this information, you should expect that your agent will provide you with similar information.

 
Now with that said, people often ‘get’ a Real Estate Agent as a result of attending an open house or some flyer they received in the mail. That’s pretty common really. But lets face it. If you buy or sell a home, the agent or agents are getting paid for their services. Therefore you want to make sure you are getting your moneys worth.
 
When you approach an agent or are being approached by an agent, you should be expecting a bit of a sales pitch. It will probably feel like someone applying for a job (with you as the employer). So the agent’s particulars, the brokerage they work for, general statistics on their successes and so on. All good information to have. But you will want to know what they do for their commission. So some questions you should ask them are:


How will you be presenting me potential homes? 


​If you have gone on MLS yourself, you will already have a feel for what type of information is available there.  Having an agent who simply sends you links to listings periodically or just shows you printed MLS listings when you get together is pretty basic service.
 
The value lies in showing you the value of the homes available. There may be 10 homes in an area you have decided on, with prices ranging from $250,000 to $375,000. Based on what you are looking for, there should be an order of value from highest to lowest. And just because something costs more, doesn’t mean it is the highest value. When an agent selects homes to show you, they should know what you are looking for in advance including your budget, and should try to determine what homes are most likely to appeal to you that are in sync with your budget.
 
Just dropping 10 MLS printouts in front of you and saying ‘so which do you like the best’ or just booking you into 10 walk-throughs is not great service. That’s trial and error. Its extremely time consuming and can get pretty frustrating pretty fast.
 
A better approach I find is to talk briefly about all the homes available (those 10 listings), but have the top 3 detailed and compared, relative to what you mentioned you are looking for. This gives you something to focus on.  One of the other 7 might look cool, so you can add that one to the list. That’s not a problem. Maybe even ask the agent if they have been through them in advance. Your agent is obliged to make sure you are aware of everything available, but that doesn’t mean you have to walk through each & every one. Now if you do want to see absolutely everything personally, that’s fine. But your agent should at be demonstrating their expertise in rating them.


How do you want to interact with your agent? 


Everyone has busy lives, but if you’re in the market for a home, its likely to be your priority. That means you want to get a heads up from your agent in a timely fashion. But you probably don’t want to just get bombarded with information non-stop. It can quickly become noise. Now everyone is different, so I cant say the best way is this or that. However, your agent should be prepared to meet your needs in this regard. If you want summary emails once a week, that’s what you should get. If you want them to come to your home with listings, no problem. If you want a text as soon as the agent comes across a new property, so be it.


What if you get an agent, and they’re just not working out? 


At the end of the day, most agents are hard working and will meet your needs and then some. And if you are clear and straight-forward, your agent should be more than happy to accommodate whatever you are looking for. With that said, when you begin working with an agent, you are likely to have signed a representation agreement of some sort. In signing that agreement, your agent is committing a level of service to you, and you are committing to work with that agent.
 
So if things just don’t feel right, take it up with the agent directly. If things are still not improving the way you’d hope, you should feel comfortable reaching out to that agent’s Broker. They are as committed to your satisfaction as their agents are. And often, they might be able to offer suggestions that can quickly smooth out any rough patches.
 
Now also keep in mind, the agent cant control the marketplace. You may be getting frustrated because your agent cannot find the home you want for the price you want right away. That isn’t the agent’s fault. That is sometimes just the nature of the marketplace. Also, keep in mind that there are limitations to what an agent can do on your behalf. For example, they cannot sign anything at all on your behalf. They may be able to recommend a Home Inspector, and they might even be able to have them contact you in order to have an inspection arranged. But they cannot sign an agreement with the inspector on your behalf. Similarly, if you are arranging financing with a bank, asking your agent to contact the bank on your behalf with new information would almost certainly fail, simply because of privacy laws observed by the bank.
 
But always keep in mind, you are the client here. You should always feel completely comfortable raising any concerns you have, and should always get the feeling that your agent is there for you. 

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If you are a little bit of a Real Estate geek, you may find a lot of discussions on the For Sale By Owner topic. FSBO has to do with owners selling their own homes without the assistance of an agent. So if you haven’t sold a home for some time, you may be blissfully unaware of this debate.
 
In a nutshell, there are groups of people out there who have a DIY (do it yourself) model that will assist you in selling your own home. Kind of a no-frills version of a typical real estate agent’s function, but the seller does all the work and shoulders all the risk. This service provides the Seller with the ability to list on MLS and, in theory, get out of having to pay the real estate commission.
 
People want to save money wherever they can. People are always suspicious of people charging money for things that 'seem' simple. And in this day & age, there is no shortage of businesses who will tell people they are paying too much for one service, and offer an alternative, cheaper service. Nothing wrong with that I suppose. But if you don’t know what you are giving up with this new, ‘scaled-down’ service, you may find yourself signing up for more than you bargained for. Maybe. Maybe not. ‘Buyer Beware’ as they say.
 
Now I have not sold a home using the ‘For Sale By Owner’ model (being a Real Estate Sales Rep myself), and I don’t know anyone who has gone this route. I have bought and sold a number of my own homes before becoming an agent. As I’ve said, there appears to be lots of material online about it. But oddly, there doesn’t seem to be much when it comes to people talking about their actual experiences with FSBO. Good or bad.
 
So I thought I would try to look at this with my unbiased goggles firmly in place. No talking up the Real Estate Agent value or all the things they do. Just a simple speculation on what I assume the process would look like based on an average homeowner’s point of view. So here we go.
 
I am going to sell my home, and I am considering the ‘For Sale By Owner’ strategy. Where is my head at?
 
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OK, my wife & I have worked hard to accumulate equity in our home, and we want to protect that equity from the cost of a real estate commission. That’s what this is all about anyway, right? So what do we have to do?
 
We investigate and find out that there are a variety of FSBO packages you can buy that include a basic sales kit (lawn signs, etc), and with some of the packages, we could also list on MLS for an additional fee. It seems reasonable that if we’re ‘in the online mix’ with all the other homes available in our area, we stand as good a chance as the next guy of selling. Seems reasonable enough. Then what?
 
We have looked at the market and come up with what we feel is a competitive price. We may choose to lower the price to make it more attractive, factoring in the savings we may make from avoiding commission payments. Probably not the entire amount, but we’d probably put a little bit of the anticipated proceeds in there for good measure. Now, just for the sake of argument, lets say that our home is in perfect selling condition, and staged in such a way that prospective buyers will see the value immediately.
 
We’re all right, ready to go. Bring on the Buyers!
 
Now with this DIY approach, I’m selling my house in pretty much the same way I’d resell a car. I would think that For Sale By Owner would be viewed as the equivalent of not buying from a dealer. To me, that means I’m going to discount the price immediately. No dealer overhead means I should be able to get it cheaper. So from a Real Estate perspective, anyone with a little negotiation savvy is going to know you are taking the FSBO approach to save the commission. So what are they going to do? Immediately discount your asking price by the commission you are trying to save. That may seem unfair, but lets face it. Its clear that you are taking this approach to save money. Why would you expect someone who knows you are saving money on a deal they are doing with you, and not want a piece (or all) of that saving?
 
OK, so moving on, I am also going to assume that the Buyers I’m going to be meeting are going to demonstrate a variety of negotiating strategies. Some may be logical (if I’m lucky). Some may leave me more than a bit agitated. I would expect the ‘Reality TV Effect’, which means the Buyer is going to spend all their time pointing out all the things they see wrong with my home. Real or imagined, they’ll be throwing them out there. Seriously, I’ve sold a couple of things on Kijiji, and most of the time, I felt like I was dealing with a Picker or a Pawn Star. Why would I expect anything different here?
 
Now if I’m not very good at defending the value of my home (or worse, I start to think that maybe I priced my place too high, based on all the negative feedback I’m hearing), then my commission saving is going to take another hit. Of course, I can go into this process with a firm position on my home’s value and what I’m prepared to accept, so I can just tell people who are just trying to cut the price beyond where I’m prepare to go to hit the road.
 
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But again, if I’m selling my home like I’d sell a used laptop, I have no control over who shows interest, when they choose to show interest, how they behave when they show up, or even if they’re sincerely interested in buying my home (or any home for that matter). That means, we should expect to have a number of people tromping through our home, who may or may not be serious Buyers, and who may or may not leave us wanting to scream into a pillow for 15 minutes afterward.
 
But you’re still getting some interested Buyers, right? Theoretically yes. It is worth pointing out that the vast majority of Buyers are represented by Buyer Agents. Buyer Agents have an expectation on how their deals are done, so you should be prepared to have all your ducks in a row in terms of the agreement, because they will have requirements and specific clauses they will want included in the deal. Keep in mind, an Agent is obligated to serve & protect their clients interests. One way they do this is by making sure the paperwork includes those protections. So if you have an agent who is insisting on specific language included in the contract to sell, you can just ‘go with it’ (which means you are theoretically putting yourself at risk) or you can have a lawyer look every deal you are considering. Lawyers are not cheap.
 
And finally, from what I can see online, the FSBO timeline from listed to sold is much longer than a sale by agent. Because I’m trying to be unbiased, I’m not going to speculate as to why that is. It just seems to be a general point of view out there. So it seems to me that by going the FSBO route, you may be subjecting yourself to living in your house that is setup to satisfy someone else’s needs (remember, staged to appeal to prospective buyers), dealing with all manner of ‘interesting personalities’, who may not be on the level, and may think that because you’re doing this yourself, you can be taken advantage of.
 
Now some people may enjoy the whole social interaction that would seem to come along with this approach. Me? If there is someone out there who is willing to help me prepare, give advice not only on how much to ask, but on how to get my home ready for sale, and then someone who will act as a buffer between myself and the rest of the world (that includes both legitimate Buyers and…. well ….. weirdos), and then finally make sure the deal is pretty much bullet-proof and I’m protected, well I’m prepared to pay for that.
 
Maybe I’m reading this entirely wrong. And again, I haven’t been able to find many confessions of actual sellers who have been through the FSBO process. I may be projecting things on this that just don’t happen. I’d love to hear of some experiences, start to finish. I’ll keep looking. But I’ll leave you with this, and this is strictly my perspective as a homeowner.
 
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Everyone has heard numerous and seemingly endless news items about people who are finding more & more creative ways to rip people off. Some of them wear really nice suits & ties and look completely legit. Two words. Bernie Madoff. You have to be really careful when putting your investments in play.
 
Also, if I don’t have the skills to ‘deal with’ something important to me, I am willing to pay someone a fair wage to do it for me. I don’t know how to change the brakes in my truck. I could probably find a video on YouTube that’ll show me how, but what do I do if the video skipped an important step, and I end up in a river somewhere? Send a strongly worded letter to the guy who made the video?
 
On all of the FSBO services I’ve seen advertised online, none seem to indicate that if your deal goes sideways, they will stand behind you until everything is sorted out. That is scary to me. But leaving the sale of your biggest investment in the hands of a rookie just seems…. well…. Like a rookie move. As they say 'I may be paranoid, but that doesn't mean everyone isn't out to get me'...  
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Ahhh, the dreaded ‘Which Comes First’ question. Chicken or Egg. Multiply or Divide. Weights or Cardio. OK, that last one is completely new to me, but I digress.

 
All of these questions have some philosophical undertone to them. Which is to say, there is always a seemingly good argument on either side. And so too is the case when it comes to Buying a Home. Do you do it before you sell your existing home or wait until the deal is done?
 
Sometimes people over-think this process, cant figure it out and end up staying in their home….like forever. And others just charge ahead with one part of the equation without understanding the implications the other has on their current activities.
 
Now under certain circumstances, the decision can be a little easier. If you find yourself having to move for work reasons, or something similar, the decision is often a little bit easier. You know this has got to happen, and you generally may accept that there could be a period in-between where you are not a home owner. Renter? Somebody’s new roommate? Whatever. You know there may be a gap in there, so you prepare yourself for that inevitability. If you’re lucky, whomever is behind the move is helping you out with some of the implications of this type of move. ‘Should We’ can sometimes be more stressful a decision than ‘When We’ is.
 
But for many of us, the idea of moving is a decision you contemplate until you come to terms with it.
 
You may consider moving because you have outgrown your place. You may have too much space, now that the kids have grown. Maybe you figure you have enough equity that you can now find a place that you can afford mortgage free (once you’ve sold your place). These types of moves tend to be a little less urgent, so you often have ample time to think things through. Doesn’t mean you can always come up with the ideal scenario, but again, if it looks like things aren’t going to fall together in an acceptable way, you can back off a bit and re-think it.
 
And then there are the people who….well….just move around. It may be motivated by a desire to take advantage of a hot market they currently live in. It may be an opportunity to move into a newer, nicer home being offered at a great price. It may be someone who needs a ‘fresh canvas’ now that they have re-decorated every room in their current home.


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The fact is, if you are in one place and you are trying to get to your next destination, it can be tricky. In some cases, it can completely work against you. For example, lets say you found an area that is just perfect in your mind. You HAVE to live there. But it’s a hot market. And in a hot market, there may be a few things you might not otherwise have to deal with.
 
First, the homes in a hot market go quickly. Under these conditions, you need to be motivated and ready to jump when the right place becomes available. Otherwise, you just end up getting frustrated when it seems like everything you like is gone before the weekend comes.
 
Second, the Sellers in a hot market can be a little more picky about the offers they will take. Hot market means they could be getting a lot of offers. More specifically, they want (and typically favor) offers with few conditions. If  you want to buy, but you have to sell your own home first, the Seller is less likely to have their deal hung up on your success selling your own place before you can buy theirs.  The fact is, most Sellers period are less inclined to accept ‘conditional on sale’ types of clauses, hot market or not.
 
You can certainly try anything & everything you want to get to where you want to be. But there are some things that can at least lessen the anxiety a bit. So if you own a home, which you plan to sell in order to ‘move on’, here are some things to consider.


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Is your house ready to sell? 


This is a really key step. First and foremost, you want to get the most for your home and sell it as quick as possible. There are all kinds of headaches that come with selling your home, so the faster the better. If you spend the time up front getting everything ‘just so’, you really will be doing yourself a favour.
 
Now this doesn’t mean you have to invest a ton of time & money in your home. It can be as simple as a coat of paint, trimming up some landscaping that has gotten out of hand, or fixing up a couple of those small dents & dimples you’ve grown to live with. Of course, some people may choose to do some significant work on their homes. The general rule of thumb is to make sure that whatever you choose to renovate, you can get back a solid percentage of that cost when you sell. Kitchens & bathrooms often pay off. Putting down new wall to wall carpeting may not.
 
One really easy one (again, in theory) is clear out your junk. Now I have heard about these shows where they help hoarders…. uhhh, de-hoardify their homes. You may not be one of these types, but you should keep in mind that potential buyers want to see open space. As George Carlin once said ‘Everyone needs a place for their stuff’. If your home is full of your stuff, people wont get a good sense of where their stuff is going to go.
 
That doesn’t mean you have to throw everything out. But you really should think about netting it down. The guideline I try to follow:
 

  • Do you use it more than once a month (during certain seasons)? Leave it alone.

  • Do you use it only once or twice a year? Put it in some sort of box or container.

  • Do you rarely ever use it, but it has sentimental value? Put it in a box or container, or even consider a storage facility.

  • Do you rarely even use it, or even think about it? Kijiji or the dump. Seriously, if you move, you are going to pay someone to move it. Get rid of it.

 
Once you have things in boxes or containers, try to stack them as nicely as possible. A big, unruly pile of boxes isn’t going to do you any favors.
 
I know I’m making this sound really easy, and I know it isn’t. But you will thank yourself for it later if you at least take a shot at it.


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Can you buy before you sell? 


Lets say you are of the mind that you don’t want to seriously consider a move before you’ve found your ‘Dream Home’. Now even though I’ve mentioned that Sellers tend to shy away from conditional offers, some may accept your conditions. If the home you’re looking at is not a popular design, the Seller may be happy to work with you. The area itself may not be ‘hot’ at then time, so again, the Sellers may entertain your offer.
 
However, you do have some other options open to you, depending on your situation.
 
You might be able to get some form of ‘bridge financing’. Now this depends on the lenders you choose to deal with. And there are risks that both you should be considering and the lender will be considering. In short, if you take out a loan in order to buy a new home, and you haven’t sold your existing home, can you afford to cover your living expenses plus the cost of the loan.
 
People have been known to get themselves into all manner of financial trouble doing this, so you should always be cautious when taking on additional debt. You may think your existing house is really nice and should move quickly, but there are all kinds of things that are out of your control, which can throw a monkey wrench into your situation. Be careful not to get ahead of yourself.


Do you have to buy right now? 


Some people honestly feel like when they see something that they ‘just have to have’, that it will never be available again. Now of course in some situations, that can be true. I believe there is such a thing as ‘a once in a lifetime’ opportunity. And maybe I’m conservative in my views, but when it comes to real estate, the ‘once in a lifetime’ means EVERYTHING comes together. Not just the availability of a house you really like. Everything including the conditions that will make it possible to buy it without putting yourself at risk.
 
I mean, houses are built. And if someone has built one, chances are it has been built a number of times. Sure, custom-made homes are…well… custom. But generally, most people who can muster up a sufficient amount of patience will be able to find a number of homes that are pretty darn nice.
You may have found a number of homes that you really love, and none of them were for sale. That shouldn’t discourage you. You should keep track of them, and establish a relationship with an agent who will keep a watch out for you. Most agents, if not all, would be happy to do so.


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Should you buy right now? 


Another thing to consider is the nature of your move. Are you making a fundamental change to the type of residence you are going to live in? Then consider this.
 
I know a gentleman who had decided to sell his 2000+ sq ft home and downsize. He was thinking something along the lines of a 2 bedroom condo. Perfect, given his needs. He had owned several homes similar to the one he was currently living in, but never a condo.
 
So he sold his place, and arranged for a closing that would allow him to deal with all the downsizing activities he knew he would have to do. Note: I will touch on this another time, but downsizing is probably a lot harder than you think it is. Anyway, rather than buy that 2 BR condo right away, he decided to rent a 2 BR apartment. That turned out to be the smartest move he could have made. Let me explain.
 
When he got the floor plan of the apartment he was considering, as most people do, he started marking out where he’d place his furniture. Everything he planned to move looked like it would fit pretty well. The location seemed convenient to everything he thought he would need. Although he’d never lived in an apartment/condo residence, when he did the pre-lease walk-through, it seemed pretty much what he expected. So he signed a one year lease, and moved in. And having invested the proceeds of his home sale, he was making enough to cover his rent and then some.
 
And then he moved in.
 
Now he expected he’d need a bit of time to adjust, so he took a few months to mull over this new scenario. It didn’t take him long to realize a few things that you simply cannot know beforehand.
 
First, he felt crowded. Not tripping over things and always walking sideways crowded, but just not comfortable. His kitchen simply didn’t have enough cupboard and counter space. And this was a single guy with no real flair for fancy cooking or entertaining numerous people. The location turned out to be quite dusty, due to the amount of traffic outside his windows. And although he hadn’t really given it too much weight (no pun intended), having some on-site exercise facilities would have also been nice.
 
But the good news was, he rented first. Sure, he would have to move again, but he wasn’t going to have to pay all the Seller costs all over again. Most importantly, he now knew (a) he would need a place at least 1100 sq ft, (b) he needed a kitchen with a certain amount of countertop and cabinet space, (c) he wanted workout facilities, and (d) he wanted the area around his new residence to be ‘less pavement, more grass’.
 
Well, 8 months into his lease, he went condo shopping and found the perfect place, with what he now refers to as ‘his million dollar view’.
 
Now this was a perfect ending to a somewhat rocky start. In some cases, renting gives a seller a perfect amount of buffer to deal with major changes. As with this particular case, if you want to move into a style of residence you’re not familiar with, you might do well to rent first. I mean, an alternative ending to this might have been he absolutely hated apartment / condo living, and ended up just buying a smaller bungalow somewhere. You never know until you try.
 
On the other hand, I’ve seen people decide to sell their place and rent, wait too long, and then find the cost of housing has increased so quickly that they cant get back into the market at the same level they got out at..
 
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Renting isn’t for everyone. People who have owned most of their lives often find it a bitter pill to swallow. But it does have its advantages under certain circumstances.

Wow. Sorry, that was a lot of information. So as we’ve outlined here, there are a number of things that can and/or should factor into your decision. If you own a home and you are ready for a move, the best advice I can offer you is this:
 

  • If you are thinking about a move, make sure your existing home is ready to sell. You should try to avoid rushing around at the last second, trying to get your home in ‘sell-ready’ condition.

  • If you are going to buy a home before you sell your existing home, be careful not to put yourself in a risky financial position. Nobody has a crystal ball, so nobody can guarantee you will be able to sell your home exactly when you want it to sell.

  • Be patient. Odds are, you will find more than one home that you will be excited to move into.  Try not to feel disappointed if you can get a specific home because you aren’t ready. There are lots of great homes on the market just about all the time.

  • Renting may be a good option for you, particularly if you are moving into a style of home that you are unfamiliar with. Living in a condo is much different than living in a detached 2 story. Be careful not to jump too soon.

  • I know I obviously have a bias here, but having bought & sold my own homes prior to getting into real estate myself, I can tell you, there is value in securing a good agent to evaluate your unique circumstances and help you determine some strategies for you to consider. And whatever course of action you choose, there will be times when you need someone (other than your significant other) to clarify things that are happening, make sure you understand both what is and what will be happening, and sometimes remind you of what you set out to do (in case you have a severe attack of ADD, as we all have from time to time).

 
Looking at a move to a new place can be a lot of fun. But to insure it stays fun, make sure you are cautious about your approach. Enjoy!

  
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These days, if you are buying a home or selling your home, you are very likely to be affected in some way by a Home Inspection. They have become just shy of mandatory for most real estate transactions.

 
So if you’re not familiar with the concept, a Home Inspection is generally conducted, by the Buyer, at the Buyer’s expense, on the property they have made an offer on. The objective is to inform the Buyer if the home they intend to purchase is in good shape overall, if there are any issues that exist, and what the severity of the existing issue are. The home inspection is usually included in an offer to purchase, as a specific clause, and it will give the buyer the option to walk away from the purchase if the Buyer is dis-satisfied with the results of the inspection (usually detailed in a Home Inspection report).
 
Now you might think that buying a house is expensive enough, and the last thing you need is yet another thing to spend your money on. But I will tell you (and most Real Estate Pros will tell you the same thing), this is really something you want to do. In fact, if you choose not to get a home inspection, don’t be surprised if your Real Estate person asks you to confirm in writing that they recommended an inspection, and you have declined. Yes, its that important.
 
At the beginning of this story, I mentioned both Buyers and Sellers are affected by inspections. So I’ll first talk about this from the Buyer’s perspective, and then I’ll talk about what the Seller might expect.
 
So from the Buyer perspective, because of the importance of an inspection, you don’t want to just go through the motions. Here are some of the key things to keep in mind when lining up an inspection.

Not all inspections are the same
 
Now you are securing an Inspector because you want someone with in-depth knowledge of the various aspects of a home. Now if you are buying a fairly standard home (city services, typical ‘builder’ home), your average Inspector should be familiar with most, if not all of the characteristics of the home.
 
However, if the home has some more unique features, you will want to make sure they have expertise with these types of things. For example, if the home is on a well, has a septic system or its heating system is geo-thermal, it would make sense to ask potential inspectors about their experience in these areas.

Make sure your inspection covers everything 
 
You shouldn’t just assume that when the inspector shows up that they are going to inspect everything within the perimeter of the property line.  I’ll give you some examples of things I’ve seen people find out would be left out of the inspection.
 
  • Other Structures: I heard of one homeowner who bought a home with a large shed, which appeared to have electrical service. They found out while they were moving in that the electrical feed was faulty. When they went back to the inspection report, they found out the shed has been excluded.
  • Septic Inspection: I had a situation where the inspector was informed about a septic system in advance of their arrival, however when the inspector showed up, they announced they could not do the inspection at that time (and it would have to be conducted by someone else at a later date). Because of the timing, the status of the septic was left up in the air and the Buyer ended up ‘crossing their fingers’ that there would be no issues. 
As most ‘inspection clauses’ have a time limit, the Buyer needs to get the inspection done promptly, and unfortunately you don’t get multiple shots at it. So you will want to be very clear as to what will be covered at the time of inspection. When you are talking to a potential inspector, you will want to get confirmation in writing as to what they will cover, and if you identify specific things you want included, get that included in the confirmation.

Be aware of ‘Inspection Waivers’ 
 
An inspection is a service. Some service providers stand behind their work. Others, not so much.
 
When you are contacting an inspector, ask them if you will be required to sign a waiver that will hold the inspector blameless for anything that should reasonably be covered by the inspection (or was covered in the inspection), and subsequently turns out is a problem.
 
What I mean by this is by way of example, lets say an inspector completes the inspection and gives you a green light. All is well with the home. Then you find out later that there was a clear and obvious crack in your foundation, and you are looking at a $50,000 bill to repair this problem. If you have signed a waiver holding the inspector blameless, you are out of luck. Would you have bought the house if you had have been informed of the crack? Should the inspector have a certain amount of accountability for this oversight?
 
Some inspectors can be a little sneaky by waiting until they show up to get you to sign these waivers. They know you have to get the inspection done right away, and some will take advantage of the time crunch you are under. Make sure you ask before you book them.

Make sure you take the time to read the inspection report 
 
Most inspection reports will tell you what was reviewed and what the state of the inspected item is. My experience is you get something along the lines of a pass/fail grade. Some may be more in-depth, but you will want at least a pass/fail rating.
 
Inspection reports vary in how they rate things, but my experience is you are not likely to have an inspector go so far as to say a particular component of your home will fail at a particular date in the future. They may inform you that you might expect to have to replace or repair something in the next 1, 5 or 10 years, but there are certain limitations to what anyone can accurately predict.
 
But you should discuss the findings with the inspector and make sure you understand the implications of the issues they raise flags on. I personally feel that any material issues they find with the key mechanical systems in the home (heating/AC, electrical, plumbing, etc)  or foundational are real red flags, as they tend to cost the most to remedy. Other things, you should use your better judgment.
 
But you should always make sure your inspector is prepared to review and discuss it with you. Not just email it to you and move on to the next inspection.

Using the Inspection Report as a Negotiation Tool
Now we’ve looked at inspections from the Buyer’s side. What implications does the inspection have from the Sellers perspective?
 
Well, in short, after an inspection is completed, don’t be surprised if you are in for some additional negotiations. When your potential Buyer put in their offer, they had just so much information available to them in terms of your home. Now they have new information, and more often than not, it isn’t flattering.
 
If you think about it, an inspector will want to put ‘something’ in a report, if only to demonstrate to the Buyer that they added value for the money they charged. Now most homes you can find something to write about. But the frustrating part for Sellers is, some people will point at things found in an inspection report and act shocked and appalled to find, for example, that a 25 year old home has a 25 year old furnace that might require replacement soon.
 
Now under these circumstances, you need to keep your cool. You can expect a Buyer to throw everything at you. The key is to determine what your position on the issues raised is. You may be less sympathetic with a grievance about the 25 yr old furnace in the 25 yr old home. But if they raise legitimate issues that you were otherwise unaware of, you need to determine if you are willing to either address these issues before handing over the keys, or if you are willing to offer a discount to the selling price of the home to appease the Buyer.
 
If you choose to accommodate the Buyer in some manner or another, make sure you work closely with your Agent to ensure that the measures you are prepared to take are clearly detailed and accepted by the Buyer.
 
I say this because I have also heard of Sellers agreeing to remediate something raised by the Buyer, but then when the deal is about to close, the Buyers begin raising concerns because the remediation was not done to their satisfaction. If you agreed to re-paint a room, unless you plan to hire a professional to do so, make sure the language states only that you have agreed to ensure a fresh coat of paint is applied to the room. You want to avoid setting expectations beyond what you are prepared to do, and you want to avoid wide-open ‘Buyer Acceptance’. People can be funny when they are in a position where they can make others dance to their tune.
 
So in summary, inspections are a good thing. Maybe less so for the Seller, but most people are honest and want a potential Buyer to enjoy their new home. Not worry every night afterward that they have bought a money pit.
 
And homes never give up their secrets easily, so as a Buyer, make sure you get the inspection, and be diligent about being a part of the process.  
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Working in Real Estate, you see a broad spectrum of human emotions in play. Now given buying or selling Real Estate for most people means the biggest investment they have made or will make is ‘in play’, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people get a little twitchy.

 
But what is it specifically about the transaction that sets people on edge? I don’t think it is any one thing. People worry about different things, most likely based on their own upbringing and experiences. If it’s a couple that is buying or selling, the stress may be the combination of their collective concerns, or conflicting priorities or desires.
 
So leaving aside the ‘better living through pharmaceuticals’ strategy for dealing with Buyer/Seller anxiety, I will try to outline some of the more common root issues that leave people lying awake at night during this process. Hopefully by dragging them out into the light, we can identify some ways to avoid a troubled mind.
 
At a high level, it really comes down to ‘Fear’. Something bad is going to happen that will negatively impact your investment. For the Seller, the investment is clear, in that you have a home that you have paid for, or have been paying for for some time. For the Buyer, you have money you have been saving for some time that you are going to sink into this purchase and commit to years to regular payments. But fear is a little to broad a term, so here are some more specific thoughts on the subject.


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The Grass Is Always Greener… 


Obviously, when people are buying or selling, they want to get the best deal. Makes perfect sense. But when someone is looking for a home, they need to be cautious not to get stuck in a cycle of thinking that they are going to end up getting the short end of the stick with every potential home they consider.
 
How can you possibly avoid this? There are a couple of ways, but it all really comes down to having access to the right information at the right time. You can achieve this yourself or with a Real Estate Professional, but ultimately you should be prepared in advance.
 
For example, if someone came to me and said that just yesterday, they decided to buy a home, and they want me to take them out looking tomorrow, I would probably be inclined to get them to take a step back, take a deep breath, and at least spend a bit of time to figure out a little more than the fact that they are capable of buying a home.
 
Why? Maybe I’m a little selfish, but I know that people going into a complex process like this with little more than confidence and a pre-approved mortgage are going to have a harder time than they need to.  And if my client is having a hard time, so will I. And I’ve already got enough grey hair as it is.
 
If you are prepared, and/or you have someone working with you who is equally or even better prepared, you can protect yourself for thinking you are never going to get a good deal.


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Cant Always Get What You Want… 

Sorry, I’m a sucker for quoting classic rock tunes. Anyway, often people find themselves constantly disappointed during the buying or selling process. They feel like they’ve been at it for so long, they are starting to doubt if its ever going to happen. They cant get the price they want for their home. They cant find the home they want.
 
Now for Sellers, feeling like the process is taking too long might come from the frustration of having to keep their home ‘showing ready’, and having to leave their house and find something to do for an hour while someone checks their place out. I’ve been through it myself. It can be exhausting.
 
For Buyers, it may come from burning off countless hours out of their weekend looking at homes and not finding anything that feels right, or worse (in a hot market) having to forego a little decompression time after a hard days work to rush off to see a house that just came on the market.
 
In both of these scenarios, your best defense against this type of frustration may simply be patience, and knowing that going into this process, your normal routine is going to take a hit.
 
Now a second and often equally important consideration is to make sure you have the right perspective in the first place.
 
For the Seller, this can point to their expectations of what they can get for their home. This is a fine line, and a few percentage points on either side of the ideal selling price (which can be a challenging thing to establish, depending on the situation) can mean the difference between a stampede of potential buyers and lots of offers (when the price is below that ideal price) and a much slower, much longer timeframe before the place sells (when the price is above that ideal price).
 
For the Buyer, knowing what types of homes exist in the location they’ve chosen and what they go for is critical to getting through the process without going out of your mind.
 
In both cases, a pro should try to ensure you have the right perspective going into it. Now I’m not going to say that you should blindly follow any and all advice you get from an Agent. But you should always at a minimum be provided with sufficient information to support the advice you get, such that you are comfortable with what is ahead of you. If you aren’t comfortable with what you are hearing, get a second opinion.
 
But again. Be cautious. If you have talked to 3 different Agents, and they are all telling you the same thing, and you don’t like what you are hearing, maybe you might need to re-evaluate your expectations. And I say be cautious because unfortunately, if you interview enough Agents, you may eventually find someone who will tell you what you want to hear. That doesn’t mean either of you are right. That might just mean they don’t care how miserable you will become trying to find a certain type of home for 50% of what its worth or sell your home for 50% more than it is worth.


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Is That Your Final Answer? 

For some people, their fear is rooted in the simple act of committing to something. Now before some of you have an ADD moment and you start thinking about ‘those other’ commitment challenges that don’t relate to Real Estate, let me keep us on track.
 
If you are not ready to buy a home or sell your home…. that’s totally OK. Really, its OK.
 
In most cases, this is or should be a decision you have given ample thought to. As I have mentioned, you should have looked into this and prepared yourself a bit up front. But just because you are comfortable that you can get a pre-approved mortgage or can get a price for your home you are comfortable with, doesn’t necessarily mean you are committed.
 
A wise man once said, ‘I don’t fear commitment. I fear wasting my time’. Buying or selling Real Estate takes effort. And I’m not just referring to the prep work I’ve mentioned here. I mean making decisions. Making arrangements. Meeting with people. There is a big difference between shopping for Real Estate and shopping for your basic consumer products.
 
But more importantly, there is a lot of emotional factors that you need to come to terms with to be committed.
 
If you are buying for the first time (say as a couple), you may very well find yourself staring at yourself in the rearview mirror asking ‘are we ready for this?’.
 
If you are a selling a home you have lived in for years, maybe raised your kids in, you might have a hard time turning over that house full of memories.


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These are all very real things you need to come to terms with, or have at least given ample consideration to before you get serious.
 
So for those of you considering a change, good for you. I cant tell you that even if you take my advice, that you wont have a few emotional moments along the way. In fact, I’d be surprised if you didn’t.
 
Maybe you should not so much prepare yourself for the inevitable fear (in all its forms), but prepare yourself to be courageous. So I’ll leave you with another quote that seems to fit.
 
‘Courage is not living without fear, courage is being scared to death and doing the right thing anyway’.

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The home I live in has a septic system. And like many things around the home, it needs attention periodically. Now I wont gross you out with a play by play of what goes into maintaining a septic system (although it isn’t all that horrific), but as the septic guy was doing his thing, we started chatting.

 
As you can imagine, every person in the service industry has a story or two to tell, and this guy was no exception. And I am always astonished with how ‘funny’ people can be when faced with a problem that stemmed from their own neglect. I can certainly appreciate that someone who has ‘pooh’ making its way back into their house might be more than a little stressed out. However why they think it’s a good idea to take that stress out on the individual who is there to get them out of the jam that they’re in is beyond me.  Right up there with telling the person cutting your hair, who is an avid Leafs fan, about how many Stanley Cups the Habs have won, and then wondering why there’s a shaved spot on a part of your head you cant see (but everyone else can).
 
Anyway, it got me thinking about things people take for granted around their home in terms of maintenance. Its strange because people seem to understand that you need to maintain your car periodically, but when it comes to keeping track of things around the house, they seem to think it will just take care of itself. Well they don't. And it isn’t like you have to run around your house weekly to keep up. Once or twice a year is often enough for most things.
 
So here are some things you might want to put in your calendar.


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Kitchen & Bathroom Chalking 


Chalking (and I might go so far as to include tile grout) is generally in place to keep water from going where it shouldn’t. Now the chalking around a tub is probably going to see the most direct water contact, but chalking around sinks, toilet bases and other similar fixtures are also important.
 
What you want to look for first is mildew. It usually looks like a dark discoloration on or around the chalking. Now just because you have mildew doesn’t necessarily mean your chalking is failing, but it definitely means you have moisture that is staying in place long enough for mildew to set in. If you have it, I would say your first order of business is to clean there a little more, using a product that combats mildew. Now if your chalking is breaking down and it is holding moisture (which is causing the mildew), your should replace it. Its not that hard, and will save you trouble down the road.
 
Now if you don’t really have mildew, you can still get water making it past the chalking. Have a look around and under cabinets and anything that is in close proximity to your water sources. If you notice any water staining (or mildew) you may need to revisit your chalking, even if it looks fine. You may also need to look at any plumbing (water supply lines, drains, etc), as they can leak over time. To put it simply, if you have something that isn’t built to withstand contact with water, and yet water is getting though, it will rot and eventually fail. And that’s bad, n’kay.


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Eave Troughs and Downspouts
 
Here we go again with the water thing. Many people think that the main objective of eaves troughs is to make sure that rain comes off the roof into a pre-ordained location, which is partially true. But its real objective is to keep the water away from the foundation of your home. Why? Well, because water can be somewhat destructive and intrusive. And if you have a large amount of water collecting right up against your foundation, it wont take long before it finds a way through the foundation into you house.
 
So first things first, make sure your eaves are clear of debris. If you have a lot of trees in your back yard like I do, you can end up with all manner of gunk in the eaves. How much you accumulate will depend on how many trees you have, and by extension how often you should clean them out. There are now different options you can place over your eaves to keep debris out, so that may be an option for you.
 
The second is to make sure your downspouts are clear and are moving the water right away from the foundation. Having them dumping directly at or into the ground is a bad idea. In particular, having them going straight into the ground without being connected to some sort of underground pipe that takes the water away is really bad. And even with an underground pipe, debris can accumulate underground and effectively plug any drainage you thought you had.
 
My preference is to have the downspouts go into a pipe that physically moves the water around 4 feet away from your house.


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Roof 


You’d almost think water was your home’s worst enemy. Well, sort of. Your roof is the most obvious thing that keeps the elements out of your space. And for the most part, the main thing your roof has to contend with are the elements. Sun, rain, snow, wind. All of these things will wear on your roof over its lifecycle. And because there are now a variety of roofing solutions, the lifecycle for a roof has gone well beyond the traditional 20 years.
 
With that said, there are other things that can play into you running into problems with your roof. How many trees you have that can deposit debris on your roof can have an affect. Keeping your roof clear is definitely something you want to keep on top of. We spoke about your eaves troughs accumulating debris, and if they fill up, the water that should be quickly distributed to your lawn can backup and effect parts of your roof. Particularly if the winter comes and that moisture freezes and moves up under your roofing material.
 
And of course any time you start placing things on your roof, like TV dishes and things of that nature, you are going to be messing with the integrity of your roof. These things can be done without causing problems, but you will want to make sure the work is done well.
 
In terms of what you should be doing? As I mention, keeping debris off the roof is key.  Now I wouldn’t suggest going up to sweep leaves off, as the wind will probably do that for you. But anything heavy should be removed. In fact, as a rule, I would suggest trying to stay off your roof as much as possible. And of course simply walking around looking for any shingles that may have shifted or come off (due to heavy wind or other issues) is key. You want to sort out any issues you see right away.


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Heating & AC Systems 


Hey! Something that isn’t generally defending against water! OK, your furnace and Air Conditioning Systems are obviously important, but from a home owner’s perspective have limited aspects you can take on in terms of maintenance. The primary thing you should take care of is your furnace filter. This is generally a pretty easy thing to replace, and as a rule, replacing it on a regular basis is a really good practice. There are a number of schools of thought on how frequently you should replace your filter, and depending on how much dust you have in your environment will determine that frequency. My personal rule of thumb is to change your filter at least every daylight savings time (once in the spring, once in the fall).
 
Now with that said, these systems are becoming more sophisticated, and so I also personally think that having a specialist come in once a year to do a service can save you trouble in the long run. They can check the various parts of the system to see if they are having or likely to start having trouble. An annual service is not generally an overly expensive visit. Its certainly less expensive than an emergency visit in the dead of winter, when you are now worried about your pipes freezing.
 
So other than the filter, a good practice is to get right up beside your furnace or AC unit (while it is actually in a heating or cooling mode) and listen. These units are typically pretty smooth running. So if you hear something rattling or sounding like its trying too hard, you might have an issue.


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Safety Systems

 

You know, its really unfortunate but many people overlook the maintenance of the basic safety systems in their homes. Fire detectors and Carbon Monoxide detectors. And you see tragedies play out on the news where someone looses a family member because the detectors were not working.
 
Now I will admit that there have been situations where dinner preparation turned into a much smokier adventure than planned and the battery gets taken out of the smoke alarm. And its easy to forget to put it back in. But if I was to suggest one thing that you absolutely take the time to do every 3 months is to check that these systems have healthy batteries and that they are functioning as expected.
 
So there you go. Most of these things don’t require a major investment of your time, and with everyone having some form of smart phone with a calendar function, there really is no excuse to forget to do a quarterly walk around your house to make sure all is well with the world.


You could save yourself a lot of trouble down the road by just taking a moment to see how your house is doing today.

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When you decide to sell your home, the bottom line is get the best price as quickly as possible, with the most favourable terms for you, the seller. Seems pretty simple, but obviously there is a lot that goes into achieving that goal.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to how your home is marketed. Your Agent has a lot to do with how this comes together, but you also have a role to play as well. In my opinion, there is a sweet-spot in terms of what your role is. I should also point out that there is a difference between being actively engaged by your Agent throughout the selling process and actively contributing to the marketing of your home.

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Active engagement is mandatory in my mind. As your Agent, I will be making sure you have as much information as is possible to ensure you feel comfortable making decisions on things like price, strategies and the eventual offers you will receive.  You are fully engaged in the process. You shouldn’t ever feel like something important is going on, but you really don’t know what that something is. You should always have ‘trust’ in your Agent, but that doesn’t mean blind trust. You should be aware, and shouldn’t ever feel uncomfortable asking for clarity on what plans are being made, who your agent is engaging as part of the process or really anything you might simply want to better understand.
 
When we talk about active participation, people have different views on what should be expected of them. Now as a Seller, you can decide what you are prepared to do to get your home sold. It really is entirely up to you. However, every Seller should know that their participation can make the difference in how well a home is marketed. Some examples are as follows:


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Home Readiness
 
Getting your home ready for sale is key, and although there is a broad spectrum of activities that can go into this (and a number of services available to assist a Seller on this front), some of the basics are:


- Making sure your home is clean at all times during ‘showings’
- Making sure your home has been de-cluttered
- Making sure anything that is visibly damaged has been repaired
- Making sure your home ‘s exterior is being regularly maintained 


Generally, these things don’t cost money unless damage requires some sort of trade to come in to affect repairs. It is really a time investment by the homeowner.  Often the Agent will provide some guidance on what really needs to be done.
 
From a marketing perspective, these activities almost always pay off. And this is not something your agent can do for you. You need to ‘participate’.


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Home Staging
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Now ‘staging’ has become a fairly common term in Real Estate, and it’s value is relative. It can also mean a lot of things, so don’t get ahead of yourself on this. I would throw all of the following things into the ‘staging’ category:


- Putting a new coat of paint on one or more rooms in the home
- Replacement of flooring, cabinetry or fixtures
- Temporarily substituting furnishing in one or more rooms in the home 

The list goes on and on here, and the big difference between ‘staging’ and ‘readiness’ in my mind is cost. And as I’ve indicated, the value is relative. I have seen people pay to have brand new flooring put down to make their home ‘more marketable’ and then see the buyer take possession and promptly pull all that new flooring up and throw it out. I would suggest you & your Agent should feel pretty sure that any money you sink into the home is going to have a net-benefit to the selling process.  And you need to be careful how you approach it. For example, putting a fresh coat of paint on things does often have a net benefit in the overall marketability of the home. Neutral colours will help a prospective Buyer visualize their furnishings fitting in better. However, if you chose to pick some bold colours based on your personal preferences, it may look great to you, but ultimately it might put someone else off altogether.

So to recap, the things just outlined would fall into the category of ‘participation’. Activities you as a Seller undertake to improve the overall marketing picture. Now there are some additional things that you may be involved in, but more in terms of agreeing to the strategy. That said, it is becoming more commonplace for Sellers to suggest these strategies, and that is certainly welcome participation. However, I think its important to know what you are asking for. Not every strategy works for every situation.


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Creating a Bidding War
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Now this one has been around for a while, and yet many Sellers are not always clear on what might be involved. In short, the idea here is to put the home on the market, allow people to see the home but do not accept bids on the home until sometime after the showings have begun. In doing so, they hope to get competing bids on the home, thus pushing up the price of the offers received.
 
Now depending on the market at that time, this alone can result in more favorable offers due to the increased competition. However in some cases, an Agent may suggest a list price, which is slightly lower than the anticipated ‘market’ price, simply to attract more Buyers to the home because it has a ‘bargain’ price. Again, this does work under certain circumstances, but in some cases the bidding may only takes the price to that original ‘market’ price. No real benefit but a lot more activity. There are no guarantees here.
 
One new twist in this approach is the concept of a ‘bully’ offer. This means that someone submits an offer (often an attractive offer) in advance of the date when offers were originally to be accepted. It is still up to the Seller if they want to accept a bully offer, but if it is to be considered, the Agent is obliged to notify anyone who might have looked at the property up to the point that a bully offer is being considered and give them the option to submit an offer as well.
 
Overall, this strategy has become popular (one would assume) because it gets the desired results. I have seen it work well and occasionally not so well.


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Coming Soon
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This seems to have become a very popular strategy recently. So much so, that many Sellers are demanding their Agents that they want their home listed as ‘Coming Soon’. Myself, the approach seems to run contrary to most marketing logic.
 
How this works is, when a Seller is ready to list their home, the Agent will market the home as ‘Coming Soon’, which means most of the marketing tools are used (the sign goes in the front yard, the promotional materials are prepared, it may be put on the Realtors website in a Coming Soon section, etc) but it is not put on MLS right away.  Now for those of you who don’t know, the MLS listing is considered the biggest and most effective promotional tool an Agent has a their disposal. Most people who are looking for a home, will almost certainly have visited an MLS Listing Site.
 
So in my mind, I cant reconcile holding back on using one of the most effective tools available to reach prospective Buyers, simply to be able to say ‘Coming Soon’. But that’s just me. And if my Client insists, well….. they are the Client. But I would definitely explain it as I have here.


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Open Houses
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Ahhh the old standby. Once again, depending on the market, the Open House can be very effective in terms of allowing people to go beyond the information and pictures available online, and really look at a place. Often times, Open Houses can turn a Buyer who might not yet be serious about buying to a real player. And for serious Buyers, it can be a convenient way to look at homes without having to coordinate directly with an Agent (who typically book and attend client showings on a case by case basis).
 
Now some will argue that an Open House is often an opportunity for nosey neighbors to come and look at your stuff. Others worry that if the Agent does not manage an Open House properly, light-fingered individuals may help themselves to things along the way.


As with all of these approaches, the market will always dictate how successful the sale is. These can all be combined as well. And as I said initially, Client Engagement and Client Participation will ultimately strengthen the overall marketing strategy for a home.


Generally your Agent will provide you with sound advice on this topic, and hopefully any efforts you do make will pay off in spades. Best of luck!

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When people are planning to move into a new home, they can get really excited. And that’s completely understandable. But sometimes they overlook things or take things for granted, and those things can come back and bit them in the butt. One of those things believe it or not is Home Insurance.

 
Now for folks who may be new home buyers, they may have no insurance policy of their own, or have a tenant package for the place they are renting. So getting a Home Policy may be completely foreign to them. For Home Owners who are selling and moving into a different home (newer, bigger, different location, etc), they may be familiar with home policies already. But both of these groups of people need to, to a certain degree, approach Home Insurance as if it is a completely new undertaking. And lets face it. If the home you buy is new to you, its new to your agent.
 
The most important thing to keep in mind is, every home is different. And those differences may not seem like any big deal to you, but there are certain things that your typical Home Insurance Policy wont cover.
 
Now I should point out, there is generally someone who will provide an insurance policy for just about anything. No guarantees, but generally. But those ‘specialized’ policies often come with a much higher premium, so you need to be careful. But before I go into this, I should emphasize that some of the things I’m going to cover have to do with the physical home itself, and some have to do with your personal circumstance. Any of these items ‘might’ be an issue, but it really depends on the insurer you choose to work with.
 
OK, so what kinds of things might result in your current insurance provider (or your typical insurance provider) from granting you a policy on your new home?


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Electrical Systems 

In older homes, you may find an electrical system based on something called ‘Knob & Tube’. This is often considered a potential fire hazard, so if that is what you’re faced with, you might have a problem.
 
Another issue you might run into is an electrical panel that is 60 amp, and may have the old style glass fuses. This is also often something your typical policy will not accept.


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Heating Systems
 
As a general rule, any heating systems that are based on some form of ‘stove’ (wood pellet, non-standard wood stoves, etc) may raise a flag with certain insurance companies.
 
Most forms of ‘portable’ heaters like space heaters or other types of unsecured heaters may also become problematic. Even certain types of fireplaces are becoming questionable when it comes to insuring a home.
 
And one thing that may not be considered an ’active’ part of the heating system, but can sometimes be left behind from earlier heating systems is a fuel tank. Long story short, they can cause all manner of trouble, but specifically if they leak and still have fuel in them. I have a friend who had a fuel tank that leaked in their home. The contamination was so bad that they ended up having to basically tear down the entire home and truck away the vast majority of the soil that the leak impacted.


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Grow Op 

Now this is something that should be disclosed to you if the home was known to have a grow op operating in it at some point. Even if any evidence of visible damage resulting from the grow op had been repaired, their could be all manner of mold, mildew or other nasty bits found in the walls, attic or other places. They can cause health issues and other problems.


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Non-Standard Construction
 
In this case, we’re talking about structural adds, changes or removals which are not done by a professional or not done properly. So for example, I had mentioned in an earlier blog that I was chatting with a guy who did service for septic systems. He told me a story about a guy who had build an extension on his home to add a bedroom. He told me everything looked great (hardwood floors, nice molding, etc.) but the problem was, he built this extension over the septic cleanout port. Don’t know what the guy was thinking, but you can only imagine the trouble that would cause.

Then as I mentioned, there are things to do with your own circumstances that can sometimes have an impact on your ability to secure insurance. I wont go into details, but it is something you may want to consider.
 

  1. Cancellation of Prior Insurance due to non-payment

  2. Using Property for Commercial Use (Running a Business, Renting, etc)

  3. Using the Property for Farming

  4. Having Insurance Cancelled or Declined by another Provider

  5. Multiple Mortgages on the property

Now if / when you decide to put an offer in on a property, it is pretty common to have a clause in any offer that states the new owner will secure insurance. And from my experience, its not uncommon for anyone with an existing insurance policy to just assume they will have no problem getting a policy on their new home. And for most typical ‘builder’ homes built in the last 10-20 years, that is probably a fair assumption. BUT. Insurance companies, like Money Lenders are becoming a little more particular about home purchases. It isn’t uncommon to see Inspections being done by anyone who has a vested interest in the property. So that includes you, your mortgage provider and sometimes your insurance provider.
 
So make sure you are keeping your insurance company in the loop. You don’t want any unfortunate surprises after putting in an offer on a home. Don’t assume insurance is a foregone conclusion.

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For anyone buying a home, an inspection has pretty much become an expence most home owners (or potential home owners) are willing to accept. However, some people are occationally left frustrated when they dont feel the inspection was thorough enough or they find things after the fact that they feel should have been brought to their attention. Not every time, but it happens.


Well last Monday (April 17, 2017) some new legislation was introduced in Ontario that is expected to improve the overall regulation of the Home Inspection Industry. It is intended to provide a framework of sorts. The Bill (59) is focused on the consumer experience and risk mitigation. So centering on regulation, certification of practitioners, ongoing training and insurance requirements.


So some of the improvements you may see within the Home Inspector domain are:

  • Improvements in the quality of inspections, resulting from regular training

  • Warranty coverage for areas that could be considered 'blind spots'

  • Carrying of Errors & Ommissions Insurance

  • Improved transparancy for all parties in the real estate transaction

Now how Home Inspection firms choose to address Bill 59 remains to be seen, and you should know that the implementation of this Bill should not necessarily be interpreted that there are (or were) major issues within the Home Inspection industry. However, if you consider that real estate is often-times the single largest investment an individual or family might make in their lives, and given the ever increasing price of real estate in Ontario, it is prudent for ongoing consumers protection improvements be implemented by the government.


Of course, it is always a risky proposition for anyone to rely on someone else to make sure all service providers are on the 'up & up'. You should always do your homework first, and where possible, consult with someone with experience. In the case of real estate dealings, your Realtor® should be able to help you to understand what to be looking for and/or what questions to ask of a Home Inspection candidate.


I will keep you posted on any updates I hear on this subject. All the best...

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Greg Bennett - The Home Expert
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Office: 705-722-7100
Fax: 705-722-5246
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