Discover Home Buying Hacks with this couple standing in front of a door.

Home Buying Hacks

Think of These as Life Hacks to Buy a Home

Nobody said it would be easy. Professionals such as home inspectors can help you avoid buying into a money pit. But your inspector doesn’t get a shot at it until you have already emotionally and financially committed to the home. Let’s look at these home buying strategies that you can handle on your own, before you even walk through the door of your first viewing.

Before You Get Started Looking at Homes

  • Get pre-approved for a mortgage
  • Research the neighbourhood you think is a good fit
  • Look into property taxes. There can be sticker shock. In the Greater Toronto Area, Toronto’s taxes are nearly half of some of its neighbours. One street over, you pay double the property tax
  • Look into local crime rates and the makeup of those crimes
  • Schools, daycare, hospitals – how close are they and what is their quality?
  • Silly to some, but check cell phone reception if it is important to you
  • Check maximum internet speeds available in the area
  • Local bylaws versus your current and future hopes and plans
  • Hire a reputable real estate agent

After You’ve Started Looking, More Buying Strategies

  • Walk around the yard looking for maintenance issues. Is the fence falling over? Are there signs of insect damage to the deck or deck structure? Are there weird low spots or wet areas or strange pipes or canisters or access doors anywhere?
  • Trains or subways or buses or trucks or highways or stadiums could make significant noise at odd times. Confirm there aren’t any tragic sounds to keep you awake for the rest of your life because that is far from a dream home
  • Smell the basement, pantry, garage, crawlspace, kitchen, kitchen drain, laundry sink drain, floor drain, washing machine, cabinets, etc. You are looking for off-putting smells like methane or mildew or dead animals
A man is using a measuring tape to Create Curb Appeal in front of a window.

Buying a Home Hacks, Continued

  • Closets. That is where things go. You need them to live. Don’t forget to measure them
  • Older places come with a load of baggage. Any renovation will likely trigger a city inspector to push for upgrades in any related systems. Be prepared for a substantial expense if the renovation exposes, moves, or updates any ducting in the area. The duct work could trigger a directive to bring the entire heating and cooling systems up to modern code. Same goes for plumbing and electrical. Be aware of the potential exposure of toxic materials like Vermiculite and Asbestos, which would necessitate costly remediation. And the years of bad repairs and renovations will haunt you as each subsequent renovation will break its budgets
  • Search the address online. Hopefully all you will see is the property listing and not anything about violent crimes
  • Are there empty plots nearby? Will they soon host a condo construction site that’ll create dust, noise, and traffic for the next five years?
  • Investigate why a property is on the market; it could be due to undesirable developments like a planned garbage dump nearby. Proactively question your real estate agent about local construction projects and request them to verify with the municipal permit Dig and ask your real estate agent direct questions such as “are there any construction projects in the area? Can you check with the municipal permit office?”
  • Is the property on septic? For some this is not perfection
  • Windows can be very expensive to replace. Spend a minute checking their health before falling in love
  • Check to see if the house has window coverings. You will need those to live there
  • Does the property uses municipal services or rely on well water?

Thinking About Making an Offer

  • Get ready to delegate. One of the best home buying hacks is to simply leverage your professional team including mortgage broker, real estate lawyer, home inspector, and of course your real estate agent. Engage them to answer questions and follow up with city officials and other legwork that they can do more efficiently than you. Most if not all of your requests will be included in the fee you are already paying them
  • Chat with the locals including your immediate would be neighbours. This is critical. Do they have dogs? Do they have hate symbols on display? Are there any potential conflicts you could anticipate? Investigate whether the property is well maintained Do they own a monster truck? The composure of the area around the place could be a big positive or a train wreck

Renovation Spitballing, Hacks for Buyers

  • Paint is relatively cheap and easy to change, so don’t sweat it
  • Appliances are expensive, remember to get a good look at what is already there
  • Ikea has some cheap stuff that looks cheap and some expensive stuff that looks cheap. You want door number three: cheap stuff that looks nice. Look for reviews. Some product is reasonable and well reviewed.
  • Ikea has kitchen cabinetry that is built to a reasonable standard and beats any competition on price. If the kitchen is a wreck, just like your budget, give them a look
  • Look into municipal, utility, provincial, and federal grants and tax break programs to offset the cost of upgrades

Local Research Tips

  • Parks. For dogs, for kids, for you. Make sure you like the local public and natural amenities
  • If you locate an incredible place, but it is just out of your budget, would any relatives with money be willing to help?
  • Try the commute before signing anything because a perfect home that is a 95 minute drive from the office is hardly perfect
  • Make a full list of the projected monthly expenses for the property. Utilities, property taxes, internet, cable, phones, insurance, etc. And of course, the mortgage. Is this property’s monthly carrying cost plausible on your salary?
  • Bring a measuring tape or a fancy laser. Use them to measure the lot, the kitchen, the place where the piano might go, the windows for coverings, bedroom sizes, square footage of the kitchen you want to retile, etc.
  • Parking, street or otherwise, make sure of it, don’t assume anything
  • Are there community organizations or neighborhood organizations that would influence your decision? Check Facebook for hood specific groups and read the posts

Making an Offer

  • Negotiate the price
  • Negotiate non-price issues such as closing date, conditions, appliance inclusions, or furniture elements you can’t live without
  • Work with your lender or mortgage broker to get the mortgage approved based on the final numbers
  • Work with your lawyer to figure out timelines, payment amounts and deadlines. They will organize who gets paid when and how and how much. They will be responsible for the exchange of final funds through the escrow process. You will be told how much cash to transfer where and when. They will work with your lender to arrange transfer of the mortgage money to the vendor
  • Get a home inspection
  • Review the inspection report. If there are significant findings, think it over. Ask the inspector follow up questions to clarify and solicit their advice
A cartoon of two people creating curb appeal by moving boxes in front of a house.

Congratulations. You Own a New Home.

  • Uhaul is the cheapest rental option for in town moves. If you have a trailer hitch already, Uhaul’s open air trailers are extremely inexpensive.
  • Shipping container-like storage pods are not a bad idea for some. You can use them to “move” at a leisurely pace. Park it in the driveway for a month, loading a bit every day
  • Schedule a duct cleaning for your new residence after you move in. Look for reputable services using something like HomeStars
  • Inform all utilities that you are moving

In Conclusion, Be Proactive

Buying a home is overwhelming emotionally, financially, relationship-wise, and from a time perspective. It is a lot of paperwork and legwork. Service providers can help. But you need to be on top of everything, looking at the nitty gritty details that no one else is motivated to investigate.

Delegate specific tasks to your home inspector, real estate agent, and real estate lawyer. These experts and can probably do a better job and faster than you.

One of the best sweat equity home buying strategies is investing tens of additional hours researching and prying now. That time spent now could save you hundreds of thousands of dollars and plenty of headaches later.