In this special feature, The Domestic Peach’s newest contributor, real estate expert and agent Darryl Flowers, provides insight for all of the first-time condo buyers out there:
For most of us city-dwellers, when we decide that it’s time to stop throwing money down the rent toilet, we look to buy a chic condo to call our own. Most of my clients start out with a sort of blind enthusiasm – they can’t wait to start their search and envision sipping glasses of Champagne and stepping out onto lakefront balconies of condos that perfectly suit their needs and are listed under their budget. As the process wears on, however, many clients learn that condo searching is actually hard work (even if I do treat them to glasses of bubbly).
To help you through the condo searching process, here are my top tips, based on my over a decade of experience as a realtor.
1) Work with a realtor.
I’m sure you’ve seen the cheesy ads on television encouraging you to work with a real estate professional. And of course, my including this tip is rather self-serving. That being said, this process is more time-consuming and laborious than you might assume. And in competitive markets such as downtown Toronto and other major capitals, without a realtor you’re unlikely to even see the listings of some of the best properties – they’re sometimes sold without every going up on MLS. I know this well – the condo that is my current residence I purchased before it ever actually hit the market. Good realtors have connections, and they’ll use them to help their clients.
You also want to count on your realtor should things go South with your search or your purchase. You want someone to have your back – to walk through all of the steps with you to make sure you’re well informed. And if they’re a realtor like me, they’ll also challenge your wish list to make sure that what you’re looking for is really want you want. Many of my clients, for example, are dead set on living in a certain area… until I convince them to see a place five blocks from their preferred neighbourhood, and they realize that they like it even better…and that maybe they can even afford that wraparound balcony they’ve always wanted if they’re willing to compromise on location.
2) Know what you can afford.
A realtor really can’t help you much if you don’t know how much you have to spend. There’s no sense in getting your hopes up about a certain building or property only to find that your bank won’t approve you for the amount it will require. To find out what you can afford, talk to a financial professional – or better yet a few financial professionals – so that you know how much money you have to work with. Oh, and don’t worry about disclosing this to your realtor – we won’t judge you based on how much or how little you have to spend. There are so many factors that contribute to pre-approvals and budgets that the amount you’re working with really isn’t a strong indicator of your wealth (or lack thereof) anyway.
3) Start your process early.
It’s absolutely possible to buy a condo three weeks before your apartment lease expires. It’s also very stressful. If you start your search early – even as much as two years early – your realtor can help you explore all kinds of options (different neighbourhoods, different types of buildings, amenities, etc.) before you’re on a deadline. Also, I find with my first-time condo buying clients often need a long time to figure out what’s on their must-have list, and to get realistic about what they can afford.
4) Know your goals, weigh your options.
That shoebox-sized place on King West might be a great fit now, but how long are you planning to live the single life? This isn’t to say that buying a tiny, but gorgeous condo isn’t a good idea. It just merits some discussion. If you love the downtown life, but think that you may want to move out to the suburbs at some point and have three dogs and a baby, then talk to your realtor about these goals – because you’ll want a place with a good chance of a high resale value, and/or a condo in a highly desirable area which makes it easy to rent. There are always options – make sure you know what your options are.
5) Don’t be wowed by amenities…or your view.
Make sure you love the unit you’re buying, and don’t be swayed by the gym and the pool with the swim-up bar. While it may seem exciting to get all of this for “free” with your condo, you don’t get it for free at all – you pay for these luxuries in your maintenance fees. Some maintenance fees can be as much or even more, in the case of hotel condos, than your actual mortgage payment. It’s usually less expensive to purchase a membership at a swanky gym and go to the spa once per month than it is to shell out monthly for high maintenance fees at amenity-rich buildings.
And don’t obsess over your view – unless you’re right on the waterfront, you’re going to lose it at some point – it’s just a matter of time. I’ve worked with so many sellers who feel disappointed because their fabulous lake view condo now looks onto a construction site.
Throughout your condo search process make sure you keep asking questions. You can never ask too many questions. And if you have any questions for me, please feel free to contact me directly at 647-407-5061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy hunting!
About the Author: Darryl Flowers isn’t your average realtor. While the trend is currently for realtors to focus on a very specific area or neighbourhood, Darryl does the opposite. To serve his clients best, he puts his fifteen years experience to work to help his clients from all over the Greater Toronto Area weigh their options – no matter where those properties may be. Known for his comprehensive and friendly approach to client service, Darryl’s reputation in working with both new buyers and seasoned property investors is second-to-none. Reach him at email@example.com or 647-407-5061, on Twitter, on Instagram and on Facebook.