10 Tips to buying a house in this crazy, hot housing market
So we have been house-hunting now for over three months and I think we are throwing in the towel or at least taking a good break. We’ve seen now over 30 houses, a number of bidding wars, entered one ourselves, lost a house, raised our budget twice, and are rethinking our priorities and game plan.
Unless you need to purchase a house right now, you may not want to buy given how ridiculous the market is. Or if you have deep pockets, go for it. Speaking of Oakville, Burlington – and really all of Toronto/ GTA, there is a shortage of supply and sky-rocketing demand. Many buyers have a “fear of missing out” and the entry of foreign buyers (with no house to sell) and big budgets have raised home values in some markets by over 20% and have created a major bottleneck. I know that we will not sell our house until we are able to find one to buy.
We are so lucky that we are in the market and own our house so we can slow down, try and get over that fear of missing out and not getting caught up in all of this hoopla. Hopefully, our time will come soon but for those that still want to or need to buy a house, here are some tips to survive buying in this hot housing market.
- Get the matrix listings from a realtor
Don’t rely on MLS for up to date available houses. The market is moving so fast that popular houses are being sold in less than a day. By the time the house hits MLS, it could already be sold. Tell your realtor to email you the new listings via Matrix. I had it set up to only once a day but I would religiously check my link multiple times a day as houses would be updated and I didn’t want to miss seeing a new listing. Talk about obsessive! You can literally see the listing as it hits Matrix and it could take a day or so before it would hit MLS.
- Use a Realtor
As a buyer, there is no cost to you to use a realtor ore real estate agent (the seller has to pick up the buyer’s fees and are usually open to this even if they are selling commission free) so make your life easier. I’m not a realtor but highly recommend one. We used them for the past houses we bought (and sold) as well as for our current search. Go by a friend or family member’s recommendation but be sure to assess them like any professional you would hire. Make sure you feel that they are highly competent, have strong negotiation skills, very responsive and that you click with them. There were days I was calling our realtor and talking to him more than my husband, S. You will work closely with this individual and you don’t want to waste any time or have someone who is not watching your back nor has your best interest. We are lucky to have S’ best friend as ours and we trust him completely.
- Be prepared to pay (way) over list price
In the past, we have never paid list price; lucky I know. This is a completely different market and right now, most of the time you will go over and there is a good chance by a lot. Unless the house was not listed properly, it will be priced to “market value” but buyers are paying more. Your realtor should be able to provide data on what houses are going for in the neighbourhood but seeing how one house in Burlington was listed for $900,000 and should have been market priced at $950K or maybe a million went for $1.11M, all comparison information (or comps) are going out the window. Two starter homes, one on a nice lot went over $130K and the other, 80K over, while a similar size home went less than list price only three months prior. The house we lost should have been on $20K over asking for market price, we offered $50K over, then $60K over and lost to a bid that was $90K over asking.
- Be prepared to offer on the spot
If you love a house that meets your criteria and you are prepared to buy it, put in an offer immediately. With some houses being sold in less than 12 hours (yes, we’ve seen this), you unfortunately don’t have time to take some time to think about it.
- Be prepared to be in a bidding war
Some sellers are now holding off offers until for example, two or three days after the house is on the market or even one week. Make sure you find out so you can prepare for this. Usually buyers need to register two hours before final offers are accepted and it’s at that two hour mark that you finalize your best offer. If you know there are three other offers, you know it will likely go quite a bit more than asking price while if you luck out and end up being the only registered offer, you might be able to get close to list. Remember sellers don’t have to accept your offer and if they were hoping for a bidding war, they might hold off for a better offer. So if you want the house, still be prepared to pay more than list price. We’ve only been through two bidding wars and this recent one was the only one we went through to the nail-biting end and lost. Talk about an emotional rollercoaster and not a good experience for the losers.
- Be prepared to go in with a clean, firm offer
It used to be the norm with a softer housing market that buyers could provide conditional offers, e.g. either conditional on financing, or home inspection but with the multiple offers scenario (bidding wars), this is no longer the case. You should know what your pre-approved mortgage amount is and speak to your bank to make sure you meet all the terms and have a good idea what your house is selling for (if you need to sell your current house after you buy).
We were not comfortable with buying a house without a home inspection so we ended up paying for one out of pocket before we put in an offer for peace of mind. We knew there were no significant issues with the house so were pretty confident with a clean offer, with no condition on home inspection. While this is an additional cost incurred without even securing a house, this is a small price to pay in comparison to a major house purchase where so much could go wrong. Why pay close to a million dollars (or more) when you find out there is an issue with the foundation or some other expensive issue? If the house inspection uncovers surprising issues, be prepared to walk away or price your offer accordingly.
- Know your limit
Going hand in hand with what you are pre-approved for the mortgage, know what you can comfortably afford. If you haven’t put together a good monthly budget, make sure you do and include all your sources of income and expenses. Don’t forget about property tax (which could go up as house values are rising) and keep in mind that we are currently going through the lowest interest rates in recent history. While the government could keep them low, interest rates were at 21% in the 1980s and it is possible that we could see that again in our future. We do not want to be house poor so we have been somewhat conservative with how much house we want to buy.
- Know what you want and don’t compromise your must-haves
I didn’t think we were picky people but since we already own a house and are really looking for a forever home with our next house purchase, we are allowed to be! We never wrote down a list but know our laundry list of must-haves vs. nice to haves. In this expensive market, you may have to compromise more but stand your ground with what you want and can’t change with a house as you could get buyer’s remorse and have to start looking again soon for a house.
- Love the house but don’t get emotionally attached
With the house we put in an offer in, we really thought this could be our forever home. The advice I’ve been given is that you will know the house you love when you walk through it. However, just because you love the house doesn’t mean you have to have it any cost. There will be another house! Don’t get caught up in the moment and do whatever it takes to get that house. Remember it is only a house and you can make a home anywhere.
- Take a break
If there is no pressure to buy a house, take a break from the search. Although the Oakville/ Burlington house has been light with inventory, we have seen almost all the houses that met our criteria and even those that haven’t in the past three months! Looking at all these houses and dragging a 3.5 year old night after night (after feeding him a quick dinner in the car) and telling him not to touch anything in other’s people’s homes has been exhausting, mentally and physically. Most of the time, the houses look decent or a good size online but in person, not so much. Or, we find out the number of people that have gone through the house already – on day one.
The other night, the house we looked at had 46 families gone through the first day and they were holding off offers. I think it was at that moment we had an epiphany that enough was enough. We don’t need to find a new house right now and while we still have a laundry list of must-haves for our “next” house, we remind ourselves that we have a roof over our heads and a loving family and that is more than enough.