Buyers have plenty of choice when it comes to choosing the type of home they will buy. You can purchase new from a builder, or shop around for a resale townhouse, single family home or condominium.
The latter is an excellent option for first-time buyers, young professionals and retirees or those looking to downsize. That’s not to say that all condos are affordable. A spacious unit in a well-appointed building can easily boast a price tag well into the millions with maintenance fees approaching $1,000 per month.
Whatever your price range, there are a few things to consider and research before settling on a condo purchase.
The first factor to consider is those condominium fees. Possibly one of the great mysteries of homeownership, these fees can turn an outright purchase into what seems like a rental, with monthly payments to factor into your budget for as long as you live at that address. If you have never paid condo fees before and the concept has you running scared, take a few minutes here to understand what they are and what they cover:
• The cost of keeping common spaces (elevators, indoor and outdoor gardens, lobbies and hallways, etc.) clean and in good working order.
• The upkeep of amenities such as fitness rooms, swimming pools, bowling alleys, theatre rooms, spas and party rooms.
• Snow removal, roof repair and insurance.
You’ll also want to think about the building’s amenities. Before you move into a condo, decide whether its in-house bells and whistles are perks you’ll use often enough to warrant the fees you’ll be paying for them each month.
A final consideration is the condo corporation’s status certificate. A status certificate is a prospective condo owner’s first look into the financial health of their potential investment. This comprehensive report gives all the details on the current fees that owners pay, any large fee increases that may be on the horizon and any liens or arrears owed by particular owner(s). Financial statements are also a part of the status certificate and will show the trends in expenditures and receipts of the past, and provide comparisons of a corporation’s actual and expected costs. To get your hands on a condominium’s status certificate, you must submit a written request to the condo board’s management company, plus a $100 fee. They have 10 days, as required by law, to provide the certificate.
Were you lucky enough to score the home of your dreams this past spring and are now blissfully settling into your new home? Congratulations, and welcome home! As a new homeowner, there are many ways that you can ensure that your first year as a homeowner is pleasant and stress-free. Take a look at these do’s and don’ts for brand new homeowners:
• DO enjoy the fruits of your labour. Make the most of the nice weather while it’s here and host a housewarming party!
• DO make an effort to meet your neighbours. Taking the time to develop a cordial relationship will benefit the entire community.
• DO stay on top of lawn and garden care. Pride of ownership is important.
• DO keep saving money, building up your reserve fund for ongoing and future maintenance costs.
• DO upgrade your home with energy-saving features. Invest in low-flow shower heads, a programmable thermostat and replace incandescent light bulbs with LED or CFLs.
• DO think about fire safety. Ensure there is a smoke detector on every floor of your home. Replace the batteries just to be safe. Carbon monoxide alarms are also mandatory in every Ontario home. One should be positioned near all sleeping areas. Talk to young children about your fire escape plan, designating a meeting place outside your home.
• DO locate your main water shut off valve.
• DON’T go crazy buying “stuff” for your new home. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day! It will take time to get your home exactly how you want it.
• DON’T tackle a major renovation before moving in. Experts generally recommend living in a new home for a few months to see how you’re utilizing the space and where improvements are most needed.
• DON’T ignore issues, no matter how small. Taking care of problems when they’re minor (i.e. a leaky faucet, small cracks in the foundation, old weather-stripping, a wobbly bannister) could save you the hassle of having to completely replace something down the road!
Even homeowners who do all their homework before buying are occasionally surprised by how quickly the many expenses of home ownership add up each and every month. But rest assured; if you stick to your budget and make a few sacrifices here and there, it is possible to save money and maybe even pay off your mortgage a few years early!
Mortgages are compounded with hundreds of payments to slowly reduce both your principle loan as well as interest charges, so you can expect interest-heavy payments for the first five to seven years as your bank makes lending you all that money worth their while. But there are ways to pay down your mortgage faster and save money in the long run!
Bi-weekly is best – Opting for an accelerated biweekly payment schedule will not only allow you to make 26 payments a year, it will also reduce both your interest rates and principle amount faster. Lenders may charge you an additional fee, but this is money well spent.
Round it up – Did you know that a hypothetical increased payment of $1,000 instead of $830 could save up to $48,000 over the course of the mortgage? That’s nearly eight years of payments! Ask your lender if this is an option for you.
Make a lump payment – If you get an annual bonus or consistently receive a substantial income tax return, consider using the windfall as a lump payment at the time of your mortgage renewal or sooner if your lender allows it.
When it comes to saving money, it’s common to have difficulty during your first few years of homeownership as you adjust to the added expenses. But it can be done. Here are a few simple ideas to help you cut back:
- Online grocery shopping. How many times do you walk into a grocery store with nine or ten items on your list and leave with a cart full? Instead, do your shopping online and simply drive to the store to pick up your order – no more impulse buying! Check your local retailers to see if the service is offered
- Make your own lunch and coffee every day
- Use public transportation if available
- Install a programmable thermostat to save on energy bills
It’s true that the home itself is generally what will seal the deal when house hunting, but the neighbourhood in which that home is located is also important. Here are some questions you can ponder before beginning your hunt for a new home:
Is a rural or urban location right for you? Are you looking to buy a home with plenty of outdoor space and lots of privacy? Or would you prefer the hustle and bustle of city living? Both lifestyles offer many pros and cons. Living in a country home spares you from contending with the gridlock of busy urban centres but may actually increase your commute time overall. Living in a major city offers the convenience of nearby amenities, but homes are more expensive than those in a rural setting.
Do you require easy highway access? For those who commute to work, this should be at the top of your list of considerations. Purchasing a home with easy highway access can save you time and frustration during your daily commute.
Is there a specific school district you want to be in? For many families, this is an important factor when house hunting. Do you want your children to be within walking distance to their school? Is there a Catholic school close by as well? Is there a school in the neighbourhood that offers a French Immersion program?
Do you want to be within walking distance to parks and rec centres? For families who lead an active lifestyle, these amenities may be at the top of your want list when choosing a neighbourhood to call home. Find out if there are walking trails close by, team sports to get involved in and extracurricular activities for kids.
Which local neighbourhoods are considered safest? All it takes is a phone call to the local police department to get information about the crime statistics in your community. You can also make your own observations by simply driving around the neighbourhood. Are the homes well cared for? Are there signs of vandalism or graffiti?
How have property values and taxes changed in the past 5 years? Your realtor should be able to answer any questions you have about property values and market trends in the neighbourhood. Ask about future developments in the area that may increase or decrease property value. Your realtor will also be able to tell you the property tax rate and how much it has gone up in the past ten years.
The spring real estate market is upon us and in many cities and communities across the GTA, inventory is low and prices are high. With tales swirling of homes selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars over listing price and bidding wars becoming the norm, you might be wondering if the time is right to purchase a new home.
Since there is no easy answer, some homeowners may decide to wait for a more stable market in which to sell and buy a new home. If you do decide to wait but are craving a change, take this time to tackle a home renovation! You can increase the value of your current home – always a good thing – create more square footage for your family and possibly position yourself better for a quick sale down the road.
Getting a high return on your investment is on most homeowners’ minds when planning a home renovation project. Kitchen and bathroom remodels almost always increase the value of a home. Any project that adds additional living space to your home will likely be a smart investment, including finishing the basement or attic space or building on an addition. As with any major project, getting the right permits and hiring a reputable contractor is key.
There are also dozens of projects you can take on around the home that will make it more enjoyable for your family for the time being and make it more appealing to prospective buyers when the time to sell does come. Exterior upgrades are becoming very popular amongst Canadian homeowners, with many families spending big bucks on landscaping projects, including new decks, fencing and driveways. With the price of cottages on the rise, outdoor kitchens are gaining popularity in Canada as well, as many homeowners aim to create the perfect “staycation” space in their own backyard.
Another goal of many home renovators is energy saving. Replacing your home’s windows or roof and beefing up insulation might not be the most exciting way to spend your reno dollars, but it will help you save big time on monthly energy costs while increasing the value of your home.
Home inspections have become commonplace in the Ontario real estate industry. In fact, many deals hinge on the completion of a home inspection report that is satisfactory to the buyer involved. Traditionally, the buyer has been responsible for paying for and arranging an inspection after the offer has been accepted. The seller agrees to facilitate access to the home for the inspector, the buyer and usually the buyer’s realtor during an agreed upon time frame before the deal becomes firm.
In recent years, however, some sellers have taken the reins and obtained a pre-listing home inspection before their home even hits the market. There are a number of reasons why a pre-listing home inspection can benefit sellers.
1. Be the first to find out about any problems. Obtaining an inspection before listing a home puts the seller in the driver’s seat when it comes to necessary fixes, whether major or minor. Some buyers will get hung up on small repairs, especially if a few start piling up during a home inspection. By having a pre-listing inspection done, the seller can repair leaky faucets, secure handrails on staircases, improve inadequate insulation, etc. before buyers begin viewing their home. And if there are major issues discovered, the seller can decide how to proceed, attaching any repair estimates or paid invoices to the inspection report.
2. It encourages a firm deal. If a buyer can view a completed home inspection report before making their offer, they know exactly what they purchasing and will likely feel more comfortable forgoing a home inspection condition in the offer.
3. Convenience. By obtaining a pre-listing home inspection, the seller is able to hire a reputable inspector (choose one who is a member of the OAHI – the Ontario Association of Home Inspectors) and schedule the appointment at their convenience.
A pre-listing home inspection also benefits buyers. It will help them determine a fair offer price and decide if they are willing to repair any highlighted issues before making an offer. Buyers will also enjoy a savings of $350-$500 off their closing costs (the typical cost of an inspection).