What Will You Buy and Where Will It Be?

People have all sorts of preconceived notions about what's "good" or not when it comes to buying a home. Some people hate condos because they despise the thought of condo/strata fees. Some people only want to live in a fully detached home because it's "better". And some people wouldn't consider owning anything that didn't have an acre of land around it. Hey, different strokes for different folks. There's no right or wrong when it comes to choosing what kind of home you'll buy, as long as you buy what works for you… not what works for all the people giving you advice.

As you try to decide what kind of home will be your castle, keep the following in mind:

How long do you plan to live in your new home?
Some people buy starter homes with a plan to upsize when the kids start coming. Others buy a big house to accommodate a family, with plans to downsize once the kids are off on their own. Knowing how long you're going to live in your home is the first step in making a decision on where and what to buy?


What are your MUST HAVES?

  • Does the home have to be on a single level or will a multiple-level home work for your family?
  • How many bedrooms and bathrooms?
  • Do you want an eat-in-kitchen, or will a galley-style kitchen do?
  • Do you need a living room AND a family room?
  • Do you need a finished basement? A deck or patio?
  • How important is storage? A separate side entrance? A mud-room, garage or main-floor laundry?

Keep in mind that Must Have's include things outside of the house.

  • Do you want to be within walking distance to schools or the library?
  • How close is the hospital and fire-department?
  • Will you need easy access to public transportation, a community centre or a place of worship?
  • Is it important that you have a park or playground nearby for your children?
  • How close do you want to be to work?

Then there are the Nice-to-Haves?

  • Do you want a garden? A swimming pool?
  • Do you have the time to look after one, or would less space be a better fit for your lifestyle?
  • Would the property you're look at allow for the things you want to be added?
  • How about air-conditioning? A skylight? A fireplace? A roof-top deck?

Loads of things can be added to a home with good bones. As long as the fundamentals of a home are good, and the layout and location suit your needs, almost anything else can be fixed or added. Don't sweat the small stuff. Just remember to keep a running total of what it'll cost to add the things that will make your home your castle so you can factor those cost into the overall cost of your home purchase.

Speaking of things you'll have to do to make your home picture-perfect, one of the things you must be sure you know about is the condition of the home.

  • How old is the furnace and wiring?
  • How many years are left on the roof?
  • Is the foundation solid?

Since you won't be living in isolation unless you're moving to the bush, take a good look at the neighbourhood.

  • What's the condition of other homes in the area?
  • Does the community appeal to you?
  • Is this an older, more established neighbourhood or a new development?
  • Are there any development plans that will affect the neighbourhood?
  • Are there any zoning bylaws that might affect you - such as your ability to have a home office in your house?
  • Does the property have the potential to increase in value?

Take the time to look around.

  • This should be fun, so don't make it into a chore by trying to see too many homes on the same day. First, you'll become confused. Second, you'll become frustrated.
  • Make a checklist of what's important to you, and then photocopy it and use it for each property you see.
  • Take a digital camera so you can snap pictures of what you really like, really don't like, and to create a sense of what you want to remember.

Go for value
A good way to establish a value of the home you are looking at is to look at homes that have sold in the neighborhood within the past six months, including those now on the market. Also ask for the home's last purchase price so you know what the seller paid.

Location, Location, Location!
If you're made of money you can live pretty much anywhere your little heart desires. After all, if money is no object, who cares what your property costs. Too bad most of us aren't in that position. Most of us have to be very careful about how much we spend on our homes so that we can still afford to eat.

This country offers a wide range of home types and prices, giving buyers lots of alternatives. If you want to live in a big city like Toronto, you can spend about $280,000 for a two-bedroom condo or $476,000 for a two-story detached house. Prices in Calgary are pretty close to those in Toronto. Move to Vancouver and watch gobs more of your budget disappear to home ownership: $291,000 for a two-bedroom condo or $609,000 for a two-story detached house. Montreal offers a better deal: $192,000 and $295,000 respectively.

But you don't have to live in the big city. Nope. You can live in a suburb, in a smaller city, or in a rural area and each of these options will come with it's own price tag. The trick is to find the one that suits your needs both in terms of living space and cost.

While the country-life certainly appeals to some, most people choose to live in our major cities. While you could buy a detached bungalow in Halifax for between $175,000 and $235,000 at the end of 2007, across the country a comparable house in Vancouver would run you between $381,000 and $1,025,000. Hey, that's a pretty big gap, with lots of room for manouvering depending on your budget.

But let's say you're not shopping the whole country. We'll narrow it down to a province. An executive two-story home was going for between $293,000 and $487,000 in Ottawa, while a comparable was selling for between $396,000 and $1,600,000 in Toronto. Hmmm. Another big gap.

We can narrow it down even further, comparing price in one end of a major city to those in another. Some areas are hotter than others, and you'll pay a premium for trying to live in a trendy neighbourhood. The real trick is to discover and up-and-coming rebirth neighbourhood and be the lead guy in on the trend. When Ken and I bought our home in the Danforth area 15 years ago, it was just at the beginning of its boom. We paid $375,000 for our house, which we sold ten years later for $600,000. Our old next-door neighbour just sold his place (five years later) for $900,000.

Ultimately the home you buy need only satisfy you (and your immediate family, if you have one.) If your mother complains that the street is too busy, or your father wonders how you can live in such a small condo, smile. If your sister tries to convince you that the suburbs are a wasteland, or your brother tells you that moving to the country is insane, smile. Do what suits you. After all, this is the biggest purchase you'll likely make in your life. Make sure YOU are happy with it.

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