The official start of spring isn’t until next Friday (March 20), but here in British Columbia, the flowers are already blooming and temperatures are warming up. Another sign that spring is nearly upon us: a report from the Bank of Montreal shows that the home-buying season has already hit markets like Toronto and Vancouver.
Experts say that Bank of Canada’s rate cut earlier this year could continue to create a competitive housing market, especially given low inventory in popular markets like Vancouver. With the approach of spring, here are some mortgage and home-buying tips to keep in mind.
- Get preapproved first. Before you go to open houses or meet with your real estate agent, you should sit down with a mortgage broker to discuss your financial situation and get preapproved for a mortgage. This way you won’t fall in love with properties that cost twice what you can afford, and you’ll be able to move more quickly with an offer once you find the right property. In some circumstances, a lender may have reservations with the property you choose (for instance, not all lenders are comfortable with micro units or leaseholds), so a good mortgage broker should be able to explain possible limitations.
- Set your budget—and stick to it. Just because you might be prepparoved for a $600,000 mortgage doesn’t mean you should max out that budget, especially if you anticipate other big expenditures or possible changes to your financial situation (for instance, if one spouse hopes to leave a job to stay home someday). I use this expense checklist with my clients so that they can understand the big picture of their finances and what they can realistically afford to spend on housing each month–not just on the mortgage but also related expenses like strata fees and utilities. Once you have a number that you’re comfortable with, don’t let a bidding war or your love for a certain property pressure you into spending more than you’d intended. Similarly, you might feel also feel pressure to make an offer without subjects for financing or inspections, and this can put you at risk if you later decide you need to exit the deal, so I wouldn’t encourage it unless you’re comfortable with that risk.
- Don’t be shy about shopping around. Prospective home-buyers might go to dozens showings and open houses before choosing the right property. After all, a home is probably the largest expenditure most people make. Why would they then walk into their local bank and accept whatever mortgage rate the bank is offering without doing any comparison-shopping? Sure, buyers get excited about stainless steel appliances and granite countertops, but getting the right mortgage is just as important as (if not more important than) choosing the right property. An independent mortgage broker can explain which lenders or mortgage products might fit your needs, how porting a mortgage works, and more. Plus, an independent broker works with multiple lenders, so she can present you with options instead of giving you a rate from a single source. Rates are important, but they should not be the deciding factor for your mortgage, because a low-rate mortgage may come with giant prepayment penalties or other drawbacks.
- Get your own representation. Some buyers think they’re saving money by not using their own real estate agent. But the seller actually pays the agents’ commission, so it’s not saving them money and using the sellers’ agent to handle both sides of the deal could create a conflict of interest. The sellers’ agent must represent the sellers’ interests, so buyers should find their own agent to advise them on placing an offer, negotiating price and so on.