Choosing Your First Home

Laurin & Natalie Jeffrey (Sales Representatives)
Right At Home Realty Inc., Brokerage |
416-318-7917 | 416-388-1960

There are many factors involved in choosing your first home or condo. We have drawn up a list of potential issues that you need to consider before getting out there and searching for that perfect place.

So, now that you’re married, you want to own a home or condo rather than rent. It’s a popular dream. For most people, with the right planning, it can become reality. But there is a lot to know before you begin moving. We’ll take you through the planning process step-by-step, to determine exactly the kind of home that’s perfect for you.

What Does Your Current and Future Lifestyle Hold? How many bedrooms are you going to need, now and in the future? Babies grow up and out of cribs and preschoolers turn into teenagers one day. You’ll also want to consider proximity to – and the reputation of – schools in the area. What about work? These days people tend to change jobs frequently, and sometimes the best way to get a promotion is to move to another company. If you might be transferred, will you be able to sell quickly? Keeping work in mind, how long do you want to spend commuting? Do you drive or rely on public transportation?

As you can see, you will want to give some thought to how many people may live in this new home, as well as how long you intend to live there. These questions may be difficult to answer before you’ve even found your new place, but if it’s your first home give some thought to the resale value when it is time to upgrade. On the other hand, if you’re planning to stay in your home for a long time, consider your future needs and purchase a home that will accommodate them.

Are You Considering a Fixer-Upper?
Many first time buyers dream about finding a big home in a great neighbourhood that’s well below what you’d expect to pay for it. You envision a couple of coats of paint, new flooring, a few repairs and… voil, a dream home without the huge price tag.

Before you dive headlong into this “once in a lifetime opportunity” consider how you’re going to do the work. Will it be nights during the week, after long days at the office, or will you hire someone? Are you prepared to live in a dusty mess as you renovate? Do a realistic assessment of everything that might be involved in the project. The last thing you want is a bargain home that turns into a money pit. You are usually better off finding a better house that costs a little more each month but doesn’t need much work.

For example, lets say you could buy a really nice house with minimal work required for $10,000 more than a fixer upper. At today’s mortgage rates, that really nice home would only cost about $60 per month more than the fixer-upper. Buying the fixer-upper is going to cost a lot more than $60 a month to whip it into shape. And then there is the strain you and your family will go through living in an unfinished home.

Why is Location Important?
Location is not the most important aspect of a real estate decision for nothing. As mentioned above, the first step in deciding on a new home is your lifestyle – present and over the next few years. Are you a sports nut? If so, then a location with nearby recreational facilities would be ideal. Are you a nature lover? Then you may want to consider an area with parks and walking trails nearby. Think about yourself and your family and decide what you enjoy doing and keep those activities in mind when scouting potential locations.

Which Neighbourhood is Right for You?
Your ideal home may not be so ideal anymore if it turn out to be downwind from a garbage dump, or right next to a busy highway. Think about the view. Will you enjoy what you see every time you look out the window? Selecting where you want to live is as important as deciding what type of dwelling you’d like to live in.

Consider how far potential neighbourhoods are from where you work, how far you’re willing to commute. Think about schools if you have (or are planning to have) children. And what about medical facilities, churches, public transportation and recreation?

If you’re contemplating moving to an unfamiliar neighbourhood, take the time to go exploring. Walk around, drive around, get a feel for the distance to the nearest convenience store, the commute. Make some notes. Take the neighbourhood tour at different times of the day and night to make sure you cover everything.

Your Space Needs
No matter what kind of home you’re looking for, there are some key features to consider. We always remind our clients that they will find large townhouses and small single-family homes in the same price range, so looking for what you want in a home is as important as the type of dwelling.

Where will your family spend most of its time? Kitchens are a popular family gathering area. Make sure your prospective kitchen can handle the traffic. You may also want an eat-in kitchen or one with a breakfast nook, allowing you to keep the dining room for special occasions.

How many bedroom do you need now? In the future? Some people prefer small, plentiful rooms to house children, frequent guests or a home office. Others prefer fewer, larger rooms. Of course, if your budget permits, many large rooms would probably be ideal!

Bathrooms are also a major point to consider. How many bathrooms does your family need to handle peak traffic times? Is one enough? (Not likely!) Sure, one bathroom per person is ideal, but that dream may not be affordable. Make sure the home you’re ready to purchase has sufficient bathroom space and that the bathrooms are comfortable. When looking at bathrooms, ask yourself how important a window is for light and fresh air.

(Note: Hot water is always a problem with a large family. Remember, most hot water tanks are rented from the utility company. You can always have them upgrade the size of the hot water tank for a minimum cost. Or you could purchase one – but then you’d be on the hook for any repairs.)

When it’s time to relax and entertain, how will your prospective home meet your needs? Do you want a formal living room, or a family room where you and the kids can stretch out and watch television? Do your children need a play area or your teens an entertainment room?

Attics and basements can be wonderful storage areas, or can serve as additional living space. If extra space is important, you will want to look for a house with a finished basement. Everyone seems to have their own definition of what this means, so take a good look at the workmanship. Was it done by a professional? Do you see yourself redoing a sloppy job? A poorly finished basement can be more work than a completely unfinished area. Some signs to watch out for are moisture along the floor lines and corners of exterior walls – as well as pungent odours – which may also be a sign of moisture, mildew, and/or mold which can be costly to repair.

A brief word about closets. Look at the clothes you have now. Add another 50%, and then look for closet space to hold it all. If you’re like most of us, you’ll never have enough closet space!

Wires and Plumbing and Other Fun Stuff
Heating and cooling systems major features to consider. When it comes to heat, natural gas, oil and electric furnaces are all options. Older homes may even have hot-water radiators. Still other homes have baseboard heaters. Make sure you find out about the maintenance and condition of the heating system as well as annual operating costs. With the rising costs of hydro, you may not want electric heat.

If you’re thinking about air conditioning, think about how expensive it would be to add central air, or if a window unit would suffice. Just remember, air conditioning can be very expensive, as it uses a lot of hydro. Trees and shrubs that provide shade will help with these costs.

What Type of Dwelling is Right for You?
As you can imagine, each type of housing has its advantages and drawbacks and no two buyers will have the exact same wants and needs. The only way to truly evaluate is the right solution is right for you (outside of price), is to consider what you absolutely must have and what you can live without. Before you go house hunting, prepare a list of “must have” features and another “wish list”.

There are a variety of types and styles of homes, freehold to condo, detached to townhouse. Detached houses stand on their own lot and are not attached to any other houses. Semi-detached designs offer two single family homes attached by a common wall. Links are somewhat between detached and semi-detached whereas they don’t usually share a wall, but are attached at the garage or foundation. Townhouses join several houses in a row by common walls. A high-rise condominium is simply a multi-storey residential building, though there are condo townhouses and other options.

Freehold homes offer the most privacy and freedom of choice of any other type of home. As owner of the entire structure and grounds, homeowners are free to decorate and renovate as they please. But with that freedom comes a lot of responsibility. All of the maintenance (indoors and out) is the sole responsibility of the owner, which can be costly in terms of both money and time. Freehold ownership is the most common type of home ownership. Most detached, linked and semi-detached houses are freehold, along with many townhouses.

Condominiums are typically a less costly alternative to owning a detached house. With a condominium, you own, and are responsible for, the interior area of your unit (everything from the plaster in). Upkeep of the building and grounds is handled by the condominium association, which is funded by monthly fees collected from tenants. Condominiums often have strict rules regarding noise, use of common areas, renovations etc. Condo residents often enjoy less privacy than residents of detached homes. Most condos are either multi-story buildings, loft conversions or townhouses.

Cooperatives (or co-ops) are comparable to condominiums, except instead of owning your unit, you own a percentage of shares in the entire building (or complex). As with condominium ownership, maintenance and repairs are paid for through the collection of monthly fees and you are subject to the rules and regulations of the co-op board. One drawback to living in a cooperative is that if you decide to sell your shares and move out, the co-op board has the right to reject your prospective buyer.

We hope that this has been helpful to those considering making the jump into home ownership. There are a lot of factors to consider before you even begin looking for that perfect place. But with this information in hand, you should be well on your way to starting your new life together in your new home.