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5 House Hunting Tips for First-Time Home Buyers

We recently purchased a new home. It’s not our first home purchase, but it’s been 10 years since our last move, which almost made it feel like we were buying for the first time. Also, for some reason, the process of buying and moving felt more stressful this time around. Perhaps the thought of relocating with three kids made it more daunting, or the fact that this is going to be our final move – into our forever home – and we didn’t want to make any mistakes! In the end, I know we made the right choice. While we chose to stay in the same neighbourhood, we are moving to a street that we find more attractive and it’s right across from the kids’ school. More importantly, it feels like HOME — the place where we’ll gather to talk, laugh, and cry. Where memories will be made and sweet dreams will be had!

Having gone through the home purchase process twice, I have a few tips based on my own experience that I want to share with others who are looking to take the exciting first step towards home ownership.

1. Consider layout.

When considering potential houses to buy, you’ll want to know, at a minimum, how many rooms and bathrooms you’d like, and what you’re willing to live with. Are you planning on expanding your family? Do you want siblings to bunk up and share a room? Would you prefer to keep a separate bathroom from the kids? By asking these questions upfront, you’ll prevent headaches down the road and help narrow down your house search. Another thing to consider is the layout of the space. Are you looking for open concept or something that offers more privacy? Does the house have potential for a growing family and does it suit your lifestyle? For instance, if you love throwing dinner parties, could the house accommodate a crowd while entertaining?
If a house doesn’t quite have everything you’re looking for, but does check some important boxes on your list, you should consider whether or not you are willing to invest in renovating it to your liking. This was the case with both of the homes we purchased. While our new home is already the size we wanted and is structurally sound, it hasn’t been updated since the 50s, so we’ll have a fair bit of renovating to do before moving in. We will be gutting the house down to the studs in order to rework the layout by making it open concept and by adding three bathrooms. We’re also going to be updating the electrical system, putting in new plumbing, adding proper insulation, and changing the plasterboard to drywall.

Image of the writer's son standing outside of the new house and holding a key.
Maya’s son holds the key to their new home. Photo courtesy Maya Fitzpatrick

2. Location, location, location.

It’s important to figure out where you want to lay roots and build a home, be it in the suburbs or the city, in a walking neighbourhood or in the country. Once you’ve narrowed down your search to a particular area, I’d recommend getting to know the neighbourhood before making a final decision on a home.

Some questions we considered before buying included:

  • Is the home on a busy street?
  • Is it close to public transportation?
  • Are there lots of young families in the area?
  • Does it have good schools?
  • Is it close to a park and other outdoor space?
  • Are the neighbours friendly?

While we knew we wanted to stay in our close-knit community and within walking distance to our favourite local shops, we also wanted to be closer to our sons’ school and close to a park. Our new house offers us all of those things!

While knowing which general area you want to move to is important, you should also be open to looking outside of it in case you are unable to find the “right” home within your budget.

One final point to consider about location is that while you may be planning to purchase your home for the long haul, make sure you have an exit strategy! Consider whether the house and area would be attractive to future buyers. Ultimately, you should consider what you really want and what you are willing to compromise on before making your final decision.

3. Get pre-approved!

Get your financing in order well in advance of putting a bid on a house so you know what you can and can’t afford. Knowing your limits will help you bid in a timely manner, set you up for successful bids, and ensure you’re not disappointed if you gave it your best (…and highest) shot.

4. Get a home inspection.

When it’s a seller’s market, time is of the essence – and so is the most attractive offer! If a home inspection isn’t completed by the seller and you think you have found the house, consider paying out-of-pocket for a home inspection before the offer date. Having advice from a certified home inspector may give you peace of mind and it can highlight structural, mechanical, or other defects that might need to be addressed down the road. The last thing you want to find out is that the home of your dreams is riddled with termites, a leaky roof or faulty wiring after you’ve purchased it!

5. Don’t get discouraged.

You will find the right house but it might take longer than you expected or it might turn up in a different neighbourhood than the one you had initially set your eyes on. Bring a trustworthy real estate agent on-board who shares your enthusiasm and vision for your home. A real estate professional can become a close ally and advisor during a time that can often feel intimidating and stressful. When making a purchase that could be the biggest one of your life, you should implicitly trust the person who you have hired. To this day, we credit our real estate agent for the amazing home we live in. Initially, we didn’t want to include our current neighbourhood in the search because we felt the homes were outside of our price range. Our agent, however, encouraged us to give it time and even dissuaded us from making bids on homes that ultimately wouldn’t have met our criteria.

Buying a home is not easy, simple or quick. On top of being stressful, it’s an educational and emotional decision. If you plan in advance, do your research, and surround yourself with the right support team, you are positioning yourself for success. Whether looking for a starter house or your forever home, the journey of home ownership is exciting and rewarding. Happy house hunting!