Some tactics to make first-time home buying easier

The average cost of a Canadian home hit a record high of $388,553 in January. This price is 9.5 per cent higher than last year. The average cost of a home in cities such as Toronto and Vancouver rose to $526,528 and $606,800. Over the last ten years Canadian real estate prices have soared 84 per cent. With prices sky-high in some cities, the following tactics could help make buying your first home just a little bit easer.

Get a mortgage pre-approval before you start house hunting.

Before you start visiting open houses or checking out properties with a real estate agent, it’s important to visit your bank to see which houses you can afford. This ensures you’re shopping within the correct price range. Many people will need to take out a mortgage to buy property, but the amount you are eligible for is based on multiple factors including credit rating, household income and monthly expenses. Before you begin property hunting, visit a financial institution. This way you’re able to hold a competitive rate for between 30 to 120 days.

Buy a home with your parents or a buddy.

Young adults are increasingly relying on help from family members to buy a home. About 27 per cent now expect it. In a hot housing market, real estate agents have seen ‘gift letters,’ which detail the money a family member will contribute to assist them with mortgage approval, or simply thousands of dollars in hard cash. If a family member decides to loan the money rather than give it as a gift, parents should establish payment requirements in a legal document to ensure that everyone is satisfied.

Buy a home in a more affordable city.

House prices in Vancouver and Toronto are climbing to unaffordable levels for many people, but this doesn’t mean you have to live in these cities. Near Toronto, the housing markets in Ajax, Brampton, Milton and Mississauga are heating up. These are popular placees to buy a bigger lot, but potential homebuyers need to account for other costs (like gas and car insurance), as well as commuting times should their work remain in Toronto.

Buy a home that you can use as an income property.

You could buy a property you can live in but also split into a rental unit. The best outcome is if your renter’s payment covers your mortgage costs, but there are some important points to consider. First, you need to determine how comfortable you are living in close proximity with your tenants. For example, are you comfortable having a boarder live down the hall, or would you prefer to live on separate floors and use different entrances? Many people would prefer a semi-detached home with a separate entrance, bathroom and kitchen. If these don’t figure in the property you’re eyeing, you’ll need to budget for renovation costs.

Negotiate your house price and insurance.

Some people don’t feel comfortable negotiating, but it can save you a lot of money. First, the more information the better. Research the value of other houses. Chances are an identical house has been sold in the neighbourhood and you should check that property’s value against the one you’re considering. Understand why the seller is selling and shape your bid towards his or her plans. Also, understand that while the size of your bid is important, it isn’t always the deciding factor because some homeowners care how the new owner will treat the property.

When you purchase insurance, there are three types to consider: basic, standard and comprehensive. An independent broker can help you get the best rate and if you bundle your auto and home insurance with the same company you could receive up to a 15 per cent discount.

Tap into your RRSP for first-time home buyers.

First-time homebuyers can withdraw $25,000 from their RRSP as a part of the federal government’s homebuyers plan. If you’re buying a home with a partner, you can both take out $25,000 from your individual plans. If this equals a 20 per cent down payment, you can avoid mortgage default insurance, which tacks on several more thousands of dollars to your mortgage. If you do tap your RRSP, there is a tax loophole that lets you receive up to $20,000 in tax refunds. But one drawback with using your RRSP is that you must repay the amount you withdraw within 15 years or you will face a penalty based on your personal income tax rate.

Buy a smaller space.

One in eight households lives in a condominium. With the gap between the price of a house and a condo hitting record highs in Toronto, more families are becoming condo dwellers. The average size of a home in Canada was 2,300 square feet during the mid-2000’s. But that number has now dropped to 1,900 square feet and will probably keep shrinking. The size of your family will determine the size of your home. While you may have grown up in a single detached home with a backyard, in housing markets such as Vancouver and Toronto it’s important to manage your expectations.

Budget for your closing costs.

Tapping into a mortgage offers homeowners leeway in paying off their property, but along with your down payment there are other upfront closing costs you need to budget for. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation suggests that you set aside an additional 1.5 to 4 per cent of your property’s purchase price to account for closing costs. Closing costs include a land survey that ranges from $1,000 to $2,000, an independent home inspection costing from $350 to $600, legal fees for a title search and paperwork that run to about $1,000, and a land transfer tax that varies based on your city and GST/HST.

Source: Josephine Lim, MSN Money

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