Welcome to this month’s installment of Dear Urbaneer where we assist clients with their real estate related questions to help educate and guide them through the real estate trenches. This month, we hear from a house hunter wondering about the process that we follow to help Buyers arrive at their eventual purchase.
We’re house hunting and it seems like buying a home in Toronto is daunting. How do we know that we are making the right choice in a market like this? We could use some guidance and are curious about your approach. How is it that you match property synergistically to Buyers? How do you steer Buyers towards “the one” and how should we adjust out mindset setting out on our search?
Hunting and Hopeful for a Match
I welcome sharing our strategy for success when it comes to searching for the right home. As you’ve alluded to, buying a home is far more than making a wish list, viewing properties and filling out paperwork. Our successful track record of connecting Buyers with properties that they can truly call “Home” is very much process-driven, which is how you navigate a challenging market like that which we see today in Toronto, with its many variables. Using a systematic process is even more crucial when you consider the size of the emotional and financial investment in purchasing a home, along with the complexities of our robust Toronto real estate market.
Truly, there is nothing quite as rewarding for my team and I as helping my Buyers arrive at the threshold of 'the one' after their property search, which admittedly can take some time. Even after decades of steering Buyers towards their ultimate goal, we remain delighted each and every time to be a part of the important journey of purchasing 'Home'.
What are the nuts and bolts of our approach for Buyers? We're truly invested not only in your happiness today, but in your happiness and your financial and mental health in the future. That’s why we have the reputation of frequently dissuading our Buyers from pursuing a property purchase, until the right residence presents itself. While this may seem counterintuitive when the goal is to buy, it is this kind of forward thinking perspective, drawn from patience and data-driven focus derived from years in the real estate trenches that ultimately help our Buyers make prudent and profitable purchases.
In a nutshell, this is more or less how the process unfolds to steer Buyers towards a purchase.
1- The Wish List
This process of course, starts with you. What is it that you desire from a home? If this is your first time, this can seem like an overwhelming process. Read Dear Urbaneer: I Need A Crash Course In First Time Home Buying for guidance. But even for seasoned Buyers, making a wish list can be stressful.
An accurate wish list is an important part of this process, because it will ultimately set the parameters for your search. Ideally, it will be detailed enough to save time and potentially money in your search, but also assert your comfort levels on budget and other criteria.
Building a quality wish list is more complex than simply jotting down housing type/size, features and neighbourhood. In a city like Toronto, realistically there must be willingness to compromise on one or more aspects of your search (click here to read Dear Urbaneer: Should I Sacrifice Location To Get More House?). It’s important to prioritize your wish list, so that you have an idea of where you would be comfortable compromising. Click here to read Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs And Toronto Real Estate For Buyers, which can help you understand how housing fulfills various needs and how to address them.
I wrote about how to establish a housing matrix for your search in How To Search For Your Next Property Purchase.
2) Analyze and Send Recent Sales That Best Fit Your Criteria Between Location, Size, Condition, and Price
Once we’ve narrowed down criteria like budget, location(s), housing type, condition and size we forward past sales that meet these criteria in the your desired location(s). We cast a rather wide net here, placing it strategically with the purpose of helping you refine your wish list even more, as your wish list moves into the context of what is available to you in the market.
Why is looking at recent sales effective? In the Toronto real estate market it's essential to explore the potential variance between the list price and the final sale price in advance of viewing, if only to ensure any potential property contenders are within budget. After all, in Toronto bidding wars are common in any market condition, and who wants to channel their leisure time viewing properties that will garner sums that exceed one's affordability? It's disheartening and wreaks havoc with expectation.
For example, last spring it was mostly about gauging how high a property might sell over its list price in competition or with a pre-emptive offer. But since the Provincial Government's intervention last April, how realtors price and position properties - and the sums they command - can vary dramatically. We do a comparative property analysis for those properties which are potential contenders for you in advance of viewing, to establish whether the asking price of any dwelling is high, fair or intentionally low to incite competition. It's critical you reconcile - prior to viewing - how close it aligns with your budget.
From this initial list, we request feedback from you to ensure that we are on the right track; we then ask you to list your top picks among the past sales that we’ve sent. This helps us sharpen our aim as we move towards finding you the perfect property.
3) Provide Current Listings that Best Suit Your Housing Matrix & Enroll In MLS Autosearch
The next stage of our process involves sending you active listings that best suit your housing matrix by setting you up on an MLS autosearch which alerts you to promising new listings on an almost daily basis. You’ll also be notified about changes in price or status, including conditional sales, on existing listings.
The benefit here is that it allows you to proactively vet the listings and flag the ones of interest so we can execute a preliminary analysis. For properties of interest, we'll apprise you of the pros and cons based on your wishes, wants and needs, assess how the listing has been positioned on the market (for example, priced low to incite a bidding war with a holdback on offers - or closer to market value with offers anytime), forward any relevant information available from the listing realtor for initial due diligence (floor plans, a presale inspection, survey, disclosures, etc.) in addition to comparing the property to recent similar sales to help gauge its potential range of market value.
We'll comment on our concerns, like potential noise issues due to location, challenges with configuration or layout, accessibility/inaccessibility to public transit, lack of parking, potential settlement issues and more. It’s all about creating a whole picture so you're well-informed.
Once you review our assessment, you can decide whether it's a potential candidate worth viewing based on how well it aligns with your requirements.
In applying this level of detail, we can move ahead not only with picking the most appropriate properties, but to delineate our purchasing strategy in the current market.
4) Analysis Of Top Property Picks With Due Diligence
Next, we put a high level of due diligence into action, leaving no property-related stone unturned. Literally.
We create a super-comprehensive due diligence package including floor plans, additional images/videos, presale inspection, property history, recent sales on street and comparable sales in neighbourhood to help gauge its value. We also include whether there are public open houses if you prefer to view at your leisure, confirm if there's a holdback on offers (or whether the Seller may consider a pre-emptive bid in advance of the offer date) and the sellers' preferred closing date.
All of this information will factor into whether or not you, as a potential Buyer, may choose to proceed with a possible viewing and purchase.
Here's an example of how I guide a Buyer:
One client recently expressed interest in a home in West Queen West. I sent the current listing, along with the most recent sales. Looking at the photos and the listing information it revealed that, while the home currently appeared to have undergone renovations, they were largely cosmetic, which I felt were the hallmarks of a flip.
This was my assessment (note I have removed the MLS links and the street names/addresses for confidentiality):
"Based on the photos, it looks like this property underwent a significant cosmetic upgrade but I'm not sure the Seller did much in the way of building component improvements. The broker comments says "100 Amp Service, No Visible Knob & Tube, Roof Approx 8 Yrs Left, Furnace Approx 4 Yrs Old" which suggests these elements were existing. Looking at the photos, it appears the windows and doors are older. By this assessment, the Seller redid the flooring, kitchen/baths, recessed lighting, closets and patching/painting.
I'm not seeing any love here. It reads heavy on the flip.
As I've mentioned in the past, I'm always a little suspicious of flips. Given the objective of the seller is profit, one never knows what the new cosmetic improvements are masking, whereas a renovation completed by an owner for their own personal use and enjoyment is more likely to be executed with care (including remedying unexpected deficiencies discovered during the renovation). Basically I'm on high alert when my Buyers are considering one of these. However, there was one instance where my client did secure a mediocre flip because - being so big box mediocre in its finishings and aesthetically soulless - the over-priced property languished on the market despite its Triple AAA location. Just as the flipper's desperation set in with a significant price reduction, we managed to secure the property for a sum not significantly more than the actual cost the flipper had incurred. My buyer still had to sink some money into fixing the ugly and poorly executed details (around 20k), and the newly renovated basement did suffer for a significant flood during a rain storm which insurance covered (argh!), but the buyer's rationale was that this was still less work than undertaking renovating a fixer-upper. So while I'm not thrilled with these kinds of properties, as long as one doesn't overpay for the lipstick (which a lot of buyers fall prey too) and you're prepared for a 'costly surprise deficiency', in the right instance one might pursue one of these. Here's the story - where I did the math - in my Buy Of The Month Feature From June 2013 - Seaton Village.
I have to say I'm a little disappointed in the finishing of this dwelling. In the photo link below look at the irregular patchy kitchen ceiling, the back porch (with painted plywood floors) and, well, the exterior paint could use a scraping and a refresh. The new kitchen is basic and skimpy, as is the washroom, and the new closets look cheap. The basement is unfinished (in a Victorian we should not be optimistic about it ever being livable without significant cost as the foundations are typically stacked stone), there is no central air (about $4000 assuming the existing ductwork is ok), and the garden needs landscaping (and a parking pad, carport or garage).
I've attached the inspection report. You'll see there's a laundry list of deficiencies that are mostly to do with the exterior, the attic and the history of water issues in the basement. The inspector couldn't see what's under the rear enclosed porch (this is a termite zone) but I think we should expect there isn't a proper foundation and the best solution is to demolish the structure in its entirety.
That said, this is one of those situations where the listing broker has counseled the Seller to list for a sum ($849,000) which is likely pretty close to the acquisition price, closing costs, and cosmetic upgrades incurred to date. As we've seen in past listings, the strategy here is to let the market establish the profit for the improvements plus the sum the house has increased in value since it sold for $701,000 39 months ago.
Here's more pics --> (link inserted)
Offers are being received on Monday at 3pm unless someone submits a bully offer acceptable to the Seller first.
The property is vacant so a quick closing is preferred.
Here's the 2 sales on the street since January 2017
(link will be active for a two-week period).
Here's 4 sales of 2storey semi's with parking in proximity to the listing. These sales date as far back as June and most recently as December.
(link will be active for a two-week period).
I can see this property spiking into the mid 900s from the get go. If it were to spike higher it would be a function of the lack of supply rather than the merits of the property. While recent sales suggest this could go over $1mil, it shouldn't (though I fear I may be wanting to penalize the Seller for her lack of care). The August sale nearby on ______ for $849,800 was superb value in retrospect even though it needed to be gutted (I would say it when the Toronto real estate market was most uncertain - during the doldrums of summer no one could tell if the market had evaporated because of the heat or because buyers were permanently exiting the market). The house on ______ - which also needed to be gutted (and also sold in August) - sold for $1,025,000 in competition but it's considered one of the best streets in this pocket. The dwelling on _____ - which was tired inside but more structurally solid than ______ (and closer to Ossington) - sold for $1,070,000. Will this house garner a sum in line with those two sales because one can effectively move in without the need to first coordinate several dumpsters and an army of trades? It's possible, because that's how many Buyers might rationalize its value, whereas I think the entire back of the house (the kitchen and rear porch) really needs to still be gutted (and demolished) and renovated to a higher spec than its current presentation, plus the building component deficiencies (like the windows) are imminent, etc. As you can tell, I'm struggling here a bit, as I can see one spending another 200k+ on this house - though one doesn't have to do it immediately.
Incidentally, the West Queen West neighbourhood has seen values skyrocket - with some pretty expensive real estate sitting cheek by jowel the fixer uppers. Whatever sum _____ garners, the purchaser buying for the long term can still sink some significant capital into elevating (and expanding) it, and be confident they'll recoup their investment because its being supported by some precedent setting prices. Here's an 1880s Bay & Gable Victorian Semi On Lisgar Street which I listed in May that, within 48 hours of coming to market, spiked $400,000 over the list price to land at $2,100,000! I was surprised because my Sellers bought this property 5 years earlier for $1,200,000 fully renovated. They'd only invested $25,000 converting the finished basement into a non-retrofit nanny suite. That's a 75% return on investment in 60 months! Furthermore, can you believe on closing the new Buyers ripped out the 5 year old kitchen to install a new one more to their taste, which required redoing all of the flooring on the main level?
All in all, this location is hot (hello Drake Hotel), which is why the fixer uppers are being sold as-is for top dollar.
I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any questions, and your thoughts!"
Incidentally, a bully offer secured this property for $946,000.
This is an example of the kind of correspondence we prepare to engage the Buyer on the opportunities and constraints of a purchase. Here's one of our informative posts called The Psychology Of Real Estate, Housing & Home that explains the complexity of buying real estate, including what all the real costs may be for a Buyer. Certainly, what this level of assessment does is provide our Buyers with loads of data and potential scenarios to decide if this property is really the right match for them at all. By thinking things through in-depth and weighing pros and cons heavily, you are more likely to make a prudent, satisfying purchase.
5) Analysis of Sale Price And Additional Due Diligence
As we move along the process, if a property sells that we’ve been considering as a contender, we provide our clients with the sale price to see where its value landed. This underscores the fact that the market is a dynamic entity, requiring constant awareness and education on market values and current momentum, which is why working with a defined process is so crucial. What this does is sharpen our aim to more accurately reflect the market movement, so that we can successfully find a home that you will love and be a sound investment as we continue our house hunt. The search can be stressful, but using a pragmatic approach to retain focus on what really matters to you is what yields the best result.
And of course, with this process includes keeping your calculator on hand to ensure you know What Are The Closing Costs For Your Property Purchase, being informed on What A Real Estate Lawyer Does, and, as required, Choosing A Home Inspector.
6) Once You've Secured A Property
Our commitment to you includes guiding you throughout the purchasing process, up to and after the Closing Date. Here's some of guidance on moving with Dear Urbaneer: Help! Do You Have A Moving Checklist?, How To Master A Condo Move, Urbaneer’s Tips For Moving With Kids and 8 Simple Rules To Moving With Dogs.
Plus there's navigating the process of taking occupancy of your property and making it your home. Here's Dear Urbaneer: We’ve Moved In To Our New Home. Now What?, and How Do I Best Equip And Furnish My Home? (+ Design Tips!).
Does your realtor serve you this way? Check out these additional posts that can help prepare you for your home search.
Considering selling your Toronto real estate? Here's some posts which may be of interest.
We'd love to show how our proven process can work for you. Do you or someone you love need help house hunting? Please know we are here to help!
Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage - (416) 322-8000
- we're here to earn your trust, then your business -
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*Love Canadian Housing? Check out Steve's University Student Mentorship site called Houseporn.ca which focuses on architecture, landscape, design, products and real estate in Canada!