I’m thinking about buying my first house this spring. How do I get started?

Buying real estate involves the same first three important steps that a seller should take:

1. Interview your sales rep candidates: Talk to at least three real estate salespeople or brokers and ask them about their experience, references, services they provide, how much they charge, and their general approach to buying.

2. Look them up: Search the name of each candidate on the RECO website — it will tell you if they’re registered with us, and if they have disciplinary actions against them.

3. Don’t sign anything until you’ve read it thoroughly: Read and completely understand any documents you’re asked to sign. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarifications or show them to a lawyer who handles real estate law.

Discuss signing a buyer representation agreement, which makes you a client of the brokerage, rather than a customer service agreement, which gives you limited service.

What comes next?

4. Have “the talk”: It’s important that you and your salesperson discuss your needs. What sort of neighbourhood best fits with your lifestyle? Are you looking to interact with your neighbours, or do you value your privacy? How much space do you require?

Perhaps the most important question is “how much can I afford to pay?” since your expenses will include costs such as legal fees, mortgage insurance, utility hookups, moving expenses and the land transfer tax.

You would be well-advised to consult with your lending institution or mortgage broker about mortgage financing and to ask for copies of property tax and utility bills, and contracts for rental items such as water heaters, furnaces and alarms; confirm that those contracts can be assumed by a new owner, and if any cancellation fees apply.

5. Check what’s inside — and outside — the walls: Your salesperson is a knowledgeable resource who can answer many of your questions, and who can also help you know what to ask. But it doesn’t hurt to do your own due diligence about a property and surrounding neighbourhood. It’s also a good idea to hire a home inspector and make your offer conditional upon the house passing inspection.

6. Be specific about your terms: When you’re ready to make an offer on a property, be sure to include any items you expect will be included in the sale, renovations or repairs that you might want the seller to complete, or any price reduction you negotiate in lieu of repairs based on the results of the home inspection. And make sure to get it in writing.

Joseph Richer is Registrar of the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO). He is in charge of the administration and enforcement of all rules that govern real estate professionals in Ontario. You can find more tips at reco.on.ca, follow on Twitter @RECOhelps or on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/RECOhelps.


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