I’ve got to find a place closer to my job, but I don’t know about the neighbourhoods I’m considering. What sort of research should I undertake?

Buying a house is more than a financial transaction: It’s a life-changing event that involves interacting with neighbours and becoming part of a community. Avoid stressful and costly mistakes by doing your homework, and having an open and honest dialogue with your real estate salesperson.

One of my favourite holiday films is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Some of its best moments are the icy interactions between Chevy Chase’s holly-jolly Clark Griswold and his Christmas-hating yuppie neighbours, Todd and Margo Chester.

Todd and Margo aren’t presented as very likeable people — but I think they deserve some sympathy. They found themselves living next door to the slightly-unhinged, and perpetually unlucky Griswolds. I wonder if they could have avoided that Christmas calamity by sitting down for an in-depth conversation with their real estate rep when they were looking for a home to buy.

It makes sense to learn everything you can about a neighbourhood before you sign any deals. Your agent is a valuable resource for information, and can tell you a great deal about the local community, including municipal fees and property tax rates, availability of public transit, traffic flows during the day, and if there are amenities such as grocery stores, shopping malls, community centres or schools within walking or easy driving distance.

Before you decide to work with a sales representative, it’s a good idea to shop around for a real estate sales rep. Make a short list of candidates and then ask questions about their fees and commissions, experience, references, services and general approach to buying and selling. You should also discuss the type of relationship you will enter into, as it may affect how you work together.

Communication is a two-way street, however. Your salesperson owes you clear and truthful answers to all your questions, and you also need to be open and honest about your needs. For instance, if you don’t have the skills or resources to make serious home renovations, you need to look at properties that don’t require them.

This may sound like basic common sense, but communication breakdowns sometimes happen when assumptions are made. Let’s say you’re a light sleeper. Your salesperson doesn’t know this, so you wind up moving in across the street from a fire hall that receives calls at all hours of the day and night, but is usually quiet. You purchased the wrong home, simply because your representative didn’t have full knowledge of your needs.

In order to make an informed decision, you would be well advised to personally study your new surroundings. Do some internet research on the building and surrounding neighbourhood; pick up a copy of the community newspaper (or view it online) to see what people are talking about; check out the local police service website to see if there’s an interactive crime statistics map; and take a drive or a stroll through the area. Don’t hesitate to bring new questions or concerns to your salesperson’s attention.

You could even chat with a few of your potential new neighbours about noise and other issues that are important to you. Imagine if Todd and Margo had done that.

From my family to yours: Happy holidays!

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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