Everyone has questions when it comes to buying or selling their home—it would actually be odd if you didn’t. But when it comes to finding answers, there’s no better resource than your REALTOR®. Their expertise is vital to successfully navigating the home buying and selling process, because odds are the questions you have are the same ones many others have also asked.
We spoke with REALTORS® to get some answers to the questions they’re asked the most. Whether you’re buying, selling, or just curious about the real estate market, these insights may help you figure out your next step.
1. What is the first step when searching to buy a home? Where do I start?
It’s a logical question, yet one that can feel overwhelming for first-time buyers. Angie Vazquez, an award-winning REALTOR® with Engel & Voelkers in Squamish, British Columbia, says there’s a list of things to do in order to get started.
“First thing you need to know is how much you can afford or borrow,” she explains. “Speak to a mortgage broker or your financial advisor in order to take the initial steps (in getting pre-approved). This will save time and narrow down the properties you can purchase, preventing you from wasting time on properties not within your budget. When it comes to writing an offer, being pre-approved for a mortgage also demonstrates you’re a serious buyer.”
“The next step is to understand the market—is it a seller’s market or a buyer’s market? Do you need to sell a property in order to purchase a property? Differentiate between your needs and wants, then start viewing properties!”
2. How’s the market? Is it a good time to buy or sell my home?
Christy Cantera, a REALTOR® and founding partner of Christy Cantera Realty in Edmonton, Alberta, says this is the most common question her team gets, “whether we’re meeting with potential buyers or sellers, or making small talk with a stranger in an elevator.” Her answer hasn’t changed over her 20 years in the industry, even after the ups and downs of the market since 2020.
“It depends,” she shares. “Sure, you can look at the average home price and the number of homes sold, but like any metric, that data only tells part of the story and gives little context. Buying, selling, and investing in property will always be a personal choice. Significant shifts have occurred in our lifestyles over the past few years, and our wants and needs have changed. Are you downsizing—why? Are you upgrading—why? Are you relocating—why? A broad understanding of the current trends can be valuable; however, a deep understanding of your motivation and goals will be the most significant influence on whether the current market will support them.
“We should all be wary about basing a major financial decision on temporary data, which is why having an experienced REALTOR® who knows which questions to ask and understands what you’re trying to achieve and why is so important.”
“The answer for the last couple of years is that inventory is historically still very low and likely to remain that way,” Cooper tells us. “The best time to buy is when you’ve been qualified and see a home you like. It might take another six months to see a home you like as much, so seize the day!”
“Now is a great time to be looking if you’re thinking of entering the real estate market,” he says. “The 2023 market in Vancouver is a buyers’ market and that isn’t something we’ve been able to say very often for at least the last decade.”
But what exactly does a buyers’ market mean?
“It means a buyer will have more homes to choose from, more time to make a decision, more time to do due diligence (like having an inspection, reviewing any documents, and making sure one’s finances are in order), and generally make what can be a stressful process much less so,” Scalena explains. “It also means a buyer may have more opportunities to negotiate an attractive price for the listing.”
3. What do I need to do to prepare my home for sale?
Your REALTOR® will handle most of the work when it comes to selling your home, but there are still some things you need to handle in order to get things ready. Vazquez tells us she’s often asked by clients what they can do to prepare, and she recommends people start by:
- depersonalizing and decluttering—start packing your personal photos and family memories;
- doing some gardening and landscaping; and
- professionally cleaning the property.
4. Should I renovate before I sell?
Scalena says he’s often asked about renovating before selling, specifically making major renovations in an attempt to increase the home’s value. His answer?
“No, plain and simple,” he tells us. “Renovations can be energy-intensive activities that often cost significantly more than planned and take significantly longer than planned. These stressors alone mean a renovation prior to sale is almost never worth it. Buyers often want to put their own stamp on their new home—or at the very least don’t want to pay a premium for your aesthetic choices—and the risks of a renovation can clearly outweigh the rewards.”
This doesn’t mean there aren’t fixes and upgrades to do before selling, however. According to Scalena, “a seller will see a much better return on investment by repairing minor blemishes and deficiencies—such as filling holes in the walls, re-caulking a tub that needs it, adding WD-40 to hinges, etc.—and staging a vacant property or partially staging an occupied home with the help of a professional.
“These are more cost and energy effective than larger renovations and will lead to strong impressions of your home, encourage potential buyers to make offers, and ultimately result in a better sale price for your property.”
5. What can I expect the offer-making experience to be like now? Is it still busy with competing offers all the time?
There were plenty of stories about people getting countless offers for their home during the pandemic. It made the market extremely competitive, and it felt like every home on the market was experiencing the same trend. According to Thomas Bagogloo of the Bagogloo team, the offer process isn’t consistent across the board right now, at least in Nova Scotia.
“Roughly one quarter of listings received multiple offers in January (versus more than three quarters at one recent point), so your mileage may vary,” he cautions. “Average days on the market for sold listings are still minimal relative to historical levels, so even if homes don’t see multiple offers, you can bet they won’t linger as ‘for sale’ for long.
“If you’ve seen a house you like that fits your budget, and it isn’t ‘holding offers’ for a certain period of time, your best bet is to submit one quickly to hopefully beat the rush and potentially avoid competing with other buyers,” adds Matt Welch, also with The Bagogloo Team.
Vazquez agrees questions about the offer process are common, with most people wondering what the next steps are once they’ve found a home that’s right for them.
“Talk to your lawyer or notary public to learn about taxes and closing fees,” she says. “Once the offer is accepted the due diligence process starts: inspection, financing, and working with the lender to get an appraisal on the property.”
While every seller is looking for something different in offers presented to them, Vazquez says there’s one thing she often sees.
“In my experience, one of the key aspects when presenting an offer is the deposit. Buyers are sometimes afraid to lose their deposit because it often represents their life savings or RRSP. The deposit goes towards the purchase price and is paid into a trust account—not directly to the seller. Upon acceptance of the offer, this deposit is part of the agreed price.”
If the offer isn’t accepted and the sale doesn’t go through, what happens to that money?
“The deposit is due upon subject removal after the buyer receives approval from the lender in writing, we always make sure there is no risk for the buyers to lose their savings or RRSPs,’ Vazquez reassures. “If we specify in the offer the deposit is due before subject removal, the deposit is fully refundable. I make sure when representing buyers there’s no risk for them at any time. Any other specific deposit scenarios need to be agreed in writing in the CPS (Contract of Purchase and Sale).”
6. How do I choose between homes?
Finding your dream home is always the goal, right? But what happens when more than one property comes along that ticks all your boxes? While your REALTOR® can’t be the one to make this definitive decision, Cantera says she gives a simple reminder to all her clients.
“Buy the home that loves you back,” she tells us. “Inevitably, towards the end of the process, once we’ve considered vital factors—including location, amenities, and overall value, then narrowed the selection to two or three. It’s easy to become novelty-driven and get distracted by some of the bells and whistles one may have over another.
“As tempting as it may be to stretch the budget in favour of new, trendy or nice-to-have features, it pays to remember that short-term thrills can lead to long-term resentment. Will your quality of life be better for having invested more in the house with the attached garage or for having taken an extra vacation for every year you lived in the home with a detached garage? The right home will always be the one that provides stability, aligns with your values, and supports your vision for your future.”
7. Isn’t my house worth more?
It’s only natural to want your home to sell for the highest possible price, but sometimes our own memories and emotions attached to the property can skew our perception of its true value. Your REALTOR® follows a set of criteria to price your home, such as local market conditions, location, size and layout, age and condition of the home, special features, etc. Emotional attachments aren’t part of the process.
“[Buyers] aren’t willing to pay more because you restructured your mortgage, installed that fancy backsplash they know they’ll replace later, or because your little one took their first steps near the kitchen counter,” Cantera points out. “Instead, they’re willing to pay for a home that suits their needs and can make their own.
“The most important thing is to make sure your home sells, which means leaning on your REALTOR®’s experience and objectivity to ensure you hit the market in a way that immediately attracts buyers ready to invest in the value of the property rather than buyers who’re coming to check out your design feature before buying two doors down. Ultimately, everyone’s goal is to ensure you’re comfortable with the final sale price and that it reflects the value of your home, so remember, pricing to sell rather than to satisfy a personal sentiment will create a much smoother transition into the next chapter of your story.”
8. Should I buy or sell first?
Buying a new home before selling your current one is a personal choice, especially if your perfect home hits the market and you don’t want to let it go, but the choice can also depend on the state of the market. There’s no clear answer, because it’s different for every person, but Scalena says your REALTOR® can guide you in your decision.
“Selling your home without a place to go is definitely scary,” Scalena admits. “But buying a new place without knowing if you can sell your current home is not only scary, but carries significant legal and financial risk. The good news is that you’re not the first person to [do this] and REALTORS® have proven strategies for selling and then buying while mitigating all risks.”
Don’t be afraid to ask
While a lot of questions will be standard no matter what type of home you’re buying, there will be questions specific to your experience. Once again, this is where your REALTOR® comes in handy and can provide quick, accurate answers. Vazquez shared some of the questions she received from a recent first-time buyer in Squamish, British Columbia.
- How does home insurance work?Would fire and water damage be covered by strata? Do we need to purchase additional coverage and what would be covered i.e furniture/contents?
- Would we own or rent the hot water tank?
- Are there any other fees that we might not be accounting for at this time? So far we are thinking, GST, PTT, lawyer fees, and A/C. Some wording makes it sound like there could be some additional fees bringing electrical in, or is that in reference to internet and cable?
- Is the security system in the showroom standard and included in all units?
“It’s nice that everyone knows all questions are valid,” Vazquez stresses. “In some cases the developers don’t include microwaves, window coverings, etc. These are costs the buyer has to pay and they might not have budgeted for these things.”
Asking questions is a normal part of your homeownership journey, and arguably one of the most important ones! It’s why having a REALTOR® you feel compatible with and trust is so crucial. It’s been said before, but it’s especially true when it comes to the largest purchase of your life—there’s no such thing as a stupid question!