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How to buy a house – lessons learned from a first time home buyer

First Time Home Buyer

How to buy a house is something I am often asked about now that my husband and I are homeowners.

When we started looking for a home last summer, we learned a few things. The first thing, which is so obvious now, but wasn’t at the time: buying a home is not easy.

You don’t just check out a house or two, love one of them enough to buy it, can afford the price tag, can find zero problems with the property, and move into your new home within weeks. That is not how it works at all.

1. Find a good realtor

My husband and I planned to buy a home on our own. We thought it would be a waste of time to look for a realtor to represent us because we’d heard so many horror stories from friends about realtors that didn’t do what they’d promised.

We looked at listings online and found a home we were very much interested in, so we contacted who we thought was the seller. It turned out to be the sellers’ real estate agent. We set up an appointment to see the home and although we didn’t end up purchasing it, we did keep the agent.

Kirby Chan took us to multiple homes, found the perfect one (for us), and helped us to negotiate the cost of the home we now own. If it wasn’t for him, I have no doubt that we would still be living in our rental.

2. Shop around

With any major purchase, you always want to look around at everything that is available. You need to be able to compare things and determine what it is you truly want and need in a home.

Always visit multiple homes when you’re looking to buy. Never visit one home and put in a bid right away, otherwise, you could possibly miss a golden opportunity to buy a better home for a better price.

I don’t care how many homes you visit – just visit more than one.

3. Always sleep on it

There was one home that we looked at that I loved so much, I wanted to call the sellers right away and offer them all of our money. My husband talked me out of this, of course, and said we needed to sleep on it because it was a huge purchase.

We had to make sure that we were certain we wanted to pay the hefty price tag for the home.

It’s a good thing he is so rational because after sleeping on it, we decided that the home was not right for us after all.

4. Research the area

One very important thing we learned about how to buy a house was to research the area very well. The first home we wanted to buy was perfect – until we did our research and found out how high the crime rate was in that area.

We fell in love with that house and it was extremely difficult to walk away, but we knew we had to. From that moment on, we vowed to research areas before we viewed any homes.

We found a bunch of areas we liked, told our realtor, and he found us homes to look at in those areas. When he sent us the lists of homes, we did even more in-depth research on those particular neighborhoods.

Before bidding on a home, always check the school ratings, the crime rate in the area (we used the Toronto crime rate page) and the demographics of others in the area (if you are a young family, you will likely want to live in an area with other young families).

5. Never judge the decor in a home

I know, black paint is not the most inviting. Neither is lime green or bright pink with yellow polka-dots. But guess what – that is an easy thing to change when you move in.

Pay no attention to the small cosmetic “problems” you see in homes and instead, focus on the bigger picture. Does the home have a good layout, lots of natural light, enough bedrooms to accommodate your needs? Those are the things you want to look for when shopping for a home.

Ignore paint colors, carpeting, cabinet hardware, and what someone’s shower curtain looks like (seriously, I saw someone complain about the color of a shower curtain on a home buying TV show!).

6. Be patient

I thought I was prepared for a very long process when we started looking for a home, but I wasn’t. I wanted to move so badly that looking for a home started to take over my life. I wanted to look at homes all the time. It eventually got to the point that I would want to bid on a home just so we could “get it over with already”.

I was impatient and very unprepared for the emotional roller coaster that a home search brings.

If there’s just one thing you take from this article, let it be this: be patient. Don’t give up hope that you will eventually find the home you’re searching for. With time, you will.

Buying a home is no easy task. It takes time (lots of it) and perseverance. You also need to accept that you will not be able to get every single thing you want in a home. You will need to compromise. Quite a bit, actually.

If homeownership is your goal, you need to mentally prepare yourself for the ups and downs that come along with house hunting. They’re inevitable, but nine times out of ten, they’re worth it.

What lessons did you learn when buying a home?


  1. lauren

    Im the exact age as you ( just found out we share the same bday lol) and Im on my fourth house ( fifth if you count the one that fell through at the very very last minute). I have only sold one of them so not overly familiar with the selling process but your advice is good. The only thing I would say is that not having a Realtor is a silly move when buying a house ( selling is different) .. you dont pay a Realtor, the seller pays their Realtor ( usually 5%, which they then split with the buying agent)
    My Realtor has found me houses before they hit MLS so that im the first to see it, giving me a better shot at getting an offer in and not getting into a bidding war.
    With the house I live in now, it never ever had a for sale sign on the lawn. I saw it two hours after the sellers signed the paper work to sell it. I submitted an offer that night ( although sleeping on it would have been nice, i knew it was the house and knew it was priced well) by the time it hit MLS. ( the next afternoon) there was 3 other offers, but since I had got in there first and got my offer in and they started the deal with me, I got!
    On a business side… if your able to, start saving for another downpayment and then rent out your current home once you decide to move… its very hard to go wrong with real estate.. if you can, collect them ๐Ÿ˜‰ ( get a good mortgage broker for this)

    • Cassie Howard

      Happy late birthday!

      Sounds like you had a great realtor. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Sparkles

    Get a good mortgage broker for sure!! They are such a big part of the whole transaction. Purchasing a home is such a huge investment and getting a good mortgage broker can save you thousands of dollars!

    I agree with lauren – if you’re buying a home, you should always use a realtor since you don’t pay for their services!

  3. Kirby Chan

    Great Article! It was a real joy being your Realtor. My goal was to provide you with a 5-star customer experience, to help you buy your first home and more importantly LOVE your first home. I’m here to help if you need me.

    I agree it’s silly not to use a Realtor when buying a home (selling is the same ๐Ÿ™‚

    Kirby Chan
    Sales Representative

  4. Tiffany

    We purchase our home 1 yr ago to date almost! One thing we found helpful was
    1)Have a list of “must haves/non-negotiables” (for us, this was within our defined budget/maximum as determined by the bank, a private backyard, a layout that was open and good for entertaining, easy/quick access to the backyard from the main areas to let our dogs in/out) and then another list of “nice to haves” (wood flooring, paved driveway, outskirts of town, jetted tub). We also found that after viewing few homes and considering reno costs or otherwise, we had to revisit our negotiables/non-negotiables (lol…jetted tub got moved to must haves…simply due to the fact that my boyfriend suffers from terrible leg pain as the result of a crash).

    2.) We also found it helpful to purchase a home when home sales were going fairly slowly – this was in January 2012, for us. This made it more likely that home owners would be willing to drop the price – *saved $25,000 this way :).

    3.) Research and follow the interest rates. We were able to get locked in to a very good rate.

    And also, ditto to all the things Cassie said! We LOVED our realtor (was open to meeting us at all different times, was knowledgable about the areas we were shopping in, planned out our routes when we wanted to see 5 houses in one afternoon, and just generally very flexible and accomodating). And we estimate that we looked at 50 houses in the space of 1.5 months! This was the third house we put an offer on. (BTW, likely not worth getting into a bidding war – great way to quickly increase costs!). I would agree to the decor, but the other non-negotiable we had was that we did NOT want the previous owner to have been a smoker! It’s impossible to get that smell out!

  5. dan

    Did you make a deal with your agent to pay you some money for all the deals that he will make thanx to you?

  6. Linda

    I am in my first house (six years now) and I know I did tons of things ‘wrong’ in making my purchase. It has worked out so far though, and it is true, you have to look at your ‘must-haves’ a few times. I wanted a garage (don’t have one lol) and I didn’t want to be on a corner lot (I am on a corner.) The house was what I wanted and the ‘must-haves’ got pushed to the side. It has been worth it all though and I love the area.

  7. Helen W

    I would also add that when you are selling AND buying to sell first, aim for a generous closing date, and then start looking. If you have bought first, the pressure to sell is INTENSE and may cause you to take any ridiculous offer to be out of there in time. Cassie, you are so right about being patient. Even though you see a lot of dud homes, most people will find something in time, and if not, there are many short term rental solutions out there. Better than carrying two mortgages!

    Also, never be afraid to walk away, as is the case with any negotiated transaction, when you have offered as much as you can. We did with our house and they called us back the next day to accept after refusing our last and final offer! I was the cool headed one in that, my hubby was FREAKING and wanted to give the sellers the moon! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. renee

    We looked at one house , bid within 30 mins of looking at it and ten years later still in the house and still love it. I guess we are the exception.

  9. Wendy

    If you live in snow- start looking at home around the first thaws! I walked away from two because they had pools of water laying close to the home and I didn’t want to be the last one out of the snow. Call the utility providers and get an estimate as to what the utility bills have been (whether your going to rent or buy a place) It helps with determining which homes are better built/insulated. Beware flips- if the owners cannot give you any info on the place, they only owned long enough to do whatever they did to make it look good. I looked at over a dozen, fired my first realtor and spotted a place hours after the sign went up. I’ve owned now for four and a half years ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Virginia

      That’s great advice. Also looking on days or the day after heavy rain. You can see if the basement leeks or not. Also for flips or recently renovated houses you can have your realtor see if permits were pulled (which means there were inspections) so you have a better idea of the quality of work.

  10. Ann Thibault

    HAHAHA Cassie….I read the Home buying article and then right below was the “Garage” AD……my first thought was that YOU were having a GARAGE SALE right after purchasing the house!!!!LOL ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Becka

    We were the exception to the sleep on it rule. We made our offer half an hour after looking at our home, however we had looked at about ten other homes that week that made me Cry! If we had waited to the next day we would have had to pay over asking. This house was amazing, good location, double lot, fenced yard for our two fur babes and some good quality DIY upgrades. We also had a great home inspector, who gave us a thirty page bible complete with pictures about problem areas in our home before we removed the conditions to purchase. It was a great investment for $300 as I know we will use that bible many times this summer as we fix minor things. It definitely didn’t feel real until we had the key in our hands though, I kept feeling as though something could go wrong, but I worried for nothing.

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