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6 Things First-Time Buyers Learned on Their Home Buying Journey

Rachael is a freelance copywriter supporting creative entrepreneurs and small businesses to bolster their online presence. With a special focus in real estate, hospitality and tourism industries, Rachael’s passion for people and building strong human-centred narratives blossoms. When emerging from behind the glow of her laptop, she loves exploring the hiking trails on Vancouver Island, snuggling up with a good book or enjoying a meal with friends.

Making the leap into homeownership can be intimidating. There are many considerations that demand your attention as a first-time home buyer, and plenty of learning that happens before, during, and after the first purchase.

When navigating the market for the first time, you may not know what to expect. This uncertainty is all part of the process, but getting the right advice will help you prepare for these scenarios as best as possible. Of course, your REALTOR® will be there to answer all your questions, but sometimes it’s nice to hear from people who have recently gone through the same process to learn from their experiences.

We caught up with three sets of first-time buyers in British Columbia to find out some of the lessons they learned along the way.

1. Find a REALTOR® who’s a good fit

Lindsay Shaw purchased her first condo in the heart of downtown Victoria, British Columbia, in September 2021. She says finding a REALTOR® she connected with made the process much easier.

“It pays to find a REALTOR® willing to be hands-on and responsive to all your questions,” Shaw shares. “I was lucky to have someone in my corner willing to field calls at all hours and walk me through the nitty gritty pieces of first-time purchases.”

Finding a REALTOR® is very personal—just because someone was ideal for your neighbour or best friend doesn’t mean they will be for you. It’s OK to speak with multiple REALTORS® and ask them questions to find someone who aligns with your goals and needs.

2. Do your assigned reading

Shaw also shared how her REALTOR® encouraged her to look into specific details on stratified properties.

“I’m very thankful for how much attention I was encouraged to pay to legacy documents like strata minutes,” she tells us. “It’s tempting to skim them or chat with a friend who also lives in the building instead, but it was vital for me to read and understand what the building was all about and give it my two thumbs up, along with my REALTOR®. They also taught me about limited common property and how those spaces and rules fit into the transaction.”

Not to be confused with common property, limited common property is a designated space exclusively used by one or more strata lots. This can be something like a balcony or parking space. The document review is different for single-family detached homes, but the shopping process is quite the same.

3. Identify your must-haves by window shopping

Radost Rychtera and her partner Rob Murray shared their tips after recently purchasing their first home in Esquimalt, British Columbia.

“There’s no better way to learn your non-negotiables than to view houses,” Murray says. “Looking online, you can pick up some vibes, but seeing the space [in person] helps you understand it better. Maybe it has a good lot size in a good neighbourhood, and the square footage is right, but the layout just doesn’t work for you when you get there.”

“Yes! We had a house just like that during our search,” Radost echoed. “On paper it was great, and we got excited and thought it might be the one, but then we saw it in person and it didn’t work. We thought we’d like some things more than we did. There’s no such thing as a perfect house. Lots of what we looked at were homes where we had to determine what we were willing to compromise on. It took a few houses to kind of realize what we [were willing to] compromise on until we found the one that ticked all of our most important boxes.”

Melissa Thimot, a REALTOR® with Coldwell Banker Oceanside Real Estate in Langford, British Columbia, reinforces this theme.

“I love to do a window shop day with my first-time home buyers, even before setting them up in the search portal,” she shares. “We don’t pay attention to houses in our day-to-day lives the same way we do when shopping to purchase, so it’s important to see an array of options early on. This way, you can ensure you have a good sense of what you want when you are ready.”

She reminds home buyers of an important principle: “You’re buying a home, you’re not dating it. Although it’s an emotional process, and we need to be in tune with those emotions, we have to understand that putting our heart on the line before we’ve gotten [it] is setting ourselves up for heartbreak.”

She encourages buyers to have a balance between emotional investment and realistic long-term planning.

4. Be comfortable with your conditions

Radost says she and Murray wrote three different offers before buying their current home, and with each offer they learned something about their comfort level.

“Knowing what you’re comfortable with for your offer will make you faster [at putting pen to paper] and your offer stronger,” she says. “You’ll learn how to strengthen your offer at a risk level you can handle. Our risk tolerance changed throughout the offers and our REALTOR® was fantastic at walking us through our options.”

5. Get the complete financial picture

Matt and Kimberly MacLeod, who purchased their first home in Saanich, British Columbia, in 2019, had advice to share from their own financial planning.

“Visit a mortgage broker before you start looking for a place,” Kimberly suggests. “They’ll help determine your budget, and if you can’t afford as much as you’d like, they can help you come up with a plan to get there. They also teach you about things like first-time home buying incentives and RRSP usage.”

The Government of Canada offers a program called the Home Buyers’ Plan, which allows first-time buyers to take up to $35,000 from their RRSP to go towards the purchase of a home. Several first-time buyer incentives are available depending on your circumstances and your location, like the First-Time Home Buyers’ tax exemption in British Columbia.

Shaw also shared her experience with finances when buying her first home.

“Finding out what I was approved to borrow and budgeting to keep up my current lifestyle were two different conversations,” she says. “After crunching the numbers, my budget changed, and I had to shrink it up a bit to ensure I could maintain my lifestyle. This meant some give and take. I knew it was important to me to be downtown in a newer building, so that meant sacrificing square footage.”

6. Don’t forget the spending that comes after the deal closes

Matt and Kimberly both agreed buyers should have money set aside for initial updates and repairs; they’ll want to make their new place feel a bit more like their own home.

“You’ll likely need to make a few repairs to the home that you may not have anticipated [when you purchased], or if you’re anything like us, you’ll want to do a couple of DIY renovations,” she points out. “These updates and repairs are a normal part of homeownership, but you can avoid the extra money stress by giving yourself a padded budget.”

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