Real estate: Essential advice for homebuyers in a seller’s market

It’s not called house hunting for nothing. Arm yourself with information before you make your move.

Times are tough for house hunters in Montreal right now. In most parts of the city, the list of homes for sale is short, and the competition from other buyers is fierce. In the most desirable neighbourhoods, bidding wars have become common, pushing prices to new heights.

According to Dominic St-Pierre, vice-president and general manager of Royal LePage in Quebec, the market is now moving so fast that some buyers are being left in the cold.

“A lot of the time right now, a buyer on the market will likely be disappointed with what’s available for the amount of money that he has,” St-Pierre said. “There’s going to have to be some compromise and the buyer should know exactly what they are ready to compromise on and what is absolutely necessary for them.”

Some who started thinking about buying a year or two ago are discovering that the types of properties they saw while window-shopping on Centris back then are no longer within reach, St-Pierre said. When buyers do find something they like within their budget, it’s becoming increasingly likely that the home either already has an offer pending or will soon.

What’s a buyer to do?

Sharpen your claws and get ready to pounce. It’s not called a hunt for nothing.

Do the math

First, figure out how much you can actually afford to spend. Running the numbers on an online mortgage calculator is fine if you’re just tire-kicking, but when you’re ready to buy, it’s a good idea to start by getting pre-approved for a mortgage, St-Pierre said, so that you can put your best offer forward with confidence.

Of course, just because the bank will lend you the money doesn’t mean you should max out your borrowing ability. Your pre-approval will give you your upper limit of how much you can offer on a home. It’s wise to also take a realistic look at your budget to make sure you don’t end up house-poor.

List your ‘wants’ and ‘needs’

If you want to catch a rabbit, don’t waste your time and energy chasing squirrels.

Make a list of everything you want in a home, and then identify which of those things are must-haves. The more precise you are about your wants and needs, the less time you’ll waste on homes that aren’t a good fit — and the more decisive you can be about putting in an offer when you find a property that appeals.

“When you find a property that fits your criteria, you need to be aggressive and to move fast,” St-Pierre said. “Unfortunately, you don’t have the luxury right now to do three visits. If you find one that meets your criteria, you need to move fast and move aggressively in order to get it.”

Get a good buyer’s agent

Since realtor commissions are paid by the seller, there’s little downside to working with a buyer’s agent. In a market as tight as this, working with a realtor can help buyers get the jump on new listings more quickly than a DIY Centris search.

While there isn’t much of a lag between when a property is listed and when it is uploaded to Centris, well-connected realtors sometimes hear about new listings through the grapevine before they are officially posted for sale. It’s also becoming more common for brokers to share ‘coming soon’ announcements with other realtors prior to listing, St-Pierre noted.

“A realtor is doing this every day all day for their clients. As soon as there’s a new property that hits the market, an active realtor will know right away and will be able to inform their client if it’s a listing that meets the criteria that they’ve identified together,” he said.

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