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Published February 26, 2024
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Why Navigating a Tight Housing Market Requires an Open Mind

Remaining flexible during a housing search can feel hard for new buyers, but it's an essential part of the process.

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High interest rates. Low supply. Prices that keep going up. Without a doubt, these can all be valid obstacles to home ownership. But what if the thing standing between you and buying a home was a toilet?

Say you want to buy a home in Toronto and have a budget of $600,000. You also want three bathrooms. At the end of January, 236 homes for sale fit that description on Settle for two bathrooms and your options triple: 724 possible matches. And if you can get by with one, your options would double again to 1,565, or nearly five times the original number of potential homes.

The takeaway here isn’t that the solution to Canada’s housing issues is a minimalist attitude toward porcelain. Instead, it’s this: Buyers who are willing to be flexible are more likely to find success in their home search. 

That’s easier said than done, of course. And it can be even harder if this is your first time buying a home, says Adil Dinani, sales representative at Royal LePage West Real Estate Services in Vancouver. 

“If you’re a first-time home buyer, psychology is very different, and sometimes you’re disconnected from market realities,” Dinani says. If you have an unwavering stance toward the home you’ll end up with, you may wind up disappointed. 

But how long should you look before you start making concessions? If you’re willing to reassess your wish list, where do you start? And at what point does being flexible become fertile ground for buyer’s regret later? 

The many faces of flexibility

Finding a house takes patience, but there may be a time to revise your approach. “There’s a disconnect if you have to go on for months and not find something,” Dinani says.

“Being flexible” might seem like a euphemism for squashing your hopes. But making adjustments to your housing search doesn’t mean settling for something you don’t like. 

Start with something easy. Rank all the qualities you’d like in a home from most to least essential, and reconsider the ones at the bottom of the list. For example, Dinani says the first-time home buyers he’s worked with are typically willing to compromise on location but are less willing to compromise on square footage.

Flexibility can be about addition, not just subtraction. Pauline Aunger, broker and owner at Royal LePage Advantage Real Estate in Smiths Falls, Ontario, says the process of looking at homes can reveal a must-have feature that wasn’t on your original wishlist. Subbing in that new factor for a feature whose importance has waned after touring a few homes may result in a more fruitful lineup of options.

You might also expand your options by understanding the motivations behind what you want instead of strictly relying on the categories used in home listings. 

For example, you might initially think that you’d really like a basement or a two-car garage when what you’re really after is a playroom for kids or a place to store your bike collection. With those insights in mind, you might spot an otherwise-overlooked home without a basement that has a home office suitable for a playroom. A house with one garage might also have a large weatherproof shed in the backyard large enough to hold your cycling gear. 

“Sometimes it’s not so much upgrading or downgrading — it’s looking at alternatives,” Aunger says.

Try houses on for size

The ability to quickly scroll through hundreds of listings without getting out of bed has some advantages. It can also impose unnecessary blinders. “I think we all have a perception on what we think the perfect home is for us,” Aunger says. “But sometimes it’s about physically being in these houses and saying, ‘oh, wait, that wouldn’t work so much for my family.’”

Aunger once had a client who was interested in buying a bungalow, but, after touring a few in person, realized that the low-slung ceilings weren’t a practical choice for someone who stood 6’4”. “We had a discussion, and I took them to see a Victorian home,” she says. “The older brick homes were built with higher ceilings, and they fell in love with it.” 

Equally important is exploring the area surrounding the home. Dinani says buyers who can’t find options in familiar neighbourhoods should turn to their agent’s expertise; they can suggest alternative areas that offer similar settings. “You should go check out the neighborhood, grab a coffee, walk the streets, Dinani says. “Check out the restaurants, see how you feel in the neighborhood.”

Aunger says she has clients test the livability of a neighborhood by making their work commute and, if they have children, a trip to nearby daycares and schools.

Once you take your initial preferences for a test drive in the real world, you may discover that changing your expectations is part of a natural evolution toward finding a home that’s the best fit.

Make your finances flexible

One possible outcome of reassessing your housing search is realizing that the homes just above your budget are the ones you’re after. There may be a pathway to get there.

“People don’t buy the price point or the purchase price,” says Dinani. “They buy the monthly payment.” If you can find room in your monthly budget and if a price still falls within the range of what a lender will approve, getting the home you want may be worth the financial tradeoffs.  

Alternatively, you might decide to put your house hunt on hold and increase your savings. A higher down payment could help you attain the type of homes you’re interested in.

Almost perfect is perfect

“Is there a perfect home for everyone?,” Aunger asks. “It exists in each of our own minds, but does it exist in reality? You know, yes — sometimes. But sometimes 80% of it’s perfect, and the other 20% I’m okay with.”

Even with a bigger budget, it’s tough to find a house that ticks every box on your original checklist: Dinani says clients who buy multimillion dollar homes can feel like they’re getting most, but not all, of what they originally sought. 

Success is not a guarantee when house hunting, even in a buyer-friendly real estate market. But by being open-ended with your idea of “perfect,” and by leaning on the expertise of your agent and lender, you’ll have better chances, even if that means living with two toilets instead of three. 


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