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Published May 5, 2022

What to Look for When Buying a House in Canada

Knowing what to look for when buying a house can help you decide if you should make an offer. Use this checklist to evaluate the location, features, condition and more.

Often potential buyers spend less than an hour — sometimes just a few minutes — walking through a home before deciding if they want to make an offer. Taking a checklist with you can help you remember what to look for when buying a house.

Your home buying checklist should include cost to own (in addition to the cost to buy), a location that suits your household’s commuting and convenience needs, features that complement your living, working and recreating style, and last but certainly not least, the home’s condition and maintenance needs.

» MORE: Mistakes to avoid when buying your first home

Home Buying Checklist

1. Ongoing costs

Price is a top priority for many potential homeowners. How much you can afford will affect the rest of your decisions. For example, having a higher budget could mean that you can buy into your preferred neighbourhood, or you could get a detached house over a townhouse.

It’s important to understand that the list price doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what the property will sell for. It’s a common strategy in Canada to list homes below their market value to drive up interest. This could lead to multiple offers or a real estate bidding war.

Another thing to consider is any maintenance (sometimes called strata) fees. This is typical with condominiums and co-ops and will affect your monthly budget. Generally speaking, the larger the unit, the higher the monthly fees. That said, some buildings that have not been well maintained may have a special assessment due in the future. That’s basically a one-time fee that every unit holder has to pay.

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2. Location of the home

When it comes to real estate, the saying is location, location, location. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise since many people want to live where it’s convenient. Proximity to amenities and transit are important but there are other things to consider when it comes to location.

  • School zones. Having close access to a school is always a priority for parents. It’s not uncommon for parents to seek addresses that put their kids in better schools. It’s important to check the school zones before you put in an offer, as high-density areas may split up your home school based on your address.
  • Safety. Most local police services will have a map available so you can search past crimes in the area. In addition, you’ll want to think about your daily routine. If you take public transit and work late, is the area well lit?
  • Commute. Think about what your commute times to work will be during rush hour. If you’re spending more time in your car, you may not get to enjoy your home as much. Alternatively, if you don’t own a car, see if you’ll have easy access to public transportation.
  • Neighbourhood. Since this is where you might  live, you want to ensure you’re happy with your community. Look for ease of access to grocery stores, restaurants, green space, playgrounds, places of worship and medical services.
  • Property tax rates. Provinces and cities set property tax rates, and they can vary widely by location. Since you’ll be paying this recurring fee as long as you own the home, you may want to have a rough idea of what this tax bill will look like before deciding on a location.

No one is expecting you to know all the details about every neighbourhood. Ask your real estate agent about anything you’re unsure about. You may also want to ask them about any similar areas that may be a good fit.

3. The home features

Once you’ve narrowed down your location, your home-buying checklist should include features you want. Come up with a must-have and nice-to-have list. By doing this, you can prioritize what’s important to you in a home.

Keep in mind that it’s difficult to find the perfect home;, it’s likely you’ll need to compromise on something, especially if you’re looking to buy in a competitive market. Also, note that your lists will probably change if you’re deciding between a house and a condo.

  • Type of home. Detached homes offer more space than townhomes, but they also typically cost more. Condos are generally smaller than houses, but you get some amenities included.
  • Size. The size of the home matters if you have specific space requirements, if you work from home,  or you’re thinking about expanding your family.
  • Layout. Having a good floor plan is essential in both houses and condos. Not only do you need to think about the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, but you should also consider the actual layouts. Having oddly shaped rooms or structural walls that make the flow of your home awkward can affect your enjoyment.
  • Outdoor space. Some people will value outdoor space more than others, especially if you have kids or pets. That said, having outdoor space like a lawn means more maintenance.
  • Storage. Do you want a lot of closets or need a basement? Do you prefer a garage that fits two cars? If you’re buying a condo, does the unit come with a storage locker and/or parking space?
  • Energy efficiency. Has the seller used green home grants to make improvements that might reduce resource consumption, shrink your carbon footprint, or provide better air or water quality?

Quite often, home features are where you’re going to need to compromise. Having those must-have and nice-to-have lists will be useful as it can help you quickly decide if a home you’re viewing is right for you.

4. The condition of the home

The other thing you’ll want to pay close attention to is the home’s condition. This is essential since many markets in Canada are hot. Having a home inspection clause will likely mean your offer won’t be accepted. Try as best you can to check the following before you make an offer.

  • Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). Try to find out what systems are in place and when they were last repaired or replaced.
  • Electrical and plumbing. How the home is wired may impact your ability to get home insurance. Try to avoid knob-and-tube wiring. You’ll also want to check all the faucets to ensure there’s hot water and adequate pressure.
  • Roofing. While you’ll want to leave the thorough evaluation to your home inspector, it’s often possible to step back and look up at the roof from the ground to see if there are any obvious signs of damage. You can also ask the seller when the roof was last replaced.
  • Odours. Smells can be a huge red flag. Cigarette smoke can take months to get out. If you smell mildew, that might signify moisture issues or mould.

Don’t worry about cosmetic things paint, carpets, cabinets or lighting fixtures since they’re easily replaceable. Instead, your home buying checklist should focus on major things as the cost to repair or replace them could be significant.

About the Author

Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a personal finance and travel expert. His website is one of Canada's most trusted sites when it comes to all things related to money and travel.

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