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99 First Time Home Buyer Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

There’s a lot that goes into buying a home for the first time – don’t make these rookie buyer mistakes.

1. Thinking you’re buying a new house when you’re actually buying a used house.

The Sellers owe you the home in the same condition it was in when you bought it – they don’t owe you a perfect home with no issues. Trust us…every home will have problems you weren’t expecting when you move in.

2. Not looking under the hood.

While a scratched floor probably won’t change your decision to buy a home, it’s nice to know before you move in. Don’t spend more time shopping for a new pair of shoes than exploring your new potential home.

3. Not being ready to jump on the right house.

In Toronto, the market moves fast, and homes sometimes get multiple offers in mere hours. Make sure to have your financial ducks in a row and be ready to make a quick decision when you find the right home.

4. Not being fully approved for a mortgage before you start the search.

Forget about online mortgage tools and bank pre-approvals – you need a commitment from a lender to ensure your financing doesn’t fall through. They’ll want to check your credit, verify your employment and your downpayment – so be ready. If you don’t know a good mortgage lender, we’d be happy to put you in touch with the people we trust.

5. Trolling homes you can’t afford.

This is a recipe for heartbreak, and it doesn’t help that many condos and houses in Toronto are purposely underpriced to drive the selling price up with multiple offers. Pro tip: don’t choose a $1.4 million house as your ‘ideal’ home that you will judge all others against when you have a budget of $1.1.

6. Not being flexible in your choice of neighbourhood.

There are tons of great neighbourhoods in Toronto and being flexible about where you live will help you land the home of your dreams within your budget.

Related: Check out our neighbourhood guides here.

7. Not getting a home inspection or not reading the one you got.

A home inspection is like a physical for your house, and a DNA test rolled into one – it diagnoses current issues and acts as an early-detection system for what might go wrong in the future. So don’t skip over this important step and make sure to READ IT ALL. Ask questions when you don’t understand something.

Related: Click here to learn more about what to expect in a home inspection.

8. Expecting the Seller to pay for things uncovered in a home inspection.

This doesn’t really happen in Toronto or in any other hot real estate market in Ontario. Get a home inspection to get informed and help you decide if you want to buy the house – but don’t expect to be able to bargain the price down if the inspector uncovers something.

9. Trusting a pre-listing home inspection from a random person.

If you’re buying in a hot market and multiple offers are common, you might be provided with a home inspection that the Seller ordered before putting their home on the market. Be careful – the home inspection industry isn’t closely regulated, and it might not be thorough or true. It’s always best to get your own inspection, but if you decide to use the Seller’s, make sure it was completed by a trusted inspector at a trusted company who values their reputation.

10. Low-balling in a hot market.

Putting in an offer that’s below market value (which may or may not be different than the asking price) is a recipe for a disaster on a newly listed home. All it will do is encourage the Sellers to go hunting for an offer to compete with you, and you’ll probably lose the home. Know the market you’re in and offer accordingly – your REALTOR can help.

11. Not anticipating the closing costs.

You’ll need to pay land transfer tax and your lawyer fees, but there may also be other costs.

Related: You can read more about closing costs here.

12. Not understanding the taxes you’ll need to pay.

From provincial and city land transfer taxes (in Toronto) that you pay on closing to the municipal property taxes that get paid annually, to HST on legal and real estate services and capital gains taxes on investments, there are a LOT of taxes. If you’re a non-resident non-Canadian citizen Buyer, you’ll also be subject to paying the Non-Resident Speculation Tax, which amounts to 15% of the purchase price (paid on closing).

13. Falling in love with the staging and not the home.

It’s easy to get sidelined into looking at the pretty furniture and pillows. Staging exists for that very purpose – to make you fall in love. But make sure to imagine YOUR furniture and look past the staging.

14. Getting too excited and losing sight of what you wanted/needed.

If a gorgeous yard wasn’t on your initial must-have list, don’t fall for the flowers and forget that what you really needed was a finished basement or office. It’s normal for some of your wants and needs to change throughout the house-hunting process, but don’t lose sight of your original goals.

15. Not researching your school district before buying.

Schools in Toronto operate on a catchment system. You can research and find your school on the TDSB website.

Related: We’ve mapped all the Toronto schools with their Fraser Institute rankings.

16. Buying your first home first, when it might be a better ideal to buy your second home first.

Buying and selling real estate is expensive, so make sure you buy as much home as you’re comfortable with, in the beginning, so you won’t have to move in a few years.

Related: You can read more about buying your second home first here.

17. Being short-sighted in a hot market.

If you’re buying at a time when prices are increasing, recognize that you’ll likely need to pay MORE than the last comparable price…and the extra $1,000 you aren’t willing to pay tonight will become the starting price for the next comparable property. Think of an increasing market like a set of stairs, with each new sale moving everybody up a step.

18. Expecting to see a home with super short notice.

Most showings are scheduled with a day or two notice, and Sellers aren’t usually receptive to only having one hour to prep their home. In a hot market, you can probably get in to see a home quickly (and that might be a big strategic advantage). If the home you want to see is currently tenanted, the owner is legally obligated to give the Tenant 24 hours notice of any showing.

19. Not being respectful of the Sellers and their home.

It’s not cool to go into a home and make fun of the decor or how the Sellers live. It’s not OK to take photos of the bear on their bed and mock them on social media. It’s not OK to keep your muddy shoes on and traipse through their home. It’s not ok to be late for a showing or just not show up.

20. Naively thinking the Seller isn’t videotaping or recording you in their home.

These days, many Sellers have cameras installed and are watching what’s happening during a showing. Don’t discuss your motivations, how much you love/hate the house or how much you’re prepared to pay while in the home.

21. Not being ready to compromise.

Almost nobody gets everything they want in a house (except maybe Drake). You’ll likely need to compromise on at least one of these three things: location, size or condition.

22. Failing to understand what the bank appraisal is and how it might affect you.

Almost every home that will need a mortgage will be appraised by the lender…so make sure you understand what happens if the bank appraises your home for less than you agreed to pay for it.

Related: You can read more about Bank Appraisals here.

23. Not filing your income taxes.

Banks will require your income taxes to be filed and up to date before they’ll advance you a mortgage, so if you’ve been avoiding filing, get on it right now.

24. For condo buyers: not reading the status certificate and having it reviewed.

The status certificate is a crucial document that needs to be reviewed by your lawyer. It contains the financial and legal health of your condo board.

Related: Read more about Status Certificates and the status certificate condition.

25. Going in with a firm offer without having done your due diligence in advance.

Bidding wars are competitive, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t protect yourself. Get your financing in order and get your home inspection done BEFORE you submit your offer.

26. Giving more than a $100,000 as a deposit.

Deposits in Ontario are only insured up to $100,000, so if for some reason you need to provide more than that, you can split up the funds between the brokerages (half to the listing brokerage, half to the brokerage representing you as the Buyer) or have your deposit held in trust by your lawyer.

27. Scheduling too many showings in one day.

Looking at homes is fun – but if you see more than 6-8 in a day, you’ll be exhausted and probably forget what you saw.

28. Buying the most expensive home on the street and not understanding the ramifications of that.

The cheapest home on the street is more valuable because of its neighbours, and unfortunately, the most expensive home’s value is brought down by its neighbours too.

29. For condo Buyers: not understanding the rules.

Just because you own it, doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want.

Related: Click here to read 14 Misconceptions About Condos.

30. Driving your own car while house hunting with your REALTOR.

There’s so much you can learn about the buying process from your agent while you’re navigating traffic and parking.

31. Not reading what you’re signing and understanding the legal paperwork.

When you buy a house, there’s a TON of paperwork to sign.

Related: Read what all that Real Estate Paperwork means.

32. Thinking you don’t need an agent to represent you.

Sure, you can find homes online yourself and visit open houses, but there’s a lot more to a REALTOR’s job than that.

33. Not going into the scary unfinished basement.

Your REALTOR will help with scary basements, but it’s important that you explore the whole house, not just the sexy kitchen. Look for evidence of pests, water problems and take a peek at the electrical panel.

34. Not asking about the neighbours.

Always ask about the neighbours.

35. Not wanting to commit to one agent by signing a Buyer’s Representation Agreement.

Having an agent commit to working for you has many advantages, not the least of which is having somebody represent your interests at no cost to you (the Seller pays the Buyer’s agent).

Related: Read about the Buyer’s Agent’s role here.

36. Not budgeting for all the repairs you’ll inevitably have to make as a homeowner.

You’ll be surprised by all the little and big stuff that you’ll be responsible for as a Buyer. Budget, budget and then budget some more.

37. Not informing yourself about the unsexy stuff.

Ask about the age of the roof, the kind of electrical wiring, how old the drains are, whether or not there’s Kitec plumbing, etc. Work with an agent who asks all the questions and reports back to you.

38. Not talking to a home insurance broker in advance of buying.

Your mortgage will be conditional on getting home insurance, so make sure there aren’t any issues with the home (or with your insurance history) that it make it uninsurable.

39. Not having serious conversations with your spouse before embarking on the house-hunting adventure.

Does either of you have a dark secret in your credit history? Are you planning on having kids? How far are you comfortable commuting to work?

Related: Click here for more tips on buying a home with your spouse.

40. Thinking the daily listings email that your agent sends you is the only option to get listings.

All Toronto agents have access to Collab, a system that mirrors the REALTORS’ MLS. Collab allows you to set up multiple searches, communicate within the system with your agent about the homes you love and get instant notifications of new listings. Your agent doesn’t use Collab? Get a new agent.

41. Expecting showings to be scheduled in the early morning or late at night.

For starters, Sellers aren’t likely to let you in at off-hours, and if they do, they’ll probably only let you in for 15 minutes…not nearly enough to explore what could be your next home.

42. Not exploring the neighbourhood during the day AND at night.

It’s important to get a sense of your new ‘hood at all times of day…not just when the sun is shining, and the kids are playing outside.

43. Buying with the listing agent.

I know, you think the listing agent knows the most about the property (and they usually do). But they’re working for the Seller! Their job is to get the best price and conditions for the Seller, not for you.

Related: Click here to read more about Buying with the Listing Agent.

44. Not recognizing the limitations of buying a tenanted property.

If you’re buying a property that has tenants, make sure the tenants are not in a lease. Landlords can’t evict their tenants during a lease, and if they are ‘month-to-month’ tenants, the Landlord must give 60 days notice (from the 1st of the month) – so plan your closing date accordingly.

Related: You can read more about Buying a Tenanted Property here.

45. Believing the asking price is the real price.

Depending on what’s happening in the market when you buy, the asking price might have been set arbitrarily low to generate a bidding war, or it might be high with an intention to negotiate. Either way, your REALTOR can help you understand the real value of the home.

46. Using and thinking you see ALL the homes for sale.

Truth: there’s a delay in listings getting published to, and many homes are sold before they ever get posted there. Have a REALTOR set you up to receive listings. Don’t know a REALTOR that you trust? Get in touch, and we’ll set you up.

47. Not walking around the outside of the house.

Look for cracks in the bricks and evidence of water penetration. Go into the garage. Check out the fence. Take the time to walk through the whole yard; don’t just peek out from the window.

48. Buying a home during the first three months of a new job.

Banks hate probationary periods, and most won’t give a mortgage to someone who has just started a new job (and they get even pickier if you’ve just made a change of career). Your lender wants to know you’ll be able to pay that $600,000 mortgage and having a stable work history will be important to them.

49. Not getting a termite inspection if you’re buying in a termite-ridden area (which is much of Toronto).

Don’t want to get a termite inspection? Then be prepared to pay for treatment and termite insurance.

50. Getting emotional and trying to win a bidding war at all costs.

Sure, bidding wars are competitive, and you need to be in it to win it, but make sure you have a good sense of the real value of the home and your ability to pay for it. Your agent should be providing you with a detailed analysis of the value of any home you’re offering on, in writing.

51. Leaving your deposit in an RSP or virtual bank.

When you find your dream home, you’ll need to deliver the deposit via certified cheque within 24 hours (and often with the offer, if you’re in a bidding war). Make sure you have access to your deposit money instantly (or have a back-up plan with a credit line or the Bank of Mom and Dad).

52. Not going in with your strongest offer in a bidding war.

When you’re in a bidding war, you don’t always get a chance to improve your offer, so if you’re prepared to pay $910,000 for that house, bid $910,000. A $900,000 first offer might mean you lose the house.

53. Amortizing your mortgage over too long a period.

Sure, that’ll help with monthly affordability, but you may be paying tens of thousands more in interest cost than you need to. Talk to your lender and make a plan to pay off your mortgage as fast as you can.

54. Not comparing mortgage interest rates and terms.

Sure, you love your bank…but you might save thousands of dollars a year by getting a mortgage at a competing bank. Do your homework, and remember that interest rate isn’t the only important thing…the terms and conditions are important too. Can you port your mortgage if you sell and buy something else? What kind of pre-payment options and penalties come with that mortgage?

55. Trying to time the market.

Decide to buy when the timing is right for you. Nobody really knows what the real estate market will do (though obviously, it’s a good idea to watch for trends and signs).

56. Not properly budgeting moving costs.

Boxes, moving supplies, renting a moving truck (or movers), paying for the setup of utilities – they all add up.

57. Forgetting to involve ALL the stakeholders in the house-hunting process.

If Mom & Dad are lending you the downpayment and want to see your dream home before you buy it, make sure to have open and honest conversations about what you want to buy before you find it. It’s never fun to be in love and have Mom & Dad kill your dream because they don’t want you in a particular neighbourhood or style of home.

58. Talking too much at an open house.

Remember: the agent at the open house represents the Seller, so anything you say to them will be reported back to the Seller. Don’t talk about how much you love the house, why you’re moving or how much you’d be willing to pay.

59. Refusing to pay the asking price, on principle.

Sure, it’s fun to negotiate – but the house might be accurately priced or even priced low, in an attempt to generate a bidding war. Don’t base your offer strategy on principle, base it on fact.

60. Not trusting your REALTOR.

OK, this one is only true if you’ve hired an awesome agent who doesn’t BS you, but if you’ve asked all the right questions and hired based on experience, skills and knowledge, trust your agent. They’ll guide you towards picking the right home in the right neighbourhood and paying the right amount. If it feels like you need to lie to your agent because you don’t think they have your best interests at heart, find another agent.

61. Not testing all the appliances and mechanics on the day of close.

Run a load through the dishwasher, wash and dry some clothes. Test the furnace and the A/C. Your offer likely required that everything be in working condition on the day of close – but if you don’t discover the furnace doesn’t work until Day 7, the assumption will be that it broke while you owned it. Test, test and test some more. Find something that doesn’t work on closing day? Document it and talk to your lawyer right away.

62. Putting on the brakes at the very end of a bidding war.

Sometimes, amid a bidding war, you’ll be asked to ‘improve your offer’. You won’t know the details of the other offers you’re competing with or how your offer ranks. If you’ve already maxed out your budget, then obviously, you can’t improve. But this is the final 100 metres of the race – if you have the money and the home is worth it to you, improve your offer. There’s nothing worse than losing a bidding war on a million-dollar property by a few hundred or thousand dollars. (and yes, I do realize that earlier in this post, I told you to go in with your strongest offer, and now I’m saying you may need to improve it. It’s not fun to be a Buyer in a hot market).

63. Buying a new car or getting a new credit card right before closing.

Remember: your bank agreed to lend you money on the circumstances that were true when they approved you. Taking on new debt or otherwise changing your financial situation will change how much they will lend you and may put your closing in jeopardy.

64. Following the crowd.

Buyers all seem to search for houses at the same time of the year, which means it can get really competitive…and then Buyers all seem to ‘take a break’ at the same time. That’s when you want to go hard and fast with your search, during those weeks and months when your competitors are taking a break. A good agent can help you identify the times of opportunity.

65. Not being aggressive enough in a hot market.

If you’ve fallen in love with a home that’s set up for a bidding war (meaning it’s priced low and has an ‘offer date’) – consider a bully offer. A bully offer happens when you bid aggressively in advance of the offer date and give the Seller a very short period to decide.

Related: You can read more about Bully Offers here.

66. Making a bully offer that won’t impress the Sellers.

If you’re asking the Sellers to circumvent their offer date and marketing plan, you’ll need to impress the heck out of them. That means offering a BIG number and having no conditions. Yes, that might mean you ‘overpay’ for the home – but it will increase your odds of getting it. A Seller will only accept a bully offer if they think it’s for more money than they’ll get on offer night. Give it all you’ve got.

67. Overlooking the ugly house.

Sometimes, ugly houses get overlooked, and they might be a prime opportunity for you to get into a neighbourhood you otherwise might not afford.

68. Not being strategic with your property search and negotiation.

The agent you hire to represent you can make a HUGE difference in the home you buy and how much you end up paying. Choose a strategist. Hint: choose BREL.

69. Thinking it’s easy to underpin or finish the basement.

Of course, people in Toronto finish basements all the time, but it’s probably a much bigger endeavour than you realize. It can easily cost $50K, $100K or more to convert your basement into a liveable space.

70. Not firing your agent if things aren’t working out.

Sometimes, you hire the wrong agent. Maybe they don’t communicate, or they’re terrible at follow-up and follow-through, or they don’t listen. Maybe they aren’t familiar with the type of home you want to buy or the neighbourhood you want to buy it in. If they aren’t adding value, it might be time to move on.

71. Trying to save money by hiring a cheap real estate lawyer.

Think of your lawyer as insurance – if things go sideways, you’ll want the best representing you. Saving $300 and having mediocre representation on the biggest financial transaction of your life is a risky gamble.

Related: Click here to read about what your real estate lawyer’s job is.

72. Buying a house when you should really buy a condo or townhouse.

Sure, the temptation of having your very own garden and hosting backyard parties is high, but not everyone should own a house. If you aren’t excited about the idea of maintaining a century home with all its quirks, and you don’t have the financial flexibility to deal with surprise flooded basements and busted drains, consider a condo or townhouse. The lifestyle and financial trade-offs might be worth it.

73. Thinking what you see on HGTV is real.

You know how HGTV Buyers look at three homes and pick one? It doesn’t work that way in the real world. In our experience, the average Buyer looks at 15 homes – and often, many many more. Truth bomb: most HGTV shows are staged, and the Buyer has already purchased a home before filming begins (and likely after many, many showings). And those reno-to-flip costs? Never include labour & expertise.

74. Be honest: do you really have what it takes to renovate?

Renovations take time, patience and a flexible budget. I know I’d love to be a renovator…but I don’t handle missed deadlines and endless people in my house well. Talk to your agent and friends who’ve renovated to understand what it’s involved, before you buy a renovator special.

75. Deciding to move to the suburbs without taking everything into account.

Consider commuting time and expenses, affordability and lifestyle.

Related: Read more about Moving to the ‘Burbs here

76. Not taking notes while you’re house hunting.

Trust me: you’ll forget a lot of details by the end of a day of showings. Take notes on your phone about anything that’s important to you.

77. Not taking advantage of government programs for first-time Buyers.

From tax credits to reduced land transfer taxes to the First time Buyer Incentive Program and the Home Buyer RSP Plan, get informed.

78. Thinking it’s more financially viable to buy a house instead of a condo because you won’t have to pay condo fees.

Trust me, it’s more expensive to own a house than a condo.

79. Not using all your five senses when house hunting.

Don’t just use your eyes – use your nose, your ears and your sense of touch too. Do you smell a musty bathroom? Hear the trains? Feel dampness on the basement walls? Pro tip: don’t use your sense of taste on a showing.

80. Not realizing what it means to buy an ‘as is’ home.

As-is homes are sold in the condition they are in, without any warranties or representations. Tread carefully.

Related: You can read more about the as-is home here.

81. Underestimating the cost of renovations.

If you’re buying a home that needs some love, be VERY generous with your budgets. Renovations often cost twice as much and take three times as long as planned.

82. Expecting the Seller to make all the disclosures they need to make.

Yes, they are legally required to disclose certain things, but always do your own due diligence, with the help of your agent and a home inspector. Does the house have knob and tube electrical wiring? Is there Kitec plumbing in the condo? Were renovations done with permits?

83. Buying a house with a basement apartment and not understanding the legalities surrounding that.

Truth: most basement apartments aren’t legal in Toronto. There are zoning requirements, fire code and electrical requirements.

Related: You can read more about Basement Apartments here.

84. Not realizing you need to provide your downpayment to your lawyer a few days before closing.

You’ll need to meet with your lawyer before the closing day to sign all the final paperwork. You’ll also need to provide them with a big fat cheque to pay for your new home. That cheque will equal the purchase price, less your deposit, less the amount of your mortgage plus closing costs.

85. Thinking your deposit and downpayment are the same thing.

The deposit is paid within 24 hours of your offer being accepted (and is usually equal to 5% of the purchase price in Toronto). Your downpayment is the total amount of cash you are putting into the home (purchase price less mortgage). If you’re putting 5% down, then your deposit and downpayment are the same. But otherwise, your deposit just forms part of your downpayment.

86. Not being ready for second-guessing and buyer’s remorse.

Buying a home is a huge decision so expect it to be emotional. It won’t feel the same when the staging is gone and it’ll feel smaller when you get possession, and it’s empty.

87. Not checking the home for liveability.

Check the height of the ceilings in the basement and the overhead space on the stairs. Check the size of the tub and shower and if your beds will fit into the bedrooms. Take your eyes off those gorgeous granite cupboards and check how much storage there really is.

88. Not upgrading enough during a move-up.

If you currently own your home and are looking to make a move up, make sure you make a big enough move up, so you don’t find yourself in this same situation in 2 years. If you’re looking for more space, aim for more than you think you need right now, not just an extra 100 square feet. Lateral moves are expensive.

89. Borrowing all the money the bank is willing to give you.

While your lender uses standard qualifying ratios to determine how much mortgage you can afford, they aren’t taking into account the rest of your life. Do you love to travel? Have an expensive hobby? Make a personal budget at the same time as a house budget. Nobody wants to work just to pay the mortgage.

90. Buying before selling if you’re counting on getting a high price for your home.

The buy vs sell first decision is always hard to make, and there isn’t one right answer. Weigh the pros and cons with your REALTOR before making any moves.

Related: Read more about what you should consider in the buy first vs sell first decision here.

91. Be brutally honest with yourself about how you live.

It’s easy to fantasize about living a whole new way in your new home, but people are people, and we rarely change. If you live a cluttered, messy life – don’t buy an open concept home. If your family currently hangs out in the kitchen most of the time, make sure your new kitchen allows for that. If you don’t go to the gym, don’t pay extra for a condo with a huge gym that you’ll really never use.

92. If you’re downsizing, pay close attention to the stairs.

If you’re looking to downsize and make a long-term move, consider the stairs. Nobody’s knees and hips improve with age, and your new smaller home might not work for you down in 5 years if the only bathroom is up a set of stairs.

93. Not removing the blue film on your new appliances.

We see this all the time in condos – trust me, those appliances aren’t really blue. Remove the protective film that was placed there for transportation.

94. Not anticipating how your life might change.

Give some serious thought to how your lifestyle might change before you sign on the dotted line. Looking to start a family and twins run in your family? Aim for a three-bedroom instead of a two-bedroom home. Are things getting serious with your girlfriend? Involve her in the house hunting if you think you might move into together. Are the kids in middle school? Get a finished basement so they’ve got somewhere to hang with their friends through the teen years.

95. If you’re buying a house that’s been renovated and flipped, look very carefully.

Sometimes, flippers cut corners in order to make a bigger profit. Are the appliances, furnace and A/C new? Did they waterproof before refinishing the basement?

Related: Click here to read more about buying a flipped property.

96. Forgetting to ask to see the utility bills.

While your agent should do this for you, it’s important to know how much the current owner has been paying for heat and hydro.

97. Not realizing that strategy is an important part of winning the bidding war, it’s not just price.

Dealing with financing and the home inspection in advance of the offer, having a positive relationship with the listing agent and having your deposit ready on offer night are all part of winning.

Related: Click here to read more about winning a bidding war.

98. Falling in love and not looking to balance your opinion.

What’s not great about this house or condo? What’s not perfect about the neighbourhood? Will not having A/C drive you crazy in July? You’ll never find the perfect house, but make sure to look for the good AND the bad.

99. Not hiring Andrew Pisani Realty to help you buy your next home.

We’re a team of experienced and passionate agents, and we can help you avoid all these mistakes and more. Text 416-882-9304 to get started or send us an email.

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