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Buying a house sight unseen | REM

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Some people will only buy a house if they get to walk through it several times. But there are other purchasers who will buy a house sight unseen. It’s not unusual, and it’s not new.

Broker Jerry Hammond of Hammond International Properties in North York, Ont., says his experience with people who buy sight unseen started in the early 1990s with foreign buyers.




Jerry Hammond
Jerry Hammond

In some cases, not only are the houses unseen, so are the clients. A large percentage of Asian buyers buy this way, he says.

“Some buyers want to be discreet. They will have a family member or a representative visit the home and will buy it without seeing it for themselves.”

The purchase may be made by power of attorney, or someone else may buy on behalf of the buyer, sign the agreement and transfer the title later to an Ontario company, another person’s name or a holding company, says Hammond, who does about 10 sight unseen deals a year. However, they’re only sight unseen from the standpoint of a personal visit. Hammond says his clients receive quality visuals, including floor plans, movies, descriptions, professional photographs, booklets of features and information about amenities, from shopping to schools.

“Pictures speak a thousand words,” says real estate agent Sam McDadi of Sam McDadi Real Estate in Mississauga, Ont., who uses lifestyle videos.

Whether the property is $400,000 or $4 million, real estate agent Eileen Lasswell of Chestnut Park Real Estate in Toronto has quality materials ready to send out at a moment’s notice.

The agents also agree that it’s important to have a local trusted family member or representative view the property in person. It’s not unusual for these people to use video conferencing while they tour the property. That way the representative can translate, and if the potential buyer has questions, they can be answered on the spot, Hammond says.

Eileen Lasswell
Eileen Lasswell

Having a trusted friend or family member look at the house also helps because even though the potential buyer may like the way a house looks, they may not be familiar with the area and street. “It gave my client some comfort that a local friend he relied on and trusted looked at the property first,” McDadi says.

But it’s not just foreign buyers who buy without seeing a home in person, says Lasswell, adding that people who buy sight unseen make up about 10 per cent of her business.

Buyers may be away on vacation, one of the principal decision makers may be away on business or parents may decide to buy a condo instead of paying rent for the four to six years their child would attend school. “They’re not going to fly in to see a condo,” Lasswell says. “There are many reasons people buy sight unseen.”

That’s why it’s always paramount to have quality marketing materials at the ready.

Sam McDadi
Sam McDadi

Buying sight unseen happens in all price points. “On smaller investment properties of $500,000 to $700,000, it’s not as unusual for people to buy sight unseen as long as numbers align,” McDadi says. “Whether they’re local or buyers from abroad, they look for a certain return. When we give them the thumbs up on capital appreciation, whether houses or condos for investment purposes, they are more willing to buy sight unseen.”

But buyers also purchase multi-million-dollar properties. Whatever the price point, having a trusted agent is key. Buyers want to know how you do business, McDadi says. “Do you run a good ship? Do you have a good reputation?”

Being prepared goes without saying. Lasswell says she knew her client, who regularly travels around the world on business, likely wouldn’t be in town when something suitable came on the market. “I hired a driver, so I could spend quality time with the client. We saw 10 or 15 properties in one day. I summarized everything, pros and cons, in a Google document.”

She ranked each property out of 10 and asked the clients to do the same.  “That reveals what the client really wants,” she says. “It took effort on his part too. It’s a two-way street. He made an offer on a property he’s never seen only because we did the homework.”

For those faced with a sight unseen situation for the first time, here are some points to keep in mind:

  • You still have to ask the same questions. Ask the person communicating on behalf of the buyer about the budget, whether financing will be required or if they will need further connections, such as lawyers or financing options. With interest rates so low, most buyers take advantage of financing, Hammond says.
  • “Schools are a big driver for many purchasers,” Hammond says. Have information about schools, especially private institutions, on hand.
  • Don’t be afraid to turn clients away, Lasswell says, if you don’t have expertise in the area they want to buy in. “Refer them to someone who knows the area.”
  • Even if the offer is condition free, it’s important to get a sizable deposit, McDadi says. A 10-per-cent deposit means the buyer will have “good skin in the game.” With longer closing dates, get bigger deposits because more things can go wrong.
  • Go above and beyond. Be honest about the negatives. You don’t want the buyer to be surprised that the property is bigger or smaller than they thought. Lasswell also suggests taking aerial pictures to show what could be coming up in terms of development beside the condo they want to buy.
  • Make sure you put everything in writing, so the buyers can review everything later. When looking at a property, they may be emotional and only see the positives. Listing the pros and cons takes the emotion out of the situation, Lasswell says.
  • If you’re representing the seller, let them know that the buyer who has put in an offer hasn’t seen the property in person. Disclose everything on both sides, Lasswell says.
  • Be prepared for a time lag when arranging financing or transferring money into the country, Hammond says.
  • Don’t be reluctant. Buying sight unseen does happen. “We live in a city that’s thriving and that has lots of immigration. Embrace it. It’s another way to do business. And you never know what it will lead to down the road because you never know who the buyers are,” Hammond says.

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Window repair or replacement is the responsibility of the condo corporation

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If the windows in your condo are hazy, drafty, or have rotting frames, it’s an indicator that they need repairs or outright replacement.

However, under the Condominium Act, it is the responsibility of the condo’s board to carry out such changes as a replaced window is a common element.

“Under the Condominium Act, a declaration may alter the maintenance or repair obligations of unit owners and the corporation but cannot make unit owners responsible for repairs to the common elements,” said Gerry Hyman is a former president of the Canadian Condominium Institute and contributor for the Star.

“A declaration for a high-rise condominium invariably provides that the unit boundary is the interior surface of windows. That means that the entire window — whether it is a single pane or a double pane — is a common element. Necessary repairs or replacement of a broken pane is the obligation of the corporation.”

According to Consumer Reports, selecting an installing windows replacement can be very overwhelming for homeowners. Therefore, if you aren’t covered by your condo’s corporation, it would be necessary to hire professional hands.

Wood, vinyl and composite windows need to be tested on how they can withstand various natural elements. For wind resistance, a window can be very tight when it’s warm but get quite cold too—especially when it begins to leak a lot.

Whatever the case may be, the bottom line remains that replacement windows can save you heating and cooling costs, but it’s best not to expect drastic savings.

Additionally, while getting a new window might help you save on your electric and gas bills, due to their expensive cost, it may take a long time to offset their cost.

Mid-last-year, the government withdraw a $377 million Green Ontario program that provided subsidy on windows to installers and repairers. Window companies had to install energy-efficient windows in order to qualify for the government subsidy that pays for up to $500 of a $1,000 to $1,500 window.

Due to the largely generous subsidies from the government under the Green Ontario program, a lot of window dealers were fully booked for months—even after the program had ended.

“We’re fine with the program ending, we just need more time to satisfy consumers,” said Jason Neal, the executive director of the Siding and Window Dealer Association of Canada, the industry group representing window dealers in a report.

According to Neal, the Progressive Conservatives acted hastily, making massive changes with no prior notice.

“No notification was given to us by anyone,” he said, noting he learned about the change through one of his dealers.

“It’s created a ripple effect.If they had just given us notice we would have pushed that down the line from the manufacturer right into the dealer right down to the consumer.”

Neal noted that he wasn’t particularly sad to see the Green Ontario program end, as it was “the worst rebate program in the history of the window industry.”

“It’s been horrible,” he said. “$500 a window has created such hysteria.”

However, despite the program ending about a year ago, numerous homeowners have been contacting window dealers consistently with concerns that they might not be able to afford replacement windows without the government’s subsidy.

“I understand their concern,” said window dealer Chris George. “I would suggest they reach out to their local representative of the government in their riding and let them know about their concerns.”

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7 Vancouver Real Estate Buying Tips

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The real estate market in Vancouver is turning around for good for everyone looking to purchase a home.

Previously soaring prices are now beginning to ease up, making it a perfect time for buyers—with real estate agents already getting ready for a very busy spring and summer season.

However, before splashing cash on a new property, there are some very important tips you need to know to ensure you make the most of the buyer’s market.

Here are some few expert tips that would guide you when purchasing a home in the sometimes frustration Vancouver seller’s market.

  1. Get adequate financing

It is very important that before you make the move to purchase a property, you put into careful consideration your credit score.

Normally, home buyers with lower scores use the secondary mortgage market to finance their purchase, as they’re more likely to pay a higher interest rate.However, it is advisable to get loan approval long before purchasing the house. This way, you are fully aware of how much you are able to spend—but never be tempted to borrow the maximum amount of money available.

“What’s your mortgage payment that you’re comfortable with? And take into the fact the taxes you’re going to have to pay, if it’s a strata – what the maintenance fees are, if it’s a home what type of maintenance are you going to have to pay in the future?” said Phil Moore, president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver in a report.

Always be careful of the type of loan you secure and ensure that you can comfortably afford it over a long period of time.

  1. Get a real estate agent

Buying a property without professional help is a very risky move and can be likened to choosing to represent yourself in court without a lawyer. While you might trust your negotiation skills, only realtors are permitted to present offers directly.

Therefore, it is necessary to get a professional real estate agent in the area to represent you. So, screen a few agents and select the best one who has in-depth knowledge of the markets and has a great reputation.

“They’re there to protect you. They’re there to walk you through each step of the process,” Moore said.

  1. Sign up for automated alerts

Most—if not all—realtors have access to the Vancouver real estate board’s database which is updated approximately two days before the public MLS website.

Therefore, you can request from your realtor to sign you up for automatic real-time alerts of all new listings. Doing this gives you an edge as you’re among the very first to know about new properties.

  1. Do a thorough inspection

After receiving an alert for a new listing, it is necessary to push almost immediately for an inspection from your realtor. In this current market, buyers now have time to make an inspection.

Making a quick inspection eliminates any surprises—as there could be major maintenance or repair issues that could spring up. Therefore, you can now table your offer based on the outcome of the inspection, with clauses about claiming your damage deposit back if everything isn’t as was advertised.

Additionally, if you notice that renovations were done, you need to be sure that it was permitted work and carried out appropriately. Failing to do this would ultimately lead to further cost down the line and simultaneously affect the resale value.

  1. Have a back-up plan

There’s always the possibility that everything may not go as smoothly as you’d want. From the inspection being a failureto the property not living up to your expectations—or not being able to agree on the closing date that matches with your needs.

However, a professional real estate agent will definitely help you get past all of these things. If you plan on selling the property as you buy, you can table that and make it part of the deal.

“You’ve got an option, especially in a buyer’s market: you can put in an offer subject to selling your place. So maybe you want to have a place lined up,” Moore added.

Additionally, building contingencies into your buying plan is necessary. Things such as unexpected delays in closing the deal, closing cost and moving costs that could result in added living expenses if that’s your permanent home.

  1. Don’t fall for the buyer frenzy

The Vancouver market buying frenzy that caused a serious climb in the prices a couple of years ago has ended. Thus, it is important not to get caught up in bidding wars with properties that have been deliberately under-priced—with the hope of initiating multiple offers.

“Some of the sellers have been on the market for over a year and they’re eager to sell. So what I’m saying to consumers is: you have a lot of choices, you’re in the driver’s seat, let’s go out and take a look at what’s available,” said Moore.

  1. Never be wary of multiple offers

When purchasing a property, don’t be afraid of multiple offers as you have the same opportunity as anybody else.

Typically, there are just a few offers below the asking price: a couple priced fully, and two or three above the asking price—depending on how close the fair market value is from the asking price.

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Do you know what kind of condo you’re buying?

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(NC) Condominiums can come in all shapes and sizes. But it’s important to know that not all condos are created equal when it comes to warranty coverage.

Whether you’re buying a condominium townhouse, loft-style two-bedroom or a high-rise studio, they are all classified as condominiums if you own your unit while at the same time share access (and the associated fees) for facilities ranging from pools and parking garages to elevators and driveways, otherwise known as common elements.

The most common types of condos are standard condominiums and common elements condominiums. The determination of how a condominium project is designated happens during the planning stage when the builder proposes the project and the municipality approves it.

When you’re in the market to buy, you need to know how your chosen condo is classified because it affects the warranty coverage under the Ontario New Home Warranties Plan Act. Standard condominiums have warranty coverage for units and common elements, but common elements condominiums only have unit coverage.

How could this affect you as the owner? If your condo complex has underground parking and, for example, there are problems with leaks or a faulty door, the condo designation will determine whether there’s warranty coverage.

If your unit is a standard condominium development, then the common elements warranty may cover the repairs. If it’s a common element condominium development, then repairs might have to be covered by the condo corporation’s insurance, which could impact your condo fees or require a special assessment on all the owners.

To avoid surprises, you should have a real estate lawyer review the Declaration and Description attached to your purchase agreement to be sure that you know the designation and boundaries of the unit you’re looking to purchase. Find more information on the types of condos and their coverage at tarion.com.

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