Thursday, 22 October 2015

Things Sellers Say

There are those out there who believe that selling your home is easy. All you have to do is dump your property on the MLS, and it will sell itself at the best price.  I think these people are nuts or lucky like a lottery, but I am a real estate salesperson who would be very biased on the value of my services. So, let me put my experience aside and offer some insights from actual sellers who have sold their homes.  Below are tips and advice from real people who were my clients and who have sold a property. I thought it would be interesting to check in with recent clients from a few months ago as well as clients from years ago to get an idea of what they think of their selling process, what worked best for them, what needed more attention, and, most importantly, what advice they could offer to sellers who are planning to sell in the future.

I have asked five basic questions. Sometimes I have had similar responses. Other times the responses varied widely.  I believe I have targeted a good cross-section of sellers. They consist of house owners, condo owners, first-time sellers, last-time sellers, empty nesters, singles, new parents, workaholics, nine-to-fivers, entrepreneurs, hipsters, and button down folks.

I did not included every response I received, but I thought I would feature some of the more interesting and/or recurrent ones for each of my five questions. Please note that many respondents wrote some nice compliments of me in their responses. I did not include them all, but I did include a few. I like to think I receive these endorsements because I did a good job, but I will also acknowledge that clients who are willing to respond to a small survey are usually ones the happiest of your clients.

So, without further ado, here are the responses from a collection of some of my sellers from not-too-long ago. Thanks sellers for your participation!


"Our second child.  Lukas decided to arrive 2 weeks early, right in the middle of trying to get the house into sellable shape was the biggest challenge for sure!"

"Time it took to sort through everything and purge in order to make the house presentable. Moving all the excess stuff out. Finding somewhere to stay during the week it was on the market. Conversations about what amount to list it at."

"The most challenging part was making sure our condo was clean, uncluttered and looking amazing every time we left. This includes when you are heading to work in a rush in the morning! You just never know when someone will book a viewing. So, you have to be ready."

"As it was a shared office space, one of the biggest challenges was in confirming when all of us were prepared to move, and sorting out the furniture and other items between us."

"We had a tight timeline - we wanted to get our place ready and put on the market in 5 weeks.  David prepared a schedule down to every fine detail - home tidying and decluttering, professional cleaning, home staging, photography and marketing- and somehow he  managed to keep us on track.  Also, there were quite a bit of legal and financial preparations involved which we knew very little about.  David taught us everything, and when an offer came in, we were ready to accept."


"It was having an agent we both liked and could trust.  We didn't realize how important this was until things got really busy.  You spend a lot of time with your realtor (planning, organizing, coordinating, managing schedules) and it is so important that you all get along and can communicate openly.  We juggled everything and learned a lot."

"The best part was getting $40,000 over asking!"

"It sold quickly!"

 "It was fairly easy, I thought. And thus, a good experience."

"The service from David - he gave us great confidence and managed everything that came up calmly and efficiently. The stager of our house made everything work very efficiently."


"The staging and then the resulting professional photos allowed our MLS listing to shine."

"It was an advantage to work with a real estate agent who was familiar with the building and its sales, and who had existing contacts whom he knew were looking for a unit in that building."

"Given the cookie-cutter nature of condos in the building, I think that it was more the marketing of the building rather than the marketing of the unit that was important."

"Definitely the staging.  Our home showed beautifully after the make-over and it attracted a lot of walk-ins to our open house."

"The video! And the neighbourhood flyers."


"Get in touch with a realtor early.  When putting a house on the market, timing is one of the most important things.  Creating a strategy and a realistic timeline with your realtor will relieve a lot of the anxiety and stress."

"I would tell myself not to be so nervous!"


"I'd start preparing the house a lot earlier, at least 6 months before selling if possible."


"Trust your realtor. If he or she says to declutter, to take down personal photos, get a new bedspread, do it! As much as buyers say they can see past how an owner has designed or decorated their place, it is tough to do. Making your property appeal to a wide base and look great is very important."

"Find the right person to help you. We did our homework and researched a number of top realtors in Toronto. it was hard to decide based on reviews along. So, we decided to meet with our top picks. David's approach to his work, his ideas and insights, and his years of experience and knowledge put his immediately at ease and we knew he was the right one for the job."

"Check to ensure that the agent you engage has experience with sales in the area that you are selling in.  I went online and looked at which real estate agents had recently sold the properties in the building I was in. I believe that I benefitted from the experience and knowledge of the agent that I used (It was someone David had known that was looking in the building who bought my condo)."

"Start preparing the house as early as possible. Stage it and use an agent you trust."

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Deteriorating Affordability in Toronto: What to Do

The figures are out again, and one more time Toronto real estate  receives a gold star in September with houses selling over 10% higher from September 2014 to September 2015. This kind of news used to be incredibly exciting for me as a first time buyer over ten years ago. I would pull out my calculator and guesstimate just how much my current home, at the time, may have appreciated. But after getting that gold star year after year, you come to expect it, even though you know it can't last forever.

And despite all the condo crash talk of the past few years, they are also on the rise in most condo buildings. Condos are performing better than they have in years. Steady and healthy at the moment - rarely two words assigned to condos since 2010.

For sellers or those who have purchased over a year or more ago, you can breath easy. Buying is even tougher now if you're still looking.

For first time buyer or for those who are keen to buy another property, it may feel like your pace of saving cannot match the rise in prices, especially if you want the very coveted detached house, the golden standard of a dream home in this city. It may feel downright depressing to know your friend who bought three years ago lives in a neighbourhood that you could not afford to buy in now.

This whole thing really does lead to two possibilities:

1. There is a new reality in this city. We are on the cusp of affordablility for housing being completely out of reach for many first time buyers or those without a serious familial investor on their side. The new reality is that houses in the city will be for the wealthier or the second time buyer. First time buyers will be sent to the surburbs or will need to start in a condo. There is something very true about this scenario. There is a shortage of houses in this city, and the city is growing. It's an unavoidable reality.

2. There is a real estate bubble in Toronto. If this is the case, I suspect it is largely because of interest rates. Once they move, that may cool down prices. For me, however, this does not change the fact that there is an increasing demand to live in the city and the city is growing without the proper transit system to move people. So, even if there is a correction, we will return to this same situation where houses are not being built any longer, traffic is lousy, and commuter trains could be a whole lot better set up and intergrated throughout the region with more frequent GO trains that extend further out.

So, if you are planning on buying in the next few years, what would be the best approach? Here are 5 options:

 1. Wait. If you think the market is sure to correct, then wait. You may have prices come down, and you can buy when the market bottoms out before heading back up. Of course, you do run the risk of waiting and watching prices rise even more. There are many people who have been waiting five or even ten years for a price correction, and now they have been seriously left behind.

2. Buy A Condo - Condo prices have not been on a tear the same way houses have. They are affordable, and usually have predictable costs ahead of them. Condos, to a large extent, are the majority housing option in most big cities. Density and condos go hand in hand.

3. Get Out of Toronto - I don't think you should go just anywhere. Not all areas connected to Toronto by the GO Train are the same. I still believe Hamilton is Toronto-like without the same house prices. Yes, it's a long commute, but it's cheap right now. Some areas are sketchy for sure, but things are changing quickly. Did I say cheap?

4. Get Creative - I had clients recently purchase a bike shop. No they are not bike enthusiasts, but with a little renovation, they were able to change a bike shop into a four bedroom home for them and their three kids. It looks amazing. The main floor is enormous. Yes, you will need a renovation budget, but sometimes these storefront with apartment upstairs could be had for less than the houses in a given area. Compared to the houses of the area, I would estimate they paid around $200K less than an equivalent 4 bedroom house.

5. Stay A Step Ahead of the Next Emerging Neighbourhood - There are still emerging neighbourhoods in Toronto where first time buyers could by a house or a larger condo. They are not as close to downtown as the used to be, but they exist. Think neighbourhoods along the new Eglinton Crossway. Great place for appreciation. In the east, consider homes near Danforth and Vic Park or even parts of Scarborough.

The reality is that we are currently moving toward deteriorating affordability in this city. It won't always be this way, but we are also a different city than we used to be ten years ago. Neighbourhoods that were considered fringe then like Leslieville, the Junction and Mimico are rarely the terrain of first time buyers any longer. This won't change. Once neighbourhoods have all you need in walking distance, it's very unlikely they will become cheap again in your lifetime.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Last Time Sellers: The Planned and the Unplanned

First time buyers get the lion's share of media attention. Not terribly surprising as our culture does tend to obsess over the young and what they'll do next, and a great number of first time buyers are young or at least 10-15 years away from retiring. The term first time buyers comes off as a bit exciting. They're getting on the train. They have a full life ahead of them. They're growing and saving for the future. What will they do next?

Today's blog, however, is all about the last time seller, a person who's  deciding to get off this property train. Perhaps this may not be where you are just yet. In fact, it may not even be crossing your mind, but it will. If not for you, then maybe a parent or a grandparent whose property you will have some stake in.

Often last time sellers have owned a property for a long time instead of changing it up every five to ten years. They are likely retired or retiring or can no longer take care of their current property. I find many Torontonians over 70 have owned their house for their entire lives. They have not moved around as much as the under 70 crowd. When last time sellers bought a home, they grew roots there. It was not just an investment. In general, this generation is a trustworthy and loyal bunch as long as they feel respected.

Like first time buyers, there is a certain way to handle this last transaction to benefit you or your parents the most. In my real estate experience, and my own personal experience, last time sellers fall into two categories. The planned and the unplanned.

The unplanned do not look at the future as something to be organized, but it is something that will happen to them. However, this can be a stressful approach when a crisis hits and there is no game plan. Some last time buyers can no longer take care of their home and their health requires that they move. Even then, I often hear: "The only way I'm leaving this house is if I'm carried out in a box."  If something happens where an owner can no longer manage their lives on the property, then families are left scrambling to find appropriate housing and trying to figure out what to do with the family house.

Then there are those who decide to be last time sellers, the planned last time sellers. Some decide to get out of the market and enjoy the money they have built up in the equity of their home. They often rent instead of owning, freeing up their money for cruises, their kids, their debts, their enhanced lifestyle, their rental unit,  Shady Pines or whatever they like. It's their money.  The difference is that the fist unplanned group waits for a crisis to occur before making the move. The second prepares for the sale accordingly. It would not be hard to figure out that the planned group does much better than the unplanned group financially when it comes to the sale of their homes.

In some ways, last time sellers are like first time buyers.  Ideally, you want to enter the market at a low point and sell at a high point. Of course, life doesn't happen that way. You can't wait around for twenty years for a correction to occur. As always, it's very tricky to predict the top.

The big difference between first time buyers and last time buyers - first time buyers can wait it out. So, let's say a first time buyer bought his or her first property in 1989 at $500,000 in Toronto's Cabbagetown neighbourhood.  Because that was the height of the market, the first time buyer would have lost money if he or she tried to sell it in say 1995 where values where much lower. By around 2001, the prices have come back to 1989 levels. By 2015, they would have surpassed those 1989 selling prices significantly. So, if the first time buyer, even in the unluckiest 1989 market, does have time on their side. This past example is the most extreme one of the past fifty years, but it does make the point that waiting will bring the prices back. Even if the market corrects, most first time buyers, if they hold their property long enough, will experience a strong real estate market again, hopefully sooner rather than later.

Now last time buyers don't often have time on their side as much. If you are near the retirement age or are planning on using the value of your home to fund your retirement, you have a tough decision to make. You may not want to wait around for twenty years if their is a market correction. You will want top dollar for your property now or at least soon. You don't want to sell too soon. You may miss out on a lot of appreciation, but you don't want to wait too long so that you will have to accept your property value at less if there is a change in the market.

I'm not going to offer timing advice here. The timing has to be right for you . Make sure it's the right time for you or your parent on a personal level first. If you are tired of shovelling and cutting grass or all your friends or your Mom's friend have moved into the retirement community down the street, then it may be time.

For last time sellers, I would make the following suggestions though:

1. Staging Matters. When it comes time to sell you home or condo, or your parent's property, know your buying demographic. You may have to appeal to them for top price.

2. Have a Clear Will - Make sure you have every thing in writing in a will. Know who will look after your affairs if you our your parent cannot.

3. Kids - If you are helping your parents move to the next step or if you have kids of your own, lean on them. They owe you! You have supported them your entire life. They can help you organize and prepare your home along with your agent.

4. Know where you are going. Make sure the next place is the right fit for you or your parent, whether you are renting an apartment down the street, moving to an assisted living organization or sailing off in a yacht around the world. Make sure you put the time into research and testing.

5. The Long Good-Bye - For some people it can too tough to leave a place they have been a long time. Some people have built a lot of memories in their home whether it's a parent you're helping or it's you. I say let yourself be sad. Mourn the loss of your condo or house, but allow yourself to be a little excited about the next chapter. I find with a fresh start and an easier and pared back lifestyle, many last time sellers have the freedom to do more and be more social.  With that said, you have to be ruthless with all of the stuff that has accumulated over decades. Chances are, you won't be using 90% of it again. Know what's important and know that you will never use that fondue set again from 1983, even though it still works.