Be Sure to Ask Open-Ended Questions During Open Houses in Toronto
Emmett and Hilary are a couple in their early thirties and represent the first wave of the Millennial generation. They purchased their first home together five years ago—a one bedroom plus den condominium in Liberty Village. Both are comfortable in their careers, bring in a substantial income and have discussed starting a family. Although their condo served as an excellent entry point into the real estate market, they know that they would like a house to raise their children in, in a neighbourhood that is close to schools, but not too far from their current area.
On a Sunday afternoon, Emmett and Hilary noticed a few signs for open houses while walking through Little Italy. At this stage, they were not yet working with a Toronto REALTOR, so they decided that this was an excellent opportunity to do some window shopping. The couple were impressed with the facade and staging of the first home but knew that wasn’t what they should base the decision off of entirely. Recalling their first experience buying a condo, and also some tips from friends who had recently purchased houses, they had a few questions they needed answers to before they would even consider moving forward.
If you’re planning on doing some window shopping, here are 7 questions to ask during an open house.
1. Why are the current owners selling?
You may not receive a detailed answer, but you’d like to know if there was something in particular that triggered the desire to move. Some people move because they are upsizing or downsizing, while others move because they’ve switched jobs and needed a home that would make the commute shorter. If the current owner is moving because a new development of urban townhomes is being constructed down the street, you may want to ask yourself if the construction, or new buildings in an otherwise historic neighbourhood would affect your buying decision.
2. What updates were made to the home and when?
Knowing if the home needs a couple of updates, or major renovation is especially important if the home is older. The house may have undergone a presale inspection, which means there is documentation that could verify critical upgrades and the agent could tell you this on the spot. A house might look beautiful, however, if the house was built in the 50’s and still has its original insulation and windows, you may want to tack that onto your list of expenses. Poor insulation and single pane windows could result in very high utility bills. Take into consideration the cost to replace these items, and how it will impact your budget.
3. What’s the seller’s timeline?
The timing of a closing could make or break who the house goes to, especially if your offer is within the same range as your competition. If a seller accepted a new job out of the country and needed to move immediately, this could affect your bid. On the contrary, if the seller wants a longer close because they want their kids to complete their school year, then your chances of winning a bid will increase.
4. Where’s the closest gym and what kind of restaurants are around?
If you’re like most Torontonians, you like convenience. Knowing that there is a handful of great restaurants around and grocery stores are within a stone’s throw, this could be more incentive for you to move to this neighbourhood.
5. How much can I expect to pay for utilities and property taxes?
Additional expenses are factors that may work against your budget. If you’re moving from a condo into a four bedroom detached home, you will be in for a big surprise come winter if you were unaware of the utility costs before purchasing.
6. Can you tell me more about the neighbours?
If you currently have kids, or are like Emmett and Hilary and plan on having some, you would want to know general demographics. Knowing the age range of your neighbours, family status (empty nests, or enough toddlers to make up a preschool), or if the neighbourhood is dog-friendly, makes it easier to picture yourself living there—or not. The neighbourhood might have formerly housed families, but many homes may have been converted into apartments for students and young professionals. If this is the case, you might want to consider an area that has playmates to keep your little ones busy.
7. What extras come with the Home?
Imagine falling in love with a chandelier in the foyer of the home, only to find out they previous owners took it when they moved. When attending an open house, it’s important not to assume that what you see is what you get. Some sellers include many things like window coverings, some appliances, and electrical fixtures. Because houses usually undergo staging for open houses, many of the things you see are for display purposes only. Make sure you verify these details with the agent hosting the open house.
Emmett and Hilary found a beautiful semi-detached home in Dufferin Grove, that was close to schools, playgrounds and some of their favourite restaurants. The seller accepted their offer and the couple was ecstatic to embark on this new chapter in their lives.
Take note: If you are currently working with a real estate agent in Toronto, be sure to notify him or her that you are interested in attending an open house—they may already know about the property and the neighbourhood. Also, depending on your agreement, you don’t want to confer on any rights of the realtor who is showing the property.