Editor’s Blog #1: Diary of a Condo Buyer

I am in a unique position – as well as being the editor and content manager of
Joannah Connolly
November 26, 2014

Real Estate Weekly newspaper and REW.ca, I am also a prospective home buyer.

Having sold a home I owned in London, UK, following my emigration in 2010, I am now looking for a one-plus-den or two-bedroom condo at around $460,000. For the most part I am searching in Vancouver’s West End, where I am currently renting. I am in the very fortunate position of having a substantial down payment from the equity raised on my London apartment. And of course, because of my job, I have great contacts in real estate and associated industries to help me find my dream home. Otherwise, I am subject to the same highs, lows and vagaries of the home-buying process as all our readers.

Here I will chronicle my home search and buying process and share all the lessons I learn along the way. I promise not to hold anything back, although names will be changed for anonymity!

#1: Meeting my Real Estate Agent

OK, I admit that I’ve been scouring West End property listings on REW.ca for many months now, and jumping on the email alerts every time one pings into my inbox. But, knowing that getting the right real estate agent in place before you begin viewings is essential, I reached out to a Real Estate Agent who I’ve been in contact with professionally, as he has always been great to deal with via email and on the phone. I figured that an agent who is smart, professional and easy to work with will be someone who can work well with sellers’ agents to get me the best deal. We’ll call him Bob, for the purposes of this blog. Just in case I need to rant about anything negative in future, I have to keep the names of my team anonymous until the end!

Unfortunately this has meant that I’ve had to make the tough decision not to go with a good friend of mine who became an agent about a year ago. She has been excited about the prospect of condo-hunting with me, and I’d have really enjoyed that too, plus I’d have loved to give her the commission – but this is the most money I’ll ever spend, so I’ve got to make the right choice for me. Mixing business with friendship is rarely a good idea, and you never know how effective someone is going to be. I don’t mind getting frustrated at Bob for failing to close a deal for me, but I don’t want to ever be mad at my friend for any reason. This is a lesson that I don’t want to have to learn in this process: Always pick the right agent for you, not necessarily someone you know, however tempting.

So this week, Bob and I met at an open house, as an exercise in seeing what I like and don’t like in a condo, and to meet each other before going for coffee. I was never going to buy this particular property as I don’t have mortgage pre-approval yet. You have to get that in place first if you’re seriously looking, in case you need to make an offer quickly.

Still, viewing this one-bed-plus-den condo was useful, because although it checked many of my must-have boxes (habitable den or small second bedroom, outside space, characterful building, move-in ready), it showed both me and Bob that there are indefinable qualities I’m looking for, such as a pleasant outlook and interesting layout, which this place fell down on. I also realized that the state, and likely future maintenance costs, of the common areas, elevator and exterior is a huge issue for me. Many West End buildings are older and need rainscreening or replumbing or reroofing, etc. – and I don’t want to be hit with a massive bill in a few years. So the building has to be in great shape, otherwise I’m walking away.

By the time we went for coffee at Delaney’s on Denman Street, Bob had a pretty good sense of my needs, my style and what I was looking for. Still, over a couple of lattes, I explained in detail all my must-haves (as above), plus my nice-to-have-but-not-dealbreakers (fireplace, master or cheater ensuite, walk-in closet, large deck) so that Bob gained a clear picture of which listings will suit me and which will be a waste of both our time.

We left feeling that we’d created a rapport and taken the first step on a long road to come. Bob told me that finding a home takes an average of six months and 15 viewings, so we could be in it for the long haul!

Next up, I need to get my mortgage pre-approved so that I mean business when I go to viewings. I need to do that pretty quickly in case a great property comes on the market soon. But first I have to transfer my down payment from my UK bank to my Canadian account, which means dealing with foreign exchange brokers – a whole other story! I’ll let you know in my next installment, after I’ve met my mortgage broker, about how it all went and what financing decisions I made.

Joannah Connolly
Joannah Connolly is editorial director of Glacier Real Estate, Glacier Media's real estate division. Joannah writes and curates real estate news for Glacier Media's local newspaper websites, including the Vancouver Courier, North Shore News, Burnaby Now, Tri-City News and others. She also oversees editorial content in Real Estate Weekly Homes, West Coast Condo, Western Investor and Glacier's special real estate publications. A dual Canadian-British citizen, Joannah has 22 years of journalism and editing experience in Vancouver and London, with a background in construction, architecture, healthcare and business media. Joannah has appeared on major local TV outlets as a real estate commentator, has moderated and spoken on various industry panels, and spent two years hosting the Real Estate Therapist radio show on Roundhouse Radio.