Buy Real Estate in Canada
How to Buy a House in Canada
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Why Buy in Canada?
Canada is probably the most beautiful country in the world and frequently nears the top of the UN quality of life tables (Human Development Index). Aside from that, Canada is a major destination for immigrants. All of these highly skilled and qualified people need accommodation when they land, thus the demand for good quality rental housing is high and likely to remain so well into the future.
Finding a Property
At present the majority of real estate transactions are brokered by realtors. All licensed realtors have access to the Multiple Listing System (MLS). MLS is a huge database of homes for sale across Canada. The advantage of MLS is that every realtor can search the listings of every other, thus saving an immense amount of time and shoe leather. MLS listings are also available on the Web at http://www.mls.ca/.
In addition to realtor listed properties a growing number of owners are choosing to market their homes directly, thus saving on realtor commission. Often the commission savings are partially passed on in the form of a lower asking price. The downside is a greater degree of expertise and work on the part of seller or buyer. Anyway, if you're looking for real estate in Canada the "For Sale By Owner" (FSBO) listings are worth checking out. For example, see http://www.propertysold.ca/, http://www.homesellcanada.com/, http://www.fsbo-bc.com/, http://www.bchomesforsale.com/.
It is important to look at actual sold property prices rather than just asking prices in deciding whether to make an offer. Sold prices represent the amount people are actually willing to pay for particular properties rather than what sellers hope to obtain. Realtors should be able to provide this information, alternatively see the Royal LePage Survey of Canadian House Prices.
For strata properties (see below) be sure to check the strata by-laws for any restrictions on rentals, pets, other rulings. It would not be good to purchase a unit for rental and tehn to discover and owners only by-law.
The Strata System
Most apartments and condominiums and many townhouses are run under a strata system. Essentially, this means unit owners form a kind of corporation for purposes of managing and maintaining the complex as a whole. The number of strata members can range from a handful, to hundreds or more in the case of large condominiums.
Members of the strata periodically elect a strata council from their number. Basically, the strata council forms the "government" of the complex, arranging maintenance contracts, making and amending by-laws, applying sanctions to offenders etc. Major issues are determined by the strata as a whole.
Two types of management are in effect for strata properties, self-managed and professionally managed. Professional management is likely to cost more in terms of management fees but basically means the task has been delegated and individual owners can sit back and forget about it. Self-management is cheaper but requires more hands-on activity from individual strata members, eg notices will appear periodically requesting volunteers for this or that. NB in the case of large stratas the costs of professional management will not be significantly higher as they will be spread across a larger number of units. If you're not into watering lawns or painting communal areas you may prefer to go for a professional management.
Using a Realtor
In Canada realtors must be qualified and licensed by the provincial real estate association. As with any profession the quality of individuals varies, but all should have basic competency and adhere to their association's code of conduct. For sellers, realtor commission is not cheap, often in the region of 7% on the first $100,000, and 3% on the rest. However, for buyers, realtor services are free (being paid for by the seller.
It is common for both seller and buyer to use a (different) realtor. As stated above buyer's realtors are free to the buyer (their fees are paid from the selling realtor's commission). A buyer's realtor will have access to all MLS listings and will be able to show you properties listed by any number of selling agents. The buyer's realtor will help you write an offer, and should work for the buyer in any negotiations.
It's important to choose a realtor with knowledge of the locality where you want to purchase. Personal recommendation is a good indicator. Otherwise select two or three realtors offering services for buyers from the numerous free real estate listings papers. Give them a call and choose the one you feel you can best work with. Buyers don't usually sign contracts with realtors, so if you aren't getting the level of attention you feel you should don't be afraid to change.