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Today’s “dream home” emphasis on buying real estate makes it tough for buyers whose wish list and budget do not match. If you have designer tastes and a fixer-upper budget, should you buy now, or wait until you can afford more?

That question is simple to ask. Buyers should always ask and answer this question before they start the dream home search. The problem is that this simple question has a very complex answer which is all about you.

The real answer: Only you know what to buy and if you should buy.

To prepare yourself and your partner to answer this question with foresight – not wish you had in hind sight – there are strategies to consider:

When prices are going up, strategize.

The urgency to jump into the market before real estate is financially out of reach, must be weighed against the reality that prices often reverse themselves at some stage. Decisions regarding this financial concern should include considerations like the following:

The “what goes up, must come down” pattern is no longer true for all neighbourhoods, particularly choice urban and recreational locations.

Factor in the cost of where you’ll live while you wait, and how you’ll stay ahead of inflation. Calculate how to realistically save more money toward the purchase.

Create a Plan B in case prices do not come down when you want them to.

Set a budget that expands real estate choices.

Making sure you “tick off” all the items on your wish list, but don’t end up “house rich, cash poor” can be a challenge. Get tough, to get ahead: Before you view any houses or condominiums, put your financial ducks in a row, so nothing will get in the way of negotiating a deal when you find “it”:

Get your credit in order. You can check your credit rating with the main credit companies for free. Correct errors, and there will be errors, since no one cares about the accuracy of this record but you. You know about paying off credit cards and any debt you can to achieve top borrowing power, so do it.

Search out a mortgage broker experienced at maximizing borrowing power while minimizing borrowing costs. Time spent here will save you thousands over the years ahead.

Make sure you know why you “must have” the “must haves.” Often fads and trends influence this list. Concentrate on buying what’s going to be in and what can be inexpensively up-dated to follow new trends, rather than paying for renovations that are already fading from fashion. Pare the “must have” list down to “absolutely must haves” – a very short list which will probably include a specific location. With fewer limiting criteria, you’ll have more possibilities to choose from. Then, create a “value” list of features and benefits that will add value through expanded use, income potential, cost reduction, or other factors of relevance to you. Keep track of these details when viewing, so comparisons can be accurate.

Create a budget to cover all the costs of buying and expenses of ownership in the first year. A real estate professional will know how to crunch these numbers so you’re clear on how much cash you’ll need on closing to cover legal fees, adjusted costs like property taxes, and expenses heating, and utilities for the upcoming year. Provide your buying agent with a list of ownership costs you want to know for each property, so you can determine value and, eventually, use these figures to decide on an offer price.

Adapt to buy

If you walk into a house or condominium unit and feel you’re home, put in an offer. If you don’t have this immediate “dream home” reaction, you may still discover this is an ideal property for your needs, and a great investment.

By totalling up “value” features and benefits, you will find real estate to love, and transform into a dream. Make enough profit on this real estate, and you can afford a true dream home on your next buy.

Buy the best location you can afford. Ideally, the least house on the best street within your budget for the greatest appreciation in value over the shortest time. The same is true for condos, a lesser unit in the best condo, in the best location you can afford.

Place the greatest weight on features and benefits that cannot be changed like location, including sun orientation, and things that are expensive to change like square footage. Look for bad decor and sloppy housekeeping since these can reduce the number of interested buyers and keep the price down. Be aware of superficial “staging” and its stripped down approach that makes rooms look larger and everything look newer.

Buy the neighbourhood first. Decide on who you’re going to live with and where you’ll spend your time shopping. School and workplace issues are important. Find out what redevelopment is planned for the area. Many lovely neighbourhood shopping areas are threatened by “big box” development.

Discovering your dream home can be expensive. If you get emotionally attached to the real estate before you own it, you can lose your negotiating toughness and spend more than necessary. This can also lead to drastic overspending reactions if there are multiple offers.

Pay as little as possible, but remember that there are other cost factors to build into the offer including closing date, what is included in the price, and what the owner will pay for (survey, repairs, taxes, etc.). Make sure you have a thorough home inspection to reveal even deliberately-hidden problems with wiring, plumbing, and other expensive to repair elements.

Concentrate on the dream of home ownership, rather than the cosmetic “staged” appeal of a particular house or condominium, and you won’t have your dream turn into an expensive nightmare.

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