Choosing the Right Realtor

Finding the Right Agent

Real estate agents are like matchmakers, bringing buyers, sellers and homes together. Agents must be on top of the market - in terms of sales, listings and house prices in the area. But most importantly, real estate agents need to make their clients feel at ease.

While employing a real estate agent won't cost you anything (he or she gets paid by the seller), you may be asked to sign an exclusivity agreement with the agent, which Smith says is entirely up to you. "The best advice: Get an agent that you can get along with and who will work with you. You don't have to agree to anything for a while, just look around if necessary," says Smith. "Make them work for you."

To find a good agent, let the referrals speak for themselves. Ask friends and family to recommend agents they've dealt with in the past.

Making an Offer

A good real estate agent will also be an experienced negotiator, with an understanding of how flexible a certain seller will be. But before making an offer, do your research. Find out how long the property has been on the market. If it's a new development, find out how much others have been selling for.

In many cases, a deposit is made and you may be advised to sign a "conditional" offer. When buyers and sellers strike a deal, loose ends often need tidying up before the buyer will proceed, such as financing or selling your existing home. For resale homes, you should never make the offer final without a proper home inspection, conducted by a licensed engineer to look for any major problems with the house that could end up costing you down the road.

Once these conditions are met, you should be prepared to make the offer "firm and binding." If not, the deal is off and you get your deposit back.

Finding the Right Lawyer/Notary

Don't wait until after the deal is struck before choosing a lawyer/notary. Then you lose the valuable input he or she can provide scrutinizing the offer before you sign the deal. When looking for a lawyer/notary, make sure he or she is a real estate specialist. To find the right one, remember that quality and experience are the key, not just the price. Since a lawyer/notary's role is part advisor and part confidant, a good rapport with him or her is a must. As with finding a good real estate agent, ask friends and family if they have anyone to recommend.

Closing the Transaction

Unfortunately for first-time home buyers, closing costs are often an unwelcome surprise. Besides the basic purchase price, you will face a long list of expenses before taking possession of your new home: legal fees, land transfer tax, title insurance, disbursements, adjustments and insurance policies to name a few.

For a resale home, these "extras" can easily add 1-1/2 to 2 per cent onto the basic purchase price. For brand new homes, that figure can easily reach 2-1/2 per cent. The time to check out these charges is before the offer is signed, not afterwards.