Real estate professionals guide first-timers through the challenges of buying a home

by Todd Lewys
For home buyers, spring is one of the toughest — if not the toughest — times of the year to buy a home.
This is the time of year, when the spring market starts to heat up, that can be a particularly tough time for first-time home buyers. 
Several factors play a part in this time of year being so challenging for those looking to purchase their first home.
First, after a long winter — in this case, the longest and coldest winter in decades — it’s all too easy for fledgling home buyers to feel impatient. After saving up for what seems like eons, they now have money in the bank. After renting for many years, they’re just itching to own their own home.
Second, there’s often internal pressure to buy while, so to speak, the going is good. 
Interest rates are still excellent, amortization rates are (at least for the time being) still reasonable at 25 years, and it’s still possible for many first-time buyers to get into a home with a five-per-cent down payment. 
It also helps that Winnipeg and the surrounding municipalities have some of the most affordable housing in the nation.
Third, there’s the age-old lure of keeping up with the Joneses. After many friends have upgraded from an apartment to single-family home, it’s only natural to want to do the same, especially if you have a young, growing family that needs the space.
In essence, the perfect storm is brewing for first-time buyers to rush into buying a home, only to regret the decision after the fact.
This is where an experienced REALTOR® comes into the picture, said REALTOR® Cindi French.
“As REALTORS®, it’s our job to read our clients,” she said. “At this time of the year, it’s easy for first-time buyers to want to buy a home, almost at any cost. 
“Our job is to slow them down, and then guide them through all the possible pitfalls so they get the home that’s right for them,” French added.
That’s a daunting task at present. Coming off a brutally cold winter — and with a cool damp spring keeping the ground frozen longer than it usually is — buying a home is an even more complicated task than it is normally the case.
Because the ground has yet to thaw, as witnessed by all the water pipes that remain frozen throughout the city, that means that a high percentage of homes are far from their “normal” spring state. Unlike most springs, homes have yet to settle back into their warm weather form.
Not only that, but the frozen ground also makes it difficult to determine if there are any foundation issues, as groundwater is still frozen, or stymied by the frozen soil. 
That means that any foundation leaks won’t show themselves until weather has warmed up the soil enough for water to enter through any cracks.
While there might be warning signs, such as bulging exterior walls (common in older, turn-of-the-century homes with stone foundations), a musty smell or lines on basement walls from previous water entry, first-time buyers desperate to own a home might be so focused on buying that they overlook them.
“That’s where we come in as REALTORS®,” added French. “We’re there to buy our client’s second set of eyes. We’ve seen all kinds of homes, so when we see problems, we can advise our clients of them. 
“It’s our job to reign them in. We’re not going to push them into a buying a home — we want to help them find a solid home that will be a great place to live for many years.”
REALTOR® Joanne Lesko added that personal experience also enters into the advice she provides for clients.
“When I bought my first home in my early twenties, the home ended up needing $20,000 in foundation repairs,” she recalled. “I know how painful that experience was, so I take extra care in helping first-time buyers find a good, solid home. 
“As REALTORS®, we have access to home inspectors and engineers. If there are any questions, we call them in to make sure a home is a sound investment,” added Lesko.
The moral of the story?
If you’re a first-time buyer looking for a home this spring in the local market, find a reputable REALTOR®, and rely on their expertise to find a home that not only meets your needs and budget, but that is also structurally sound.