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What it’s like to be a first-time homebuyer in Toronto’s scorching real estate market

Jonathan Rumley

Trying to become a first-time homebuyer in the Greater Toronto Area’s red-hot real estate market has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life. My fiancée and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but we had no idea it would be quite this hard.

We’ve lost bidding wars time after time in heart-wrenching fashion and went through the emotional roller coaster that goes with potentially making the largest investment of our lives. It’s become clear to us that getting a house in this market requires a lot of patience and a bit of luck.

Before we started, we wanted to make sure we were doing everything responsibly. We paid off our debts and saved up for a down payment. We got pre-approved for a bank mortgage and set a budget based on what we could afford. We contacted a reputable realtor and decided on what would best suit our needs. We went in with open minds that were eager to learn and ready to act.

We quickly realized that if we liked a place, we weren’t going to be alone. Agents also took notice of this and began setting up offer presentation nights, which is an opportunity to round up all of the potential buyers to provide them with a chance to bid on their dream house. We never knew what others were offering and we never knew if our offer was good enough. We just knew that the more money we offered, the better our odds would be, but with more people involved, the less likely we were to win.

On one occasion, our realtor told us we were up against 16 other offers. Once we heard that, we figured the asking price would become more like the starting point. We considered ditching our budget just to get the place we saw ourselves in.

In a precarious move to make our offer look more appealing, we removed conditions such as financing and inspection, which are normally in place to protect potential buyers in case something goes awry. Much to our chagrin, we’ve been told these risky measures have become the new norm if we want to entice a seller to get a deal done in this competitive market.

We never really knew how close we were to accomplishing our goal until the process is over and done with and we’re dealt with the crushing reality of seeing our dreams slip away. In everyday life, the price you see is the price you pay. In the GTA’s real estate market, we really have no idea.

We don’t know if we’re offering too much or too little. We don’t know what others are offering. We don’t know if this will be a good investment down the road. We don’t know if the market will become out of reach for us if we wait. All we know is that we have to act decisively while understanding that not everything is in our control.

But at times, dealing with so many unknowns can fill even the most confident buyer with dread. We didn’t realize there would be so much uneasiness involved with each decision we made or didn’t make. We’re constantly reminded about how quickly prices are rising, yet we’re reading articles about overvaluation risks. One thing we know for sure is that this isn’t a decision that we can afford to make lightly.

While we’ve found it difficult to stay motivated after coming up short time and time again, we’re not willing to give up on our dreams so easily. We know that eventually, things will work out for us, we just don’t when it will happen.

Until then, we’ll see you at the next open house.