Category: real estate

What can you expect from the real estate agent selling your home?

Sotheby's International Realty sign
One of our Sotheby's International Realty signs outside a listing in Lynn Valley, North Vancouver

Many of our readers, like us, come from the UK and so are not aware of the kind of services you expect from your real estate agent (REALTOR®). I thought it would be helpful to give a quick overview for anyone unfamiliar with how things work here in Canada.

Before you list your home, you will want to get a valuation of it. Now in the UK we did this. Our three local agents came in and gave us their thoughts on the price. There was a fair bit of variation. What was missing was any real justification for the price.

Here in Canada you should expect the valuation to be based on some hard facts. After all your REALTOR® can get all the sales in the area from the MLS® (the Multiple Listing Service database). This should give a fairly accurate picture of the price you can achieve.

The other difference that struck us was that marketing your home is an important element here. In the UK, at least when we were there, all you really expected was an advert in the paper, your home’s details in the window of the estate agent and the occasional call saying they were sending someone around tomorrow at 6pm to view the place.

In Canada the MLS® is the central database holding almost all properties for sale. This means your home is effectively in every estate agent’s window! You will probably also get your home in the local paper (though more people now use the internet to begin their searches). As we work through Sotheby’s International Realty we also have a huge marketing machine behind us and homes we sell benefit from that.

Most homes are also shown at Open Houses. In our area we have Agents’ Opens in the mornings. These are designed for new listings to be shown to any interested agents (and the public can usually pop in too). On Saturday and Sunday afternoons there are Public Opens. These are for buyers to pop in and see the place without an appointment. They are advertised in the papers and online, and with signs on the neighbouring streets. If you are in the area at the time you can simply pop in and have a look.

As a seller, you should expect your REALTOR® to run these open houses. They are a good way of getting a lot of people in to see the home without inconveniencing you, as the owner, too much. Note that you do have to be out of the house for these open houses.

The other thing to expect from your REALTOR® is that they take appointments to show the home at other times. We always agree ground rules with our sellers so that we know how much notice is needed and what are acceptable times. This is well worth doing as keeping your home in “show room condition” can be a struggle. If you get 24 hours notice at least you know that you will be able to tidy up in time!

Your REALTOR® should also give you feedback on the showings. We know that it is not always possible to get information out of potential buyers but it is our duty to try and find out their situation and what they thought of the home. These bits of information may turn out to be valuable when it comes time to negotiate.

Of course your REALTOR® will be there when any offers come in. You should expect them to help you assess the offer and any pitfalls it may contain. Your REALTOR® is the one who talks with the other party so you can be at arm’s length from the buyers – which can help if the negotiations are tough!

At the end of the day, real estate agents are your agents. This means that we are there to act for you and to act in your best interests. It is as if you have a clone doing all the running around, opening doors, showing buyers around, answering questions, reading offers, letting the home inspector in, handing over the keys to the new owners – while you rest easy!


Getting good advice on the real estate market

BC relocationOne of the many things that we wished we could control when we are moving countries is the price of real estate. The perfect situation would be to sell your home at the top of your local market (in the first week ideally), transfer your money with a great exchange rate and then buy in BC when our real estate market is at its worst.

Well as you probably know that is about as likely as your winning the lottery (and about as valuable).

The truth is that none of us can predict, let alone control, these things. You can do your best to go with the flow of things, but however carefully you watch the foreign exchange markets or plot the real estate trends you are not going to influence things.

Foreign exchange is outside our knowledge – we rely on the experts at the various foreign exchange companies (see our web page on this).

If you are selling your home then you can do all the things that we advise our local clients (spruce the place up, fix everything that needs doing, keep it tidy and price it right).

And when it comes to buying here in Vancouver, or elsewhere in BC, then you need to get a realtor you can trust. (We hope that will be us or one of our partners as that is how we make our living and how we support this relocation resource we have set up).

Our own story is worth noting in this. When we came here we were as green behind the ears as most other people. Without any particular reason we flitted from one realtor to the other and chose one in the end because he seemed relaxed and easy going. Unfortunately this also meant he did not go a very good job of informing us about the market. With our real estate knowledge now, we know that we paid too much.

How do we know? As realtors we have access to information that is critical in coming up with the fair market value of a home. This is what we give our buyers when they are considering an offer:

  • comparison prices of the homes in the area
  • how long the home has been on the market
  • sales history for the home
  • recent sales of comparable homes in the area
  • analysis of the price per square foot of this home and others sold
  • analysis of the assessed value compared to sales prices

All these factors will give you a pretty idea of what the home is worth. Our realtor gave us none of this! You could say that he saw us coming!

So the real estate statistics for July are out and they show that the market has slowed down. Prices are coming down a bit but so are the number of listings. This seems to be swinging toward a balanced market (not favouring either buyer or seller).

We caution people that the devil is in the details. Some places here are still drawing competitive bids because they are attractively priced and presented. In other cases a good discount is available because sellers are getting desperate to sell. However others are holding out for prices which actually may not be attainable since the market has moved downward.

Get good advice and find somewhere that you really like and you should be ok!

Do realtors earn their money?


The apartment
One last look at the old place

This week Toni was excited because she was moving out of her apartment and into her townhouse. Her sale completed on Monday and as usual we found out that all was well when Magda in our office tells us that the sale has registered. This means that the Land Title Office has now recorded the new owner on the title and removed Toni.


Unlike in the UK where you also move house on the same day, in Canada it is usual for the move to take place a day or so later. In Toni’s case we had managed to work things so that her townhouse purchase went through on the Tuesday. And again Magda let us know that this sale had registered and Toni was now on the title for her new home.

Now Wednesday came around and this was the day that Toni was due to take possession of her new apartment. Toni was busy with the movers, and I had arranged to meet her at the townhouse and let her into her new place.

One snag popped up. The sellers refused to hand over the keys. I did not let Toni know any of this. Instead I spent a busy morning on the phone. I talked with Magda, with my managing broker, the seller’s realtor and Toni’s lawyers. It took a couple of hours to convince the sellers that the sale had indeed gone through and they could hand over the keys.

So just in the nick of time, I was able to find the seller at her work and get the keys. Then I went to the townhouse to check all was OK while Toni finished up the packing and headed over.

I opened the door of the townhouse and hear the beep of the alarm. “Oh oh” I thought, “the alarm is about to go off”.

And it did. I shut the door and standing on the doorstep made a few more calls. Luckily I reached the seller’s realtor and he knew the alarm code. I was able to get in and disarm the alarm before having to explain myself to the cops!

Perhaps one of the more exciting house moves I have been involved with. I am pleased that all worked out well.



Can I get that in brick please

A wood frame building

When we are taking our overseas clients around they sometimes say things like “there are not too many brick houses around here”. Usually they are from Europe and expect homes to be made of bricks and mortar.

Here in British Columbia it is very rare to see any brick buildings. You may see bricks on the outside of a home. Don’t let that fool you. This is a thin veneer. Instead of wood siding, there are brick tiles applied over the wood and tar paper.

In fact our houses are built from one of our most abundant natural resources – trees. It makes sense really if you live in a forest to use the wood for your home.

But wait. We live in a rainforest. (You know it rains here, right?) So wooden houses have to be protected from the weather.

In part this means designing the home so as to reduce the chances of water getting in. Look for large overhanging eaves tat will help keep the rain away from the windows and walls. Choose a pitched roof rather than a flat one. Look for flashing to protect the decks and windows.

The other thing to know is that you need to keep up with the maintenance. A good design will not protect you forever. If your gutters are full of debris (from those pesky trees) then the water may back up and get into the home. Check the drainage around the outside of the house. Clean the pine needles and branches off your decks and make sure your drainage is moving the water away from the home.

A word too on apartment buildings. High rises will be made of concrete. Low rises are typically wooden. Same rules apply to both types of building. Design is a factor but maintenance is needed. Part of your (and our) due diligence in buying an apartment or townhouse is to check the minutes to see that the building is being properly maintained.

A final word in defence of wooden construction: it is really easy to remodel your home. I have seen houses changed so much during a renovation. Hey, a good carpenter, a trip to the lumber yard and you have the makings of a completely different home!


How to save money by keeping your mouth shut

Open House sign - tread carefully
Open House sign - tread carefully

In Canada one of the main ways of marketing homes is by holding open houses. These are pretty much what it says on the tin … a house which is open for you to come in and look around.

But did you think what you say at that open house could cost you a lot of money? Here’s how…

When you go into the open house, and have taken off your shoes, you will likely be greeted by your genial host. This is the realtor who is marketing the home. What you need to know is that they are there to market the home for the sellers. You are their target.

Of course realtors vary a lot and what happens in the open house varies according to the kind of realtor you meet.

At one extreme there’s the hermit like techno-grouch who will ignore you in favour of talking or texting on his cellphone. You can tiptoe past them or even unleash the children to explore the house as noisily as they want. He will be too deep in in cyberspace to notice. You can enjoy exploring without fear of revealing anything. You might find it difficult on the other hand to get an answer if you need one. (I wonder when I see realtors like this whether the sellers realize how little the realtor is doing for them).

The other extreme is the pesky variety who reeks of used car salesman and follows you around pointing out the obvious features to you as if you were unable to see for yourself. They latch onto you with the desperation of a drowning man. And like the drowning man, they tend to take you down with them. The good thing about these guys is that they talk so much that you hardly have to do anything but grunt and try and skip out of the home as quick as possible. No danger there – not to your wallet at least.

The middle ground is the most dangerous. These are the true genial hosts. As a feature sheet is thrust into your hand with a cheery “hi, how are you doing?”, you are being sized up. The chat soon gets personal.

Now this is the buyer beware scenario : watch what you say. Remember this friendly face is acting on behalf of the seller. So what do you think she’ll do with anything you blab to her? Right, she will use it to the seller’s advantage. Your negotiating position just got about as weak as my jokes.

A real life example comes to mind. A year or so ago, Toni went to an open house and told the realtor how much she loved the place. Not too bad a thing to say unless you also add that there is nothing else out there that you like. And that you are getting desperate to move.

How much off the asking price do you think Toni could get? Nothing! Toni’s big mouth just cost her several thousand dollars.

Toni’s case was an extreme one. It was like play poker with all your cards on show. But even letting slip something about your situation – like I just moved to Canada – can give away something. Sadly I do know cases where the inexperience of newcomers has been exploited.

So if you think before you speak then you can avoid giving away too much. And then if you do want to make an offer you can negotiate with all your cards hidden. That could save you a lot.

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