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Looking for a home in Guelph? These families can help

Valuable lessons from second-time homebuyers
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Melissa and Steve O'Brien bought their first home in Guelph a few years ago after moving from Toronto. Their first home buying experience was out of the ordinary.

In life, it’s all about the lessons learned—and in time, so you can truly benefit from them.

Local realtor Nick FitzGibbon recently helped two young families buy their second homes in Guelph. While their circumstances were definitely different, the insight they’ve provided may prove instructive for future homebuyers.

Lesson 1: Your second (or third) home-buying experience might be very different from your first

Nikki and Adam LeRoy have a one-year-old son and recently moved into a bigger home within the city. They actually purchased during the height of the lockdown. The couple had been looking for a little while and engaged in a few bidding wars. Needless to say, it was complicated.

Yet their first home purchase, a new build townhouse bought seven years ago, was completely straightforward. Adam connected with the builder of a development who had just completed a row of townhomes. He put their names in before the second phase began, and the couple was guaranteed one of the houses. 

Fast forward to March 2020. The LeRoys just happened to put an offer in on a home the exact day the emergency order and lockdown went into place. 

They didn’t get that house—and they were grateful. “No one really knew what was going to happen, what would happen with jobs,” says Nikki. “I was on mat leave at the time, so it was really just my husband’s income. We were so happy we didn’t get that one.”

They took a little break from looking, confirmed both of their jobs were still secure, found a house they loved in May, and put an offer in. 

Melissa and Steve O’Brien have two young children, ages 6 and 3; they bought their first home in Guelph a few years ago after moving from Toronto. Their first home-buying experience was also out of the ordinary. 

The O’Briens’ first home was a Daniels’ townhouse in Mississauga. At the time, the housing market was super-competitive, and people went to great lengths to secure a shot at a new home. Houses in this particular development were made available through a lottery system. Getting access meant long days spent in line, sitting in folding chairs and camping overnight. It was a true social experiment, says Melissa, and as unorthodox as the process was, it worked. 

By the time the couple decided to have a family they were ready to move out of Mississauga. Steve was already working in Guelph and both are local university grads. Their first purchase here was a detached home in downtown Guelph.

Now they are a family of four and they’re looking for their dream forever home, something they can renovate or restore that’s close to the downtown core. Despite looking for months, they haven’t found “the one” just yet. 

Lesson 2: Unfortunately, bidding wars may be a fact of life right now

The house the LeRoys bought was priced way undervalue, to intentionally create a bidding war. On the market for just one day, Nikki and Adam went to see it and put in an offer. 

“It was really just us and another bid, so it wasn’t as bad as we had anticipated,” she says. But that first house they’d put an offer in on back in March was definitely a bidding war situation.

“From everything I hear in Guelph, it’s just kind of how things go now with freehold family homes. We have friends looking for a house right now and any home they look at there are multiple offers.”

Melissa agrees. What she and Steve are seeking is highly sought after. “We’re in Guelph, which is a growing market, but there’s not as many homes available as the people that are demanding them,” she says. 

Prices are high right now and it’s uncertain whether this will continue or if there will be a slight decrease in the future. The O’Briens’ are further restricted in their search because they’re looking in a finite area; they have school-aged children and would like to stay within their current school district.

“Now it’s if you wanted that home you should have put an offer on it yesterday and went way over asking. There’s not even room to negotiate. I don’t know if it’s new because of COVID or it’s just the pricing and how fast the market moves now,” says Melissa.

Lesson 3: When it comes to COVID-19, control what you can

As in every other area of our lives, COVID-19 has thrown us all for a loop. 

You might have thought people would be staying put and not be interested in moving during a pandemic, says Nikki, but clearly that’s not so. 

Her advice? “Get pre-approved, with how the market is. Things are moving so fast,” she says. “If you like a house you don’t really have time to sit on it and then start the pre-approval process. Houses aren’t on the market very long, so you need to have your ducks in a row.”

Melissa advises against falling prey to the slow creep that can happen in the amount you’re prepared to spend. Taking advantage of low-interest rates is one thing but try not to get caught up in the bidding and competing. No one wants to be house poor, she says. 

Have open and honest conversations and be real with yourself about what’s affordable and what’s not, what you’re willing to give up. You have to be sure you can carry that mortgage moving forward. 

Melissa isn’t the least bit concerned about going to look at houses during the pandemic. “We have a really great realtor, everyone is practising the right rules, wearing masks and social distancing,” she says. 

She suspects COVID may be playing a part in Guelph’s popularity. More people may be interested in moving out of dense urban areas and coming to a place like Guelph that is so desirable. That interest drives up prices and leaves more people competing. It’s something she and her husband never experienced when buying their first home in Guelph. 

Melissa’s most important pieces of advice? Have a relationship with a realtor already in place when you start to look. Know what you want. Your realtor will know about houses before they come on the market, can make creative suggestions, and work with your budget. You need someone who really understands the area. 

“Especially if you are moving from a different city, you’d really be at a disadvantage without one,” she says.

The O’Briens’ remain hopeful that their dream home will appear when the time is right. They love the walkability of being downtown and being able to have just one vehicle. They just need a little bit more space for the kids to play—and a garage would be nice. 

“We understand that we have been fortunate enough to be able to a) buy a home and b) with what’s going on right now, to be able to even consider making a move again,” says Melissa. “We understand that not everyone is in that same position.”

For more information, visit Nick FitzGibbon Let’s Talk Real Estate or call 519-821-3600.