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Save Money & the Planet this Winter

January 12th, 2017 by freemanrealty

You may still be recovering from excessive holiday spending so now might be the perfect time to look at ways to save money this winter.

Keeping comfortable in our homes in winter not only costs money but also wreaks havoc on the environment. What better time than now to look at ways to help you save while sparing our planet.

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Keep it Simple – We may not get lots of it, but winter sunshine can be a good friend for those trying to heat their homes economically. Open curtains, shades and blinds and let in the free, natural light. When it gets dark, you should close your window coverings, which provide a layer of insulation against the cold.

Is your couch blocking a heat vent? If you’re trying to save coin and do so in a way that is eco-friendly, that’s not how to do it. Let the warm air circulate more freely by moving away couches and furniture that blocks the vents.

Try a draught excluder. They run the length of your door and prevent draughts from getting inside. You can buy them fairly cheaply or make your own. These long sausage-shaped draught excluders can be made from something as simple as an old pair of tights stuffed with socks, rice, kitty litter or lentils. Naturally, you can pretty them up to match your décor if that’s more your style.

Area rugs help prevent the heat loss that comes from bare hardwood floors.

Don’t forget to let ceiling fans do their work. By reversing the direction they turn to clockwise in winter the fan will push warm air back down from the ceiling height. Use on a low setting.

Don’t mean to sound all 1930s on you but throw on a sweater and some wool socks. Walking around your home in shorts and a t-shirt in -15 degree weather doesn’t do your furnace any favours or your wallet.

Windows – New ones can be pricey but there are other means to help you control your expenses. Inspect your windows for cracks and leaks and caulk if needed. Also consider weather stripping to reduce air leakage. Window insulation kits are a cheap alternative to replacing your windows. A thin layer of film adheres to your window, blocking warm air from escaping. The film, which looks like plastic wrap, doesn’t block or impair your view. Another option for windows is to hang heavy curtains that prevent the cold from coming in.

Hot Water – Turn down the temperature of your water setting. Did you know that heating your water accounts for about 18 per cent of the energy consumed in your home?

What’s the Temperature? – When you’re home try to keep the furnace temperature on the low side. When you’re sleeping or out of the house, turn down the temp considerably. Try setting it back between 10 and 15 degrees F for eight hours daily and you could save five to 15 per cent on your annual heating bill.

 Block the Fireplace – In many older homes, fireplaces make for attractive rooms but are highly impractical when not in use. Be sure to keep the flue closed or buy a chimney balloon, which blocks cold air from getting in while allowing ventilation.

There are plenty of simple, eco-friendly ways to save money this winter while keeping the earth green. Stopping to think before cranking up the thermometer is a good start.

It is Possible First-time Home Buyers

January 12th, 2017 by freemanrealty

Being a first-time home buyer in Toronto can be a challenge with detached homes going for close to $1 million. To get in the market at that level, your household income needs to top six figures and you’ll need a sizable chunk for a down payment and your closing costs.

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If you’re just entering the real estate market for the first time those costs can seem impossible but there are ways to get a piece of the rock as a first timer. For starters, why not consider a condo? This more economical choice gets you into the market and lets you build equity while your property value increases as you pay down the mortgage. As your income also increases over time you will be in a position to trade up and move into, say, a semi-detached home.

As for how to calculate how much you can afford, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) suggests that your monthly housing costs not exceed more than 32 per cent of your gross monthly income. The CMHC deems housing costs as your mortgage payment, interest, property taxes and heating costs, also known by the acronym PITH. So if you and your spouse make $120,000 per year, your total monthly housing costs (PITH) should not exceed $3,200 per month.

The CMHC’s other rule is that your entire monthly debt load should not exceed more than 40 per cent of your gross monthly income. So if with other loans and credit card debt plus your housing costs, your debt load exceeds, in this scenario, more than $4,000 each month lending institutions may look upon your file unfavourably.

Know that help is available. If you are looking to buy in Toronto, there are four first-time home buyer programs available thanks to federal, provincial and municipal governments:

  1. The federal Home Buyers’ Plan is a program that lets you withdraw up to $25,000 per year in RRSPs to buy or build a home. With your partner, that could be as much as $50,000. See http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/hbp/ for details.
  2. The federal First-Time Home Buyers’ Tax Credit is a rebate of approximately $750 to help first-time home purchasers with costs such as legal fees and land transfer taxes. For more visit http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/gncy/bdgt/2009/fqhbtc-eng.html.
  3. The Ontario land transfer tax rebate is a new program instituted by the province to assist first-time buyers with a refund on all or part of the tax. For info see http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/gncy/bdgt/2009/fqhbtc-eng.html.
  4. The Toronto Municipal Land Transfer Tax Rebate is a reimbursement program of up to $3,725 that applies to first-time purchasers of both new and existing homes. See http://www.toronto.ca/311/knowledgebase/77/101000050177.html.

Before you begin visiting open houses you probably should get pre-approved for a mortgage. The reason this is important is that it will help guide you when house hunting. There is nothing worse than thinking you can afford a certain price and then finding out that that is not the case. Based on monthly income, your down payment and the mortgage interest rate, you can figure out what you can afford thanks to mortgage affordability calculators, which are available online. Also, don’t forget to account for the other costs associated with buying a home. These include property insurance, condo fees, home inspections, appraisal fees, legal fees and moving expenses.

Finally, if you don’t have a second income to rely on or if your total household income isn’t enough and you still really want to purchase a home consider doing so with a friend or another family. While this would clearly pose numerous challenges and you’d need a real estate lawyer to manage all the scenarios (how are home maintenance expenses divided and what if one side decides to sell?), this set-up is one way to get your foot in the door. Remember it doesn’t have to be forever and it may be your first step toward financial independence.

Give the Ice Rink a Whirl

January 5th, 2017 by freemanrealty

There’s nothing like a spin around an open-air ice rink come winter’s cold. Whether you’re gliding mitten-to-mitten with your sweetheart or teaching your wee ones how to balance on blades, nothing says wintertime fun quite like an outdoor ice rink.

Did you know Torontonians are quite enamoured of al fresco skating? We must be because the city has 51 open-air ice rinks. Here, in no particular order, is a peek at a few of the finest:

Christie Pits Park is an 8.9 hectare park located at 750 Bloor Street West and Christie Street, across from the Christie subway station. The park features the Alex Duff Memorial Pool, three baseball diamonds, a multi-sport field, basketball and volleyball courts, a community garden and an artificial ice rink. The sides of the pits are highly sloped and are used in winter for tobogganing and related activities. There’s street parking on the outskirts.

Founded in 1954, the Phil White Arena at 443 Arlington Ave. in Cedarvale has an outdoor rink for free skates adjacent to the Cedarvale Park Ravine system. The City of Toronto offers various Learn-to-Skate programs as well as Drop-in Skating for Older Adults, Drop-in Skating for All Ages and Drop-in Hockey.

At 875 Dufferin Street just south of Bloor St. W. is the 5.3-hectare Dufferin Grove Park. It features a multipurpose sports field, a basketball court, a picnic area, a wading pool and a children’s playground. At the north end of the park is the Dufferin Grove Park Artificial Ice Rink and Clubhouse. Don’t forget delicious fresh, local foods for sale and its Friday-night community dinners.

The city’s grand dame of outdoor skate rinks is probably Nathan Phillips Square, a high-profile space that is enjoyed by the public all year long. Enjoy the tranquil sights and sounds of the outdoor water fountain in summer, then lace up during winter and coast to your heart’s content. Skating is free here. Skate rentals are not.

Trinity Bellwoods Park is located on Queen St. W. at Strachan Ave. The 14.6 hectare park features three ball diamonds, eight tennis courts, an off-leash area for dogs and owners, a picnic area and an artificial ice rink. The southwest section of the park houses the Trinity Community Recreation Centre.

Two artificial ice rinks are featured at Wallace Emerson, a 2.7 hectare park on Dufferin south of Dupont St. The ice rink offers changing facilities. In addition to skating there is a children’s playground, three bocce courses and a motocross bike area.

The Evergreen Brick Works at 550 Bayview Ave is a new kid on the skating block with skate rentals available and a green conscience that donates all of its rental fees back to its free skate program. Thanks to its trees, this spot feels like a winter oasis.

At 76 Wychwood Ave., you’ll find a natural ice rink that is maintained by volunteers. Known as Wychwood Barns Park, the rink’s conditions can vary depending on weather and the availability of volunteers. While the city offers support by providing access to water and shovels, community-made rinks such as this one shoulder no liability so use at your own risk.

The Colonel Sam Smith Skating Trailat 3131 Lakeshore Blvd W. is a unique outdoor rink shaped in a figure eight and covering 250 metres of chilly adventure. The facility features a rink change area which includes a large change room with benches and washrooms.

At the foot of Lower Sherbourne Street between the Gardiner and Lakeshore East near Sugar Beach is the city’s newest ice rink at Sherbourne Common Park.

At 235 Queens Quay W. is the Natrel Rink at Harbourfront, which is located on Toronto’s harbour. Admission is free. Skate rentals are on hand as is sharpening.

Enjoy and don’t forget the hot chocolate afterwards!

Green Ways to Handle Snow this Winter

December 16th, 2016 by freemanrealty

As pretty as fresh-fallen snow looks, we clearly don’t want it around for too long once it’s hit the ground. That’s when it gets grey, muddy and slushy and those descriptors don’t rank high on anyone’s list.

Granted it’s difficult for people to come and go when streets and driveways are clogged with the white stuff. Whether its gas-guzzling tow trucks, noisy snow blowers or not-so-environment-friendly de-icing salt, we all have our favourite ways to remove snow and ice.

So let’s look at some of the better ways of getting rid of snow without causing too much damage to the environment:

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Some Snow Blowers are Better than Others: Use battery-, electric- or hybrid-powered snow blowers instead of those operated on gasoline. Don’t use your snow blower for small areas such as your walkway. While electric machines consume energy, they don’t eat up gas or emit greenhouse gases.

Buy the Most Efficient Gas-Powered Snow Blower: If your space necessitates a gas-run machine, make sure it’s a two-stage, four-stroke engine as opposed to a single-stage, two-stroke.

Invest in a good quality blower with a neighbour. That way you can share the costs and benefits of an eco-friendly machine.

Kick It Old School: Shovels, ice crackers and brooms will help you clear snow from sidewalks, porches and driveways. Use an ergonomic shovel or hire the neighbour’s kid to do the job. It’s best also to shovel early and often.

Eco-friendly Snow Removal Service: Try to find one in your neighbourhood or ask that your current service use eco-friendly products.

Use a Salt Substitute:  Sprinkle birdseed, clean clay cat litter, sand, or fireplace ash on walkways and driveways in order to gain some grip. Use these substances carefully as they can be harmful to vegetation and waterways and messy when the snow melts.

Pillar of Salt: If you must use salt, choose the type you use carefully. Some contain cyanide while others increase algae growth and lead to clogged waterways. Whatever you use, be sure to avoid landscape plants especially those that are salt sensitive such as maples, dogwood and rose bushes.

Sources: www.sustainableamerica.org, www.esquire.com

Buying and Selling in January? Why not

December 9th, 2016 by freemanrealty

January is the month of new beginnings, warm-weather winter holidays, winter sports and cutting back just a little on those items that aren’t so good for us.

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January is also a good month for real estate activity, despite what you’ve heard. If you’re thinking of selling or buying a home in 2017, you may want to give January a try.  In markets like Toronto and Vancouver virtually any month is a good month to buy or sell. Real estate activity naturally slows in late December and very early January. But by the end of January’s first week it’s back to business as usual.

One big reason you want to sell your house in January is because you will have less competition. What does that mean? You can likely command a higher sale price thanks to fewer homes on the market.

On the flip side, for buyers, your odds of getting into a bidding war with multiple buyers are reduced because many purchasers are dealing with post-holiday debt.

Gone are the days when buyers waited for warmer temperatures because that’s the time when the majority of homes became available. Buyers today are more tech savvy than ever and as a result they can view real estate around the clock on their phones, devices and computers. Why wait for spring?

Keep in mind, too, that as a buyer your realtor will be able to really focus in on your needs, compared to the spring market when the market is saturated with buyers looking to purchase a home and real estate agents are juggling a heavy load.

If you’re selling, you know those buyers trotting through your house and yard are serious. No one braves the bitter cold and snow, donning boots and parkas as they schlep from house to house as a fun winter pastime.

Try to keep your exterior tidy and, if possible, decorate with outdoor arrangements and seasonal greenery. Clear ice and snow off walkways and steps and make sure your property is well lit. Also be sure to provide pool reports and try to provide photos of what your house looks like in spring and summer.

While it may be counterintuitive, it’s said that homes actually sell quicker in winter. Low inventory may be the reason. In addition, buyers tend to be more motivated and not as willing to slog from home to home to home.

Happy to Pick Up Where Honest Ed’s Left Off

December 7th, 2016 by freemanrealty

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Freeman Real Estate is launching a brand new community event this month that pays tribute to the memory of a much-loved retailing icon and honours the Freeman Real Estate spirit of community giving.

On Sunday, Dec. 18, Freeman is hosting a free turkey giveaway at the real estate company’s office at 988 Bathurst Street. The event, which begins at 12 noon, will see 500 turkeys given away to members of the public.

Located just four blocks north of Honest Ed’s, Freeman Real Estate is a family-run boutique real estate firm with a reputation for supporting community causes, charities and efforts. Honouring Ed Mirvish’s memory and the real estate company’s tradition of community giving helped plant the idea for the turkey giveaway.

“We always admired Ed’s charity and we thought this was a good opportunity for us to keep the tradition going,” says Elden Freeman, Broker of Record.  “We’re big believers in our local community. As residents and business persons, we benefit a good deal from our community. This is one way we can pay back and say thank you.”

Spirit of Math is also getting into the holiday spirit by sponsoring a portion of the gobbler giveaway.  Spirit of Math is an innovative leader in after-school mathematics education with more than 40 campuses in North America.

The turkeys are completely free of charge and for each turkey given away Freeman will donate 50 cents to St. Alban’s Boys & Girls Club, an organization that provides programming for children and youth.

On hand will be Ward 20 city councillor Joe Cressy. St. Alban’s executive director Chris Foster and boys and girls from the club will also be there to help give out the turkeys.

The Annex landmark, Honest Ed’s, gave away free turkeys at Christmastime for 28 years, ending the tradition this year. The retailer at Bathurst and Bloor Streets will close in 2017 to make way for condos and commercial space.

If this year’s giveaway is a success, Freeman intends to make the event bigger and better for next year.

Warm Up To a Winterized Home

November 11th, 2016 by freemanrealty

As the days get colder and darker and we begin to rummage for gloves, hats and scarves, we must also turn our attention to our homes because they, too, need a certain level of protection from winter’s chill.

Inside and out, there are many green ways to safeguard your home from the cold. Not only do you save time and money, but you’re doing your part for the planet, too. So let’s look at ways to winterize our homes the eco-friendly way:

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Start by Sealing Leaks – This is a must as even small openings and leaks can add up to big heat loss. Be sure to install your storm windows. If needed, cover windows in plastic to keep cold out and heat in. Check basement windows for leaks and be sure to replace or add worn-out weather stripping around windows and doors. Replace worn doorstops. Caulk and weather strip entry points for ducts and pipes.

Protect Pipes – This is a simple and inexpensive way to protect your house from water damage due to frozen pipes. You should pad exposed pipes in unheated areas. If you don’t know where those are start by looking in your attic, crawl space or basement.

Insulate – Loading up on insulation it a good way to save on your energy bill.

Untap Outside Faucets – Undrained water can freeze, which can cause burst pipes. Disconnect your garden hose and drain the water.

Fix the Furnace – Either have your heating system inspected by a professional or be sure to clean and change your furnace filters. Dirty filters restrict airflow and increase energy demand. Consider installing a programmable thermostat which allows you to turn down the temperature when no one is there or while sleeping.

Change the direction of your ceiling fans – This might seem insignificant, but by reversing the direction of your ceiling fans, you can actually push warm air downwards and cut your heating costs by as much as 10 per cent. In winter, your fan should turn clockwise.

Fireplace safety – You should have your fireplace inspected and cleaned by a professional.

Roll Up the Barrel – Be sure to release all water from your rain barrel and dump them upside down for thorough drainage. Remove hoses and rain spout diverter. Clean debris from the barrel and its filter screen. If you have space, store in your basement or garage to protect from further damage.

Draft Defense – There is a very easy and economical way to fight drafts, which can waste between 5 and 30 per cent of you energy usage. Take an old towel, scraps of fabric or a necktie and fill with sand or kitty litter for weight. This gives you a draft stopper that you can run at the base of your door to prevent warm air from escaping.

Clean your gutters – Clogged gutters can cause a leaky roof or water damage to other parts of your home.

Wear Woollies – Instead of walking around in a thin t-shirt this winter, throw on a sweater and turn down your thermostat. There’s no need to blast the heat when a warm hoodie or pullover will do the same job.

Tough New Mortgage Rules

November 7th, 2016 by freemanrealty

New lending rules definitely make it tougher for mortgage borrowers, especially first-time home buyers.

The sweeping changes introduced by the federal government last month are intended to stem the debt load of Canadians, some of whom have taken on sizable mortgages thanks to low interest rates.

The new rules centre on a kind of stress test to see if the borrower could afford a mortgage should interest rates jump up. Under the new plan, borrowers are assessed on a five-year standard rate of 4.64 per cent for a five-year loan, despite the fact that most lenders currently offer rates far below that number.

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The stress test also includes other requirements such as stipulating that homeowners spend no more than 39 per cent of their income on home-related expenses such as mortgage payments, heat and taxes. Total debt must not exceed 44 per cent under the new rules.

The new rules apply to any insured mortgage in which the buyer puts down less than 20 per cent of the home up front.

By making it more difficult to obtain a mortgage, the hope is it will temper housing demand, prompting prices to fall or not rise so quickly.  The Bank of Canada announced that the rules will reduce the risk of Canada’s financial system becoming unstable.

According to Ratehub.ca, what this means generally speaking, is a family with a $100,000 income that saved $40,000 for a down payment could previously afford a home valued at $665,000. But under the new rules, that same family can only afford a home priced at $505,000.

The new policy makes it tougher for first-time home buyers, whose savings and incomes are generally limited. So if you’re buying a home in Toronto at $700,000, the minimum down payment jumps from $35,000 to $45,000. Homes under $500,000 require a down payment of five per cent, while those over $1 million need 20 per cent down.

The new plan also takes aim at foreign ownership of Canadian real estate. Homeowners are still eligible for a capital gains exemption on their principal residence but are now required to report the sale of their property to the Canada Revenue Agency. Exemptions will only be granted to Canadian residents and not apply to foreign buyers.

Also, as of Nov. 30, the federal government will require portfolio-insured mortgages to meet criteria that previously only applied to high-ratio insured mortgages.  The new requirements include a maximum amortization of 25 years, a maximum purchase price of less than $1 million, having a minimum credit score of 600 and the property must be owner occupied.

Handling Bad Neighbours When Selling Your Home

November 2nd, 2016 by freemanrealty

There’s that saying about how you can pick your friends, but family members you’re stuck with. Well, the same goes for neighbours.

But if you’re lucky, you have a flawless neighbour. The kind of person who bakes cakes for you, keeps a watchful eye on any troublesome activity and who doesn’t at all mind picking up bits of garbage and debris that get strewn on sidewalks and lawns up and down your street.

Fat chance, right? Likely your issues with neighbours lean toward the dark side and if you have a house to sell, that makes it all the more challenging. But there are ways to deal with annoying neighbours. Here’s how:

Overgrown Lawn – Living next door to a neighbour who has an unkempt property can be taxing. Toronto has bylaws that determine standards of acceptability when it comes to how tall grass can grow before it requires cutting and what types of items can be left lying around outdoors. You may need to get the city involved if you’ve tried gentler suggestions to get your neighbour to clean up.

If you’ve never broached the issue, you may want to give it a try. If you have time or are so inclined, offer to help your neighbour clean up. If you don’t have time and your neighbour is strapped for cash, you may want to pay or help pay for a lawn and garden service to spruce up the yard, at least until your home is sold.

Hoarder – Thanks to reality TV, we all know way more than we need to about people who have a psychological compulsion to accumulate junk. If your neighbour is a hoarder, abandoned vehicles, tires, old appliances may decorate their front lawn.  This will be offputting to potential buyers. To help you sell sooner, maybe you can offer to buy your neighbour an inexpensive shed to store all his treasures. While you’re at it, help your neighbour clear out the junk. Your hands will get dirty and you’ll be out a few bucks, but at least you’ll be able to realize top dollar for your home. Same theory applies for abandoned vehicles. Offer to pay the rental of a garage just to get the abandoned car out of sight.

Noisy, Unbearable or Nosy Neighbours – They are all detestable in their own special way. The noisy neighbour should be told in the nicest of ways to keep it down. Maybe they have no clue that their volume is too loud. If that doesn’t work, you could try contacting the city. The unbearable neighbour is a boor who can’t see beyond his nose. He doesn’t understand why people are offended by the beer fridge on his front porch or why neighbours suggest he wear shorts and a t-shirt instead of a thong when doing yard work. These folks can be difficult to reason with so they require a deft touch and diplomacy. The nosy neighbour should be curbed, if at all possible, before she gets to prospective buyers. Tell her that it is your realtor’s job to speak with potential buyers and if she needs to share information with them she should do so through your agent.

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Barking Dogs – Besides the fact that noise bylaws generally address excessive barking issues, it’s probably a good idea to have a chat with your neighbour if their canine yaps too much. Tell them you fear their dog’s excessive barking will make your house difficult to sell. Ask the neighbour if they can arrange to keep the dog in their home during showings. If that doesn’t work get your child or a neighborhood kid to walk the dog during showings. If your neighbour is being disagreeable, offer to pay for the services of a dog walker.

You can’t choose your neighbours but you can choose how to deal with them. Keep a cool head and a compassionate heart and never take their odd behaviour as a personal insult. It isn’t. If you’re not sure where to turn, call the city. They should be able to direct you.

Should I Buy or Should I Sell First?

October 21st, 2016 by freemanrealty

The real estate market offers consumers a laundry list of questions, decisions and quandaries, some large, some small. Perhaps one of the first such that springs to mind for the home buyer is the not-so-simple question of should you sell first or buy first.

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How you approach this issue depends on a number of factors. Should you buy before selling, your main consideration has to be whether or not you can afford to carry two properties should your existing house sit on the market for an extended period.

A second, though equally compelling factor, centres on how active the real estate market is in the area in which you’re buying and selling. The GTA’s very active market has prompted something of a reversal in the traditional approach which dictated that you sell your home first before shopping for another. This turnaround has occurred thanks to the speed with which homes are being sold.

Naturally, there are pros and cons to either choice. Let’s take a look at both options:

Buy First:

There’s nothing like shopping for a new home. Each dwelling offers endless possibilities and it’s important to hold out for those must-haves on your list. Without a closing date hanging over your head, this makes the house-hunting process all the more enjoyable. If your offer is unsuccessful, you can wait it out until the next perfect home comes along.

But the downside to buying first is that you could end up with two homes. Can you swing two mortgage payments in addition to the other expenses associated with owning two homes? That is a consideration you need to address before shopping for a new house.

While you can protect yourself by making your offer conditional on the sale of your current home that would be a tough sell especially in Toronto’s overheated market.

The final consideration is that buying first may force you to sell below true market value because you feel pressured to meet the closing date on the house you bought.

Sell First:

As mentioned, this was the traditional approach, when homes sat on the market for weeks and sometimes months.

Perhaps one of the biggest pluses to selling first is that it gives you a better idea of what you can afford for your next home. It also automatically removes any risk of you owning two homes at the same time.

The disadvantage, of course, is that you may feel under the gun to buy a house in order to accommodate your closing date. That’s never a good strategy and can result in you paying more than you should have for a home you’re not crazy about. One way around this is to seek a closing date that is longer than the usual 60 or 90 days. That way, you have more time to find your dream home. Another less desirable option is to rent until you find your dream house.

Either way, it’s wise to always have a plan in place should you find yourself with two houses or needing to bunk temporarily with family or friends.

The data included on this website is deemed to be reliable, but is not guaranteed to be accurate by the Toronto Real Estate Board. The trademarks REALTOR®, REALTORS® and the REALTOR® logo are controlled by The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) and identify real estate professionals who are members of CREA. Used under license.