Expert Advice: Finding the Best Property For You
Realtor and celebrity TV host Todd Talbot tells us the elements he thinks we can let slide when buying a new home—plus the three things you should never ignore.
Buying property can be an intimidating affair, no matter what the market is doing. We went to real estate expert Todd Talbot—ahead of his appearance at the Vancouver Home and Design Show this past weekend—to get his advice about the seemingly big things you can look past when buying a new home, as well as the elements you should never ignore.
Let It Go:
From carpet or paint to countertops and cabinets, it can be hard to see beyond the style choices of previous homeowners. “The first thing I see people get caught up on is style,” says Talbot. “Even if they’re savvy, they get stuck on elements that are changeable. They start analyzing these details that in the grand scheme of things are not only incredibly easy to change, but from a cost perspective it shouldn’t weigh in on whether you buy a property or not. Even if you’re buying a condo for $500,000, that’s half a million dollars, and what are we talking about, a few hundred dollars in paint? It makes no difference. It can be distracting, but you definitely have to take it in and let it go.”
2. Curb Appeal
“This one is tricky because every property is different. You don’t have control over a condo building and how it looks on the outside or even in common areas. Those are outside of your control. When it comes to a house, curb appeal is one of those things that as a seller you definitely want to focus on. People make an emotional decision within the first 10 seconds, even faster. But as a buyer, if you don’t like the front of a house in terms of its landscaping or the driveway, again these are all things that can be changed. I wouldn’t get too distracted by them.”
“You have to let go of your emotions and the opinions of other people,” he says, warning that this is one of the toughest aspects to overcome. “I think it’s a common trap we fall into that we tend to give too much weight to what someone else might think about a property and not listen to ourselves and trust our own instincts. I’m a fundamentals kind of investor. Emotions will play a part in the process because it’s the thing that attracts you, but if the fundamentals of a property are not in line, you need to figure out a way to let those emotions not run the show.” He connects this to changing tides in homeownership. “I’m not a big believer in the forever home idea. I don’t see too many people staying in one spot for 30 years anymore. You need to be happy and inspired by your space for sure, but from an emotional standpoint, I wouldn’t let that be the driver.”
1. Structural Details
While the aesthetic side of thing can be looked past, the bones and the structure of a home should not. “Especially for people who don’t have a deep knowledge of construction and how homes are built, getting an inspection is not to be overlooked,” stresses Talbot. “It’s not just the idea of getting an inspector, but what that conversation entails. You want to focus on signs of structural integrity. Everything can be fixed, I don’t want to sound alarmist, but if foundations are cracked, whether it’s a condo building or it’s a detached house, those elements are not to be taken lightly.”
In this same realm, investigating whether previous renovations were done properly and to code. “Oftentimes people will do things without a permit. It’s important to really understand what was done, how it was done, and make sure that it was done safely. You want to make sure something isn’t going to pull the value of the property down just because you like how it looks on the outside. Peel that onion back.”
Vancouverites, take heed: “Always pay careful attention to signs of water damage and moisture. In my experience, having owned and renovated a ton of properties, water is the one thing that stresses me out. Everything else to me in manageable, but water is elusive. Whether from a plumbing standpoint or the envelope of the building—siding, roofing or windows—water can be very destructive, very expensive and very sneaky. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, problems can exist for a long time and then you have to deal with a big problem. In our climate, water is always around. We have to build, design and execute with moisture as a top priority.”
Location, location, location. We all know the cliche, but it stands true. “You cannot manipulate location. You can change anything in a house, but the elements of location cannot be renovated. Exposure, natural light, view, where it is in the city from a transit perspective, amenities or schools—all of these things are outside of our control. The location we pick determines the future value of the property. It is number one by a long shot. If you pick the right location, you’re going to beat the market based on which location you pick.”
Talbot is a big fan of people tapping into their existing knowledge of areas. “When we live in certain areas we have information that we can sometimes overlook. Pay attention and you start to notice coffee shops, bars, restaurants, cool shops opening up. You’ll see a change in the dynamic of what’s happening in the commercial realm first, which is a great indicator of what will happen residentially. When the coffee shop is packed and everyone is flocking there, chances are those spots are creating the anchors for what is going to become the next cycle in real estate. We’ve got great information at our fingertips. Pay attention to the things you already know. Looking for opportunities around transit is also a good long-term play. Anything built around a great transit line is going to increase in value faster than properties that are similar but not around that transit. Our evolution away from a car-based society is a foregone conclusion. New communities are being built and they’re no longer being designed around the car in the same way. Embracing that idea is something to look for for future value.”