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Scott McGillivray shares home buying secrets

One of my favourite sayings is that life is too short to learn from your own mistakes - learn from someone else’s. When it comes to real estate investing, I’ve had lots of successes but I’ve also made a few mistakes along the way. Over 15 years later, I still use the tips and tricks below to help evaluate properties and try and snag a great deal.

Look south

I know that those of us who live in Canada and the northeastern U.S. would like to bury the chilly memories of the past few winters. And given that most homes are purchased in the spring and summer, snow is likely not top of mind when evaluating a property - but it should be. If your house (and driveway) faces south, you’ll be looking at a lot less shovelling when winter rolls around again. If your house faces north, you’ll have snow and ice build-up longer into March, while your south-facing neighbours are seeing signs of spring in their yard.

Quiet or riot?

Like some peace & quiet? Me too. That’s why I didn’t buy a house next door to a school. Or a fire hall. Or a church. Schools are usually the worst noise culprit, and they also bring with them their own rush hour each morning and afternoon as a barrage of parents drop off and pick up their kids. If you rely on street parking for your vehicle, it can be very difficult at these peak times. People who are shift workers, or even just those who like to sleep in on the weekends, should probably avoid these locations as well. School bells, church bells and fire truck sirens can throw a monkey wrench into your sleep schedule. And the number of people coming and going from these locations can make an otherwise quiet neighbourhood anything but.

Check around the corner

City living means close quarters, but we all want to maximize the amount of privacy we have around our homes. It’s not always possible, but when you’re house hunting, keep your eyes peeled for houses that are one house in from the corner lot (it might be two houses in, depending on your street). That’s really specific, but there’s a reason. The house that’s one (or two) in from the corner lot usually has a backyard that looks across the row of backyards on the street perpendicular. This arrangement offers a bit more privacy, because your home and yard aren’t sandwiched between two parallel houses. And it can mean that you don’t back directly onto another house (so no worries about someone looking out their back window directly into your yard).

The early bird gets the worm

All of these tips have to do with the house you’ll be buying, but there are also some insider tips for the actual home-buying process. Want to save approximately one per cent on your home purchase? Go house shopping early in the week. Houses listed on Monday or Tuesday typically sell for less than those listed on a Thursday or Friday (which often end up selling on the weekend). Take a day off work and go look at houses. Beating the weekend open house rush can save you $5,000 (based on a $500,000 house price). And that official offer date? Feel free to ignore it and put in an offer at any time. There are no rules against submitting an offer early, so it’s always worth a shot.