Question of the week:

Buying first condo; do I need a realtor?

Hi! I’d like to explain my current situation and then ask a few questions on how you think I ought to move forward.

I’ve lived in a rental condo for 3 years. Small townhouse style with 4 other units. This year the owners told me their mortgage is up for renewal and they are going to sell it. Apparently this gives me the right of first refusal and I told them I’d be interested in hearing a number. I have actually been interested in buying the place for a couple years now so this worked out great.

They had a realtor come in and do an assessment. The realtor sat us all down together and essentially broke down a Low (sells tomorrow), Medium, and High (takes a couple months) price that he felt was fair, showing us examples of similar nearby properties, history of the condo building, etc. I appreciated the transparency here because they could have very easily kept these numbers to themselves. They’ve always been straight shooters. The realtor basically just said: both of you can work it out among yourselves to come to agreement on a number and then let me know.

On advice from a friend I reached out to a realtor and explained all of the above. To be honest I did not appreciate her temperament, and essentially she told me not to buy the place unless I paid less than these owners did 5 years ago (which, even if the market did not change at all, makes no sense from an inflationary perspective). Then she tried to convince me to let her take me to see other properties. I am willing to take advice but I have also had my eyes open for similar listings for a long time, I’m an architect and have strong opinions about these things, etc. I’ve also lived here for a long time and love it!

The owners came back with a number 2% higher than their realtors “ideal” price. Seemed fair to me. Now the ball is in my court to either accept it or counter. But now, the realtor I consulted is calling me to try getting in on the action.

A few questions:

  1. Do I need this realtor for anything if my plan is simply to purchase this condo?

  2. Will it benefit the sellers if I don’t use a realtor? For example, could I counter with a lower price on the grounds that “I won’t use a realtor so you wont have to pay them commission”? Or does it not work like that?

  3. Any general advice on putting in an appropriate counter-offer? I don’t really want to lowball these folks. We are probably 5% away from each other and I’m hoping we can just meet in the middle.

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Nick's Response

The Brief Answer

  1. You are not required to employ a Realtor for the purchase of the condo. You will need to cooperate with one (your Landlord’s Realtor) if they are listed with him, but you don’t have to have one of your own. Unless you have signed a Buyer Representation Agreement (or your Province’s equivalent) with “your” Realtor then you are not obligated to include her in the proceedings.

  2. The benefits to the Seller if you are unrepresented are that a) they may have an agreement for discounted overall commission with their Realtor if an unrepresented party purchases or if their Realtor “double-ends” the property (he represents you) and b) they may have an informational advantage over you simply by their access to a Realtor and past sold data.

  3. In my opinion, the best counter-offers are data-driven and unemotional from your side. If you can access past sold data (either via the Landlord’s Realtor or from some other source) and you have a good idea of the true market value of the home, your counter-offer should be based on that. Also, frame your counter-offer to the Landlords in a way that emphasizes the cost savings (of not cleaning, staging, photographing, marketing) the home and the ease (in time and stress) of finding a buyer quickly. I don’t necessarily think that you should have to pay a premium to buy the place you’re already living in, but any offer that you and the Landlords both agree is fair is fine place to land.

 

The Long Answer

Although I generally counsel that a Realtor can be helpful on the purchase side as well as the listing side, you aren’t ever required to use one yourself to purchase or sell a property. The exact rules/laws will vary from province to province, but generally speaking you can purchase as an unrepresented (by a Realtor) party.

The reasons that I feel that you may be okay without your own Realtor in this situation are:

  • Trust – You have a few years of history with these landlords. You’ve been happy with them and feel that they’ve treated you fairly. If your gut says that they’re being straightforward with you, then there’s a good chance that they are.

  • Transparency – To back up my first point, it was a nice move by the landlord and their Realtor to walk through the listing and pricing conversation with you present. If you feel that the Realtor was professional and honest (and not “cherry picking” comparables) then that’s a great sign.

On the other side of things, the Realtor that you reached out to did a couple of things that give me pause and give the feeling that she’s trying to insert herself into the situation for the sake of a commission rather than serving your best interests:

 

  • “Don’t pay more than these owners did five years ago.” Unless she can demonstrate, with data, that the market in your area has returned to pre-pandemic prices, then this is questionable advice.

  • “See some other properties.” This is good advice in general, but in this case you already live in a place that you love and want to buy. You’d benefit more from a transparent, independent analysis of comparables for your current place rather than home tours to other homes when you’ve already been watching the market. It doesn’t sound like she’s listening to what you need.

  • Pressure. There is a fine line in our business between nudging a client and reminding them to keep their best interests in mind, and being pushy. Regardless of where this person has landed, you feel pressured by her and this makes this an uncomfortable relationship where it would be hard to build trust.

Caveats/Tips/Other

 

  • Conditions – Part of your offer should include review of condo documents (called status certificate or strata docs depending upon your province) by your lawyer, financing and a home inspection if appropriate. Even if the situation between you and the landlord is comfortable, that’s no reason to skip due diligence.

  • Lawyer – In the absence of a Realtor, have your lawyer (one who does Real Estate law, not a criminal lawyer. Trust me on this one) review your Agreement of Purchase and sale. Clauses can be subtly worded to favour the Seller, and you want to make sure you’re signing something that is fair to both parties.

  • Review of Comparables – Even if you have to pay someone (a Realtor, probably) a flat fee of a couple hundred dollars to do it, get someone to independently price the condo for you. Remember that as much as everything may feel warm and fuzzy, the Seller’s Realtor is contractually obligated to represent the Seller’s best interests, not yours. Information is the best thing that you can arm yourself with, and if you reach the same conclusion afterwards that the Seller’s Realtor did, all the better.

Good luck on the Purchase! Let us know how it turns out and what you agree to in the end!

Source: I’m a Realtor in Ottawa, Ontario.

3 Things to watch out for when buying a condominium

1

Special Assessments – Are there any fees above and beyond the regular condo fees that have been levied or are contemplated for special repairs?

2

Owned vs Assigned Parking – Do you own the parking space, or is it assigned (and potentially re-assigned) by the condominium management? This can be an issue on resale but is not necessarily a dealbreaker.

3

Owned vs. Rented – Unless you’re an investor yourself, it’s generally more of a nuisance to buy into a condo with a higher proportion of rented units, especially short-term rentals like AirBnB or VRBO.

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