House hunting

The real estate market in Toronto is crazy these days. You can't get a house without making a firm offer, i.e. no conditions on financing or home inspections. A home inspection is a routine affair these days; it protects buyers from unexpected problems. However, in Toronto the housing market is so hot that many sellers are turning down offers that are conditional on a favourable home inspection. For a buyer unwilling to take the risk the only other option is to pre-inspect, and risk losing your $400 inspection fee if your bid is rejected. Not only that, but buyers are demanding a "good faith" deposit of at least 5%. That sort of money used to be the entire down payment for a lot of people; now that is the entry fee before an offer is considered reasonable. The sellers want to be able to keep this deposit if the buyer reneges on the offer after the deal is sealed.

Demanding sellers are also not making things easy for prospective buyers. The latest craze is the multiple-offer scheme. The seller states that they will not accept any offers until a certain date, forcing all prospective buyers to bid against each other at the same time. This turns every home sale into an auction. This makes sense but sometimes the time-frames are ridiculous: I've seen houses appear on the market on Friday, with offers to be presented Monday evening. Given that you need to go see the house, then possibly arrange financing, and at the very least scrape up a certified cheque, this is not much time; never mind that it's basically impossible to pre-inspect the house under those circumstances.

Even a seller who appears to be honest can still double-cross you. I recently looked at a house that was doing a multiple-offer setup but was showing the house for a week before offers were due; the seller even did his own pre-inspection and the results were available for potential buyers to peruse. I had a good feeling about this home, because it showed every sign of being an honest deal. The property was nice and well kept and in a good location, and the price was reasonable. Granted, the asking price was several tens of thousands lower than it should have been, but in a multiple-offer situation this is normal. It should have been a pleasure putting in a bid on this house, except that I didn't have a chance, because the seller changed the offer date and called some of the agents who had shown the house and made them present early. This behaviour is completely dishonest and shameful. In the end the buyers overpaid, in my opinion, and this is likely due to the machinations of the seller.

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