DAVID HUTCHINSON 778-839-5442 DAVID.HUTCHINSON@CENTURY21.CA
It’s a common modern-day dilemma: urban or suburban? A high-stakes question fraught with emotion — just ask realtors Sarah Daniels and Philip DuMoulin.
The siblings, frequently seen sparring on the HGTV show Urban Suburban, take the tough-love approach when it comes to helping would-be homebuyers.
“When you have that battle of urban or suburban, our jobs are to open their eyes for new expectations,” says DuMoulin.
They’ll be at the B.C. Home and Garden Show, held Feb. 20-24 at B.C . Place, to share their thoughts on the pros and cons of city and suburban living.
The Province caught up with the South Surrey-based realtors for some sage words on how to navigate Metro Vancouver’s pricey real estate market.
This is the No. 1 problem: champagne taste on a beer budget.
And let’s face it, given prices in Metro
Vancouver, almost everyone’s on a beer budget these days.
DuMoulin doesn’t sugar-coat the reality of buying real estate: On your Top 10 wish list of things you’d like to have, expect to get five or six.
This is about working your way up to your dream home, he says. Maybe you start with a one-bedroom condo, then trade up to a townhouse and, if things go well, a single-family home way down the road.
“You may have to go through five or six homes before you get to your ultimate family home,” he says.
Immerse yourself in the neighbourhood
Don’t go there once or twice but as many as five times, suggests DuMoulin.
It’s the only way to know if a new neighbourhood will suit you.
“It’s not about just looking at a house and saying, ‘Oh , that’s a beautiful house.’ You’ve got to integrate yourself in that community for a week to see what it’s like,” he says.
Ask if you really need — and can handle — a large house
The big draw of the ’burbs is the undisputed square footage per dollar compared to Vancouver. But before you run off to buy that sprawling 3,000-square-foot house with a white picket fence, first ask yourself if you want — and can handle — the work associated with a big house.
“A lot of people who are young families think they need 3,000 square feet. You don’t need 3,000 square feet,” says DuMoulin. “My twin boys don’t even like going to the basement of our house.”
Daniels adds that, with our busy lifestyles, think about whether you want to spend your weekends cleaning, working in the garden or on house maintenance.
Don’t believe your social life will end if you move to the suburbs
One of the common myths about leaving the city for the ’burbs is you’ll never see your friends.
But chances are, if you need more space due to a growing family, you’ll make new friends in the same situation.
“As soon as you’ve had a child, you’ll end up meeting other people who also have children and end up befriending them,” says DuMoulin.
Daniels, who lives in South Surrey and doesn’t have children, adds that she goes into town all the time, and the distance hasn’t wreaked havoc on her social life, either.
Lose any preconceived notions about the suburbs or the city
Both have their own reputations and they often don’t reflect reality.
That the city is always noisy is not true, Daniels points out. Neither is it true that all homes in the suburbs are cookie-cutter. You’ll make a much better decision if you keep an open mind and find out firsthand by exploring various neighbourhoods in your price range.
Don’t look at property, or areas, you can’t afford
This may sound obvious but too often, people just “go looking” without a clear idea of what they can and can’t afford.
Big mistake. Daniels likens it to trying on a pair of Louboutins, then having to settle for Payless. You won’t be happy.
Look online first to check out real estate prices in your favourite neighbourhood. If it’s clear you can’t afford it, move on.
The best way to know what you can afford is to get pre-approved for a mortgage. There have been a lot of changes to mortgage rules lately so get pre-approved before you go shopping.
Location, location, location
It’s the old adage. Daniels subscribes to the notion of “buy the worst house on the best street you can afford.”
Of course, do your due diligence and make sure the property is structurally
sound and free of any major problems.
Don’t get wowed by finishings
Go for more square footage over fancy
finishings. It’s easy to be impressed by a new home — granite countertops! stainless steel! — but extra space is much harder to gain.
“So what if the countertops are old? These are things you can fix over time,” says Daniels. “People need to stop looking at the finishings . . .you need usable space.”
Look at adjacent neighbourhoods
It’s easy to get fixated on a single neighbourhood. But it’s always a good idea to go to the next neighbourhood over to compare the value.
“I’ve had clients with their heart set on Yaletown, but they end up buying in the West End because, first of all, there are some beautiful old streets.
“You may not get a balcony or a parking spot but, in place of that, the one bedroom and den you get there is 920 square feet because it was built back in the day. It’s got beautiful old hardwood floors and cornices in the ceiling.”
Realtors’ tip: Overlooked neighbourhods in Vancouver, according to Daniels and DuMoulin, include Champlain Heights, Renfrew Heights and Fraserview. In South Surrey, where the sibling realtors are based, they suggest looking at Summerfield. The lot sizes are smaller but the prices are also cheaper.