Take your Time

When first-time homebuyer and Montreal resident Lauren Brown bought a house, she spent only a week searching. She and her husband had seen just a few homes on their own, and when their agent pressured them into making an offer on the first house he showed them, they did. "My gut feeling was to say no, and I should have listened to it," Lauren says. "It was too soon, but every time I presented an argument that we should see more houses, the agent would tell us that other purchasers had visited the house we were considering and we would miss out on the opportunity if we didn't act quickly."

So Lauren and her husband ended up buying a house they couldn't really afford, and with their mortgage payments sucking up too much of their income and interest rates climbing, Lauren knew they were in deep trouble. "It was very stressful, and I really started to resent the house. We eventually had to sell it because we just couldn't afford it." Aside from the financial strain the house caused, it also took a heavy toll on Lauren's marriage. "There were other factors, but I'm certain the stress associated with the house contributed to our decision to separate," she says.

So when Lauren, now a single mom, decided to buy again 12 years later, she wanted to do everything just right. She found a great agent, and instead of being pressured to decide on a house within a week, this time her search went on for nearly a year. "I wasn't in a rush, so taking my time wasn't a problem," she says. Finally, she found the perfect house. "It had everything I wanted, and it was just the right price. I was glad that I trusted my instincts and didn't settle this time," she says.

Limit your agent and your spending: Only sign on with an agent for 60 days at a time, says Ozzie Jurock, a Vancouver real-estate expert. That way, if you feel the agent's not the right fit, you can move on.

Get pre-approved for a mortgage before you start seriously searching, says TD Canada Trust residential mortgage manager Ramy Ibrahim in Toronto. That gives you a clear idea of what you can afford so you don't end up overspending.(But remember, he cautions, pre-approval isn't a guarantee for approval. It's a snapshot of your financial situation at the time, and it's subject to change.)