We sat down for a chat with Ben Sweet, one of Calgary’s most experienced real estate agents. His insights on how the relationship between home buyer and REALTOR© is changing, about the real estate market in Calgary, and his advice for first time home buyers are clear, concise and focused. Check them out!
Tell us a few words about your job as a real estate professional? What do you love most about your job?
I really do love my career as a real estate agent, primarily because I get to spend time with great people, and my job keeps me moving throughout the day, which I really enjoy. Real estate is always changing, and this requires being very adaptable to the market and to my clients. It also means needing to be creative, and proving myself to be a trusted expert in my field by staying on top of these changes.
I especially enjoy teaching people my “guarded secrets” to buying and selling real estate. It’s likely one of the most fun parts of my job, watching people’s faces light up when they really “get” a specific strategy, and then to see them smile when they realize how it can help them get what they want. Overall it’s fantastic to be in this business! I say this after 15 years of doing it.
Have you spotted any interesting trends recently in the home buying process?
Yes absolutely. Home buyers are now so much more well informed, which is excellent. They are also pairing up with the right agents for them, because of 3rd party online reviews. We have been finding that many buyers (and sellers) are researching their agents more than ever, and they should be.
This gives them the chance to see what past clients have said about them, and to get a real feel for what a specific agent will be like to work with. I personally think this is great, as it allows the agents that do excellent work for their clients to really get more exposure for having done such great work. What this means is that buyers (and sellers) end up with an excellent agent by choice, versus simply ending up with someone because their name is everywhere.
What can we expect in terms of prices and inventory in 2017 in Calgary?
My opinion based on the current statistics is that we will definitely see prices for single-family homes in Calgary, and even condo prices, rise this year. We already are, as this is the time of year when the trend for the year is generally “in place”. The spring market is taking hold, and inventory is much lower than this time last year, which is placing upward pressure on prices.
The single family market is very hot right now, especially for $600k and under. Between $600k and $1 million, homes are moving at a decent pace if they are well priced and have good marketing. The Calgary luxury real estate market has really improved recently, it was truly struggling over the past 2 years. Again, though, all homes that are not accurately priced and not properly marketed are simply sitting around gathering dust, and they really shouldn’t be.
About 6 months ago, the condo market in Calgary was really flooded, but even that portion of the market is tightening up (slowly), and we can expect to see it stabilize and have prices go up at some point soon. So yes, it is a good time to buy, if you want to get in before prices move higher.
The other, more important part of that, is that interest rates are still very low, but apparently not for long. Be sure to get a rate locked in as soon as you can. Call your mortgage broker or bank to do that right away. It doesn’t cost you anything to do, but if you don’t, it can cost you substantially over the term of your mortgage.
Have you spotted any trends in the Millennials’ attitudes towards home ownership? Are parents also involved in their home buying process?
Great question. I will speak in general terms but of course it does not apply to everyone. Millennials want to own their homes outright, and not over-extend or stretch too much. They are being extra prudent in their purchases, taking the time to explore all options, educate themselves and strike when the time feels best. I would say that it is a very smart strategy.
The one thing I caution on, that many first time and second time buyers can overlook, is focusing a bit too much on saving money upfront, by getting a bit less of a home. This means they will need to move again sooner, as they won’t have the necessary growing space.
Let’s face it, moving is expensive, and can be stressful and disruptive to your life. If you can minimize this and move less, that is often an important thing to take into account when deciding on the size and how much to spend on a home. It is about balancing the best of both worlds.
Yes, parents are often involved in Millennials’ purchases. Is it more than any other generation? I don’t think so. I say this only based on my experience, and not based on any research or statistics.
Did you notice a rising interest in a particular property type?
Yes, oddly enough – bungalows for baby boomers. I say it’s odd because living in a city of close to 1.5 million people means having a lot of these bigger and newer bungalows on the outskirts.
My experience has been that many boomers are happy to spend a fair amount of money on a new home, because they want the convenience, lack of maintenance, and technology of a new home. Specifically, one in which they can have space to enjoy, space to entertain, and no stairs to worry about for the aging knees.
Are there any particular struggles that your clients complain about in the home buying process?
For some buyers, it’s about the lack of control they feel when dealing with banks, or feeling like they are at the mercy of the lender, especially when mortgage rules change. It’s my experience that a buyer gets a far better experience when they deal with their own mortgage broker, someone who they can chat with on evenings and weekends, to have their concerns addressed.
All decent real estate agents will have at least one good mortgage broker they can recommend. We work with a few, and always do our best to match up the right broker with the right client, so they can have the best possible experience, and to minimize the struggles and hassles that can plague the buying process.
Renting or buying? How can your clients decide what’s the better option for them?
This can be a short process for some people and a longer one for others. I suggest that the best strategy is to look at your long-term goals. Is owning a home part of that, like it is for most Canadians? If so, then in general terms, the sooner you start, the better. However, there are always seasonal trends at play, interest rates need to be taken into consideration, as well as affordability.
It’s not as simple as the monthly cost to own versus rent, that is far too simple a calculation. Supply and demand of the local market needs to be taken into consideration, as does the the trend of the market. Are prices going up or down right now? Can you afford what you want?
In short, it requires some data collecting, and deciding on your short and long-term goals. I personally believe that everyone should get into a home as soon as possible, and plan to own it forever. I always suggest that clients try to keep their first property when they move into their second. Allow it to become part of your retirement portfolio – you will surely be glad you did.
Now one last, but likely more important point. If you are a parent of a child in their 20s, get them into their first property as fast as you can. Help them to get roots now. It will teach them financial responsibility and get them building equity. This means they will be so much further ahead by the time they hit their mid 30s and 40s. Imagine for a moment if your parents had helped you buy a home when you were 22 years old!
Are your clients interested in buying homes that need restoration, or do they prefer buying renovated homes?
I find that most buyers want to simply move in and get on with life in their new home. If I had to guess, I would say about 80% of buyers want a move-in-ready home, and 20% want to do some modifications, to make it their own. When deciding to renovate or not, if it’s your first time, know that it will always cost more and take longer than expected. There are often unwelcome surprises. I feel this is why most people simply want to move in.
What criteria should home buyers consider when choosing their REALTOR© ?
Home buyers should make sure they feel 100% comfortable with their agent. You should choose someone that you feel you could have a very open and honest conversation with, someone you can say almost anything to. Choose someone that you feel will really represent your interests and go to bat for you in a big way, because this is what makes the difference in the price you pay for a home.
Your agent is your own personal advisor and advocate. If you do not get this feeling from an agent, then you need to find someone else that you do feel this way about. You really want to avoid someone who is rushing you or putting any pressure on you, at all costs. Never work with anyone that you feel does not have your personal interests at heart.
Also, I suggest reading online reviews about the agent before you talk to them. This will give you a sense of what type of business they do, and if that is your style or not.
Ben Sweet has been focusing exclusively on Calgary real estate for almost 15 years. He is in the top 5% of Calgary REALTORS©. The great list of referrals is his badge of honor. He prides himself on his ability to use the newest tools in online marketing for real estate agents.