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Buying, Selling Real Estate and Finding a Realtor: A Guide To the Toronto Property Market


Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is notorious for its robust property market. This perhaps isn't that surprising, as Canada's largest city, but it does make navigating the purchase and sale of real estate more stressful than in other parts of the country. But don't panic - we're here to help. Below is everything you need to know to ensure a smooth real estate transaction, including detailed information on how to find the right real estate agent for you.


The Toronto Property Market


Why Toronto?

Let's start with the basics: why is the Toronto market so popular? There are certainly cheaper places to live, yet literally thousands of people make the move to the Big Smoke every month. A big part of why is job opportunity: almost half of all the jobs in Ontario are based in Toronto. The GTA also boasts excellent amenities, some of the best public transit in the country, proximity to other major cities and beautiful holiday destinations, and moderate weather in comparison to many other parts of the country.


Types of Property in Toronto

Toronto offers every type of real estate possible, including:

  • Condos
  • Semi-detached homes
  • Detached homes
  • Townhouses
  • Duplexes
  • Vacation homes
  • Purpose built apartments for rent
  • Commercial properties
  • Industrial properties


The Toronto Property Market in Numbers

  • The average home price in Toronto is $1.2 million
  • Homes sit on the market for an average of 15 days before selling
  • There are just over 5,500 new listings every month in Toronto
  • Over 36,700 new homes were built in Toronto in the last year
  • Although the real estate market in Toronto is down very slightly in the short term, over a ten year period it has seen an average annual growth rate of 8.3%



Areas in the GTA

The Greater Toronto Area covers over 7,000 square kilometers and homes over 6 million people. As you'd expect from such a large area, it is divided into municipalities or neighbourhoods, each with their own name, character, and property market. Some areas are considerably more expensive than others, so if you're looking to move within Toronto, or to Toronto from elsewhere in Canada, it's important you understand the lay of the land.


Buying in Toronto

First time buyers in Toronto may feel a little overwhelmed by the speed and variety of the real estate landscape, but the basics are the same as they are across the province.


Your buying journey should consist of 12 simple steps:

  1. Make sure you’re ready to buy
  2. Figure out how much you can afford
  3. Decide exactly what you want to buy - for example, house or condo?
  4. Find a real estate agent that's right for you
  5. Start looking at the property market
  6. Sell your current house
  7. Find a property lawyer
  8. When you find a house you like, make an offer
  9. Arrange a mortgage
  10. Find a home inspector
  11. Close the deal
  12. Move in!

Of course each of these steps takes time and effort; for in-depth information for each stage of the buying process, take a look at our Buying Tips.


Selling in Toronto

Deciding to sell your home is a huge decision, and the entire process can be extremely stressful. The best way to approach it is one step at a time:

  1. Decide when is best to sell
  2. Find the right real estate agent for you
  3. Sign a listing agreement
  4. Determine your home’s asking price
  5. Add a lawyer to your team
  6. Prepare your house for sale
  7. Instruct your realtor to begin marketing your house
  8. Prepare your finances
  9. Receive an offer
  10. Close the deal

For more detail on each of these steps, take a look at our Selling Tips.



Everything You Need To Know About Real Estate Agents in Toronto

As you may have gathered from the above, or from what you've heard about real estate in Toronto, the right agent can make an enormous difference in both your buying and selling experience within the Toronto property market. Finding the right person to represent your interests and steer you through the whole process is vital. Here's what you need to know before you choose your Toronto real estate agent.


What Is a Real Estate Agent?

A realtor, or real estate agent, is an individual who legally acts as an intermediary for the purchase of or sale of real estate - any kind of real estate. They can also be involved in property management, urban planning, mortgage banking and land development. To be qualified to do this, they must complete real estate certification, pass a licensing exam, and obtain a minimum level of professional insurance.

It's important to note a quirk in Canadian terminology; while in most places the terms 'realtor' and 'real estate agent' are synonymous, the term 'REALTOR®' is a designation of membership of the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA). Not every real estate agent and realtor acting in Canada is a member of this organization, but it does represent the majority of the industry.


What Do Real Estate Agents Do?

Toronto real estate agents act on behalf of home buyers and sellers throughout their real estate transactions. This includes services such as:

  • Planning and attending open houses
  • Listing properties online
  • Marketing properties to attract buyers
  • Scheduling house inspections and appraisals
  • Researching sale prices of comparable properties
  • Setting up showing appointments with or for potential buyers
  • Completing paperwork for listing, offers and purchase agreements


All of this is in addition to advising you, helping you to understand your needs, and guiding you throughout the process. Real estate agents have extensive knowledge that can be invaluable for both home sellers and home buyers, and they protect you legally from many of the pitfalls of modern property transactions. The vast majority of houses and condos sold in Toronto are sold by a professional.


How Are Real Estate Agents Licensed?

Real estate is a regulated sector in Ontario, meaning that all Toronto agents must be registered with the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO). This administrative body represents the provincial government and regulates the conduct of all real estate professionals, who are bound by a strict code of ethics. This system is designed to protect consumers and ensure a fair, transparent real estate industry.

Any real estate professional you work with in Toronto must be registered with RECO; don't be afraid to ask them if they are!


What To Expect From Your Real Estate Agent

As well as the technical functions listed above, there are some basic things you can expect from your Toronto real estate agent:

  • Honesty and integrity. As mentioned above, all real estate agents in Ontario are held to a strict code of conduct.
  • Legal knowledge. Your realtor should be able to walk you through all of the legal aspects of selling or buying your house, and ensure that all documents are prepared properly and are error-free.
  • Customized service. One of the primary advantages of a real estate professional is the help they give you in defining, understanding and using your priorities to ensure your move meets your needs and goals. This includes understanding your impetus for moving, your financial needs, your future plans, accompanying you to open houses and helping you to compare your options, providing context and additional information about listings, and so on. Their services are all-encompassing.
  • Access to properties. Your real estate agent should be able to help you find potential houses to view, as well as make sure your sale property is visible and available to other real estate agents. It is much easier to sell your house if other real estate professionals know it is for sale!


Understanding Commission

All of this may have you wondering how much you'll have to pay these highly skilled professionals for their help.

Toronto real estate agents, like those across the rest of Ontario and those in other sales-based professions, get paid via commission. A proportion of the sale price of a house listed by a real estate agent is used to pay both the seller's agent, and the buyer's agent.


Here's how it works:

let's say there is a house listed for $500,000. The typical commission rate in the GTA is 5%; this means that if the house sells for its asking price, 5% of $500,000 - $25,000 - is used as commission. This amount is split between the buyer's agent and the seller's agent, usually equally. So each agent involved in the transaction would get $12,500 - as long as the house does in fact sell. In some cases agents will negotiate a different split, but this is up to the agents to negotiate and should not affect the overall amount of commission charged for their services.

In this way, home buyers are not paying anything out-of-pocket for their agent's help. And seller's are not paying anything for the work of their agent, unless they find a buyer - in which case, the sale proceeds from the house should cover everything.

Commission can therefore be seen as true pay-for-performance earnings; if a house does not sell, then no one gets anything, so real estate agents are incentivized to work hard and make sure the listings under their command are sold, and for as high a price as possible.


Commission Exceptions

While 5% is the norm in Toronto for real estate fees, there are exceptions. Some - not many - real estate agents work instead on flat or fixed fees, for example $20,000 for the sale of a house. This fee is not then affected by the sale price.

There are risks to this approach; if the home were to sell for less than expected, the fee may end up equating to more than 5%. But there are also benefits, for example if the home ends up selling for more and the fixed fee is cheaper by comparison.

What's not allowed in Toronto, under any circumstances, is sliding commission for the same level of services i.e. where some portion of the sale proceeds are charged one commission rate, and the rest at another. It is also not permissible for agents to charge a higher percentage commission as the home price increases.


Seller's Agents vs. Buyer's Agents

As each real estate transaction has two sides - a buyer's side and a seller's side - there are naturally two types of real estate agent: listing agents and buyer's agents. The reality is that every real estate professional will be practiced and competent in both areas, but you may notice that some focus more on one specialty than the other. It is common for people to use one agent to help them both sell their current home, and find their new one.


Should You Buy and Sell Using the Same Realtor?

Ontario allows real estate agents to work on both sides of real estate transactions - meaning that one realtor can represent both the buyer and the seller in a single transaction. This is called 'multiple representation'. In many places this is considered a conflict of interest, as the agent has a responsibility both to help the seller get as much for their listing as possible, and to help the buyer get as good a deal as possible.


Ontario navigates this conflict through rigorous checks and balances. If an agent is representing both sides of a transaction, they must:

  • Confirm, in writing and with both the buyer and the sellers, the understanding that the agent will be representing both parties
  • Adhere to the principal of doing what is best for both the buyer and the sellers, and act as a consummate professional at all times
  • Abide by confidentiality rules such that neither side of the transaction is privy to the other's sensitive information

While these rules mean that the majority of the risk is mitigated, that doesn't mean it's a good idea to use the listing agent for a property as your buying agent for that property. You must weigh up the risks and benefits of using the same agent as the seller, and be certain you understand how they intend to do right by you and the seller. Remember that your needs as a buyer will differ from theirs!


What Is a Broker?

All real estate agents in Toronto must work for a real estate brokerage firm or sponsoring real estate broker. Real estate brokers are effectively real estate agents who have completed additional training, and as such are licensed to work independently, or to set up their own firms.

Real estate brokerages are firms, owned by a real estate broker, that act as managing houses for real estate agents, allowing them to use company branding, providing support for admin and legal matters, and generally assisting them. The brokerage does not employ the real estate agents associated with it, but in return for use of the brokerage's amenities, a portion of a listing's commission earned by a real estate agent is paid towards the brokerage. You have almost certainly encountered brokerages in the Toronto market, even if you weren't aware of it! Royal LePage, Exp Realty, ReMax, and Sutton are all major participants of the brokerage market.

The presence of a brokerage is not necessarily obvious to the home seller or home buyer, as their cut of the commission is handled internally. You will notice that when dealing with any financial matters relating to your agent, the brokerage handles the money. You should never be asked to pay an agent directly for their commission; in most cases the brokerage deducts the commission from the proceeds of the sold home, and then portions out the amounts due to the listing agent and the buyer's agent as appropriate.

A real estate broker in Toronto can do everything a real estate agent does, plus handle legal and technical matters relating to the back end of a sale transaction. Because of this, some people opt to use a real estate broker directly, instead of a real estate agent associated with a brokerage. This does not cost any more, but it's worth noting that there are many more real estate agents than there are real estate brokers in Toronto, and every agent will be overseen by a broker. And many brokers are so busy - and profitable - from their work supervising agents that they do not handle selling or buying themselves.


How To Find the Best Real Estate Agents in Toronto


There are 62,000 registered real estate agents in Toronto alone, so finding the best real estate agent for you takes a little work.


Here are some tips to help:

  1. Ask for recommendations. The majority of people find their agent by asking around. This is especially helpful for first time home buyers who may need more assistance from their agent than experienced buyers.
  2. Search online. Every agent will have some sort of online presence, and many advertise. Just try searching 'real estate agent Toronto.' You can find the most prolific and successful real estate agents easily, but that doesn't mean they're the best agent for you. Take a look at a person's average rating from past clients in the Toronto area for an idea of whether someone will be able to provide the specific services you need.
  3. Take a look at current listings. By searching for a certain property type, or listings over a certain period of time, and then looking at who is selling these listings, you can get names of agents representing properties similar to yours and who are currently active in your area. You may also be able to see who has recently sold in your area.
  4. Visit open houses. A good open house is a sign of a hard working realtor; don't be afraid to visit open houses just to see who is running it, how busy it is, and so on. Open houses are a key part of the selling and buying process and a successful one can make a significant impact.


Questions To Ask When Considering Toronto Real Estate Agents


1.  How long have you been in the business?
A newly-licensed agent will have up-to-date training, while those who've been in the business a long time will have more experience. Both have pros and cons, but be sure you know which will work best for you.


2.  What is your average list-to-sales-price ratio?
A competent agent should have a track record of negotiating sales prices that are close to list prices, and be able to demonstrate this.


3.  How will your marketing plan meet my needs?
This is really just a fancy way of asking: how will you sell my home? Where and how often do you advertise? Will you show me a sample flyer? How do you market online? Understanding an agent's methods will help you determine their potential efficacy.


4.  Will you provide references?
Ask if any of the references are related to the realtor, and if you can call their references with additional questions. A trustworthy realtor should have multiple past clients who you can talk to about their experience.


5.  What separates you from your competition?
All real estate agents should be performing the same basic tasks, so it's the soft skills that they bring to the table that'll make the difference in your experience. Ask how you'll be able to contact them, their availability, how they measure success, and make sure they are someone you are personally comfortable with.


6.  May I review documents that I will be asked to sign?
A good agent will always make forms available to you before you are required to sign them. Ask to see agency disclosure, the listing agreement and seller disclosure. Have a lawyer check them over if you're concerned about the terminology. You should never be pressured into signing something you don't understand.


7.  How will you help me find other professionals?
Ask for a written list of referring vendors. Get an explanation if you see the term 'affiliated' - it could mean the agent is getting compensation from vendors. You want someone who has a good network of professionals for you to access, without them benefitting from a referral.


8.  How much do you charge?
All real estate fees are technically negotiable, but most people will have a set fee structure; ask what this is, and check how it compares to the competition. Cheaper isn't necessarily better!


9.  What kind of guarantee do you offer?
If you sign a listing agreement with a real estate agent and later find that you are unhappy with the arrangement, will you be able to cancel the agreement?


10.  What haven’t I asked you that I need to know?
Pay close attention to how the agent answers this question, because there is always something extra you need to know. The best real estate agents want to make sure their clients are fully informed and confident in their decisions.




Should you choose the real estate agent who suggests the highest asking price for your Toronto home?

Not necessarily. Whilst sellers of course want to get the best price for their house, it's important to remember that a high sold price equals more money for the agent in commission. This can mean that less reputable agents want to list properties high, to try and maximize their earnings. This only really works in a seller's market; most of the time, it is in the best interests of the seller and a better idea for the home to be listed at a fair price, to encourage more people to view it, and thereby increase the chances of finding a buyer. The best real estate agents will know this and avoid overvaluing in order to impress clients.


Who pays Toronto real estate agent commissions?

The person selling their house is ultimately responsible for paying the commission earned by the real estate agents involved in the transaction. This commission is only payable upon successful completion of the sale, and is taken from the sale proceeds.


Are Toronto real estate commissions negotiable?

Yes. Each real estate brokerage and agent sets their own level of commission, so it can be negotiated. Some Toronto agents offer different levels of service at different commission rates, to accommodate people on a variety of budgets.


Is real estate commission tax-deductible?

Only in specific circumstances. If you are selling so you can be closer to work or school, and you move more than 40km, then some parts of your costs can be claimed on your taxes. This includes mortgage early payment penalties, commission, and legal fees.


Do I have to pay HST on commission in Toronto?

Yes. It's important to take into account all fees and taxes when calculating the costs associated with your house purchase or sale. That includes commission, tax on commission, land transfer tax, legal fees, inspection fees, mortgage-related fees, and so on. No one said it was cheaper to sell!


When do I pay a real estate agent their commission?

At the time of the sale's completion. The brokerage your agent is associated with will handle all aspects of the sale finances, and will ensure the various agents involved get their commission. This is one of the only times most people become aware of a brokerage in their property transaction.


What's the benefit of using a real estate broker instead of a real estate agent?

Real estate brokers have more qualifications than real estate agents, so a real estate broker can handle the financial, legal and other aspects of your home purchase or sale, as well as provide the normal levels of service you'd expect from a real estate agent. These extra services do not cost more money; brokers work on commission, the same as real estate agents. But all real estate agents in Toronto are supervised by brokers, so you are getting the expertise of a broker in either case. The choice between a broker and an agent is much less important than finding the best agents in your area.


Do I need to get mortgage pre approval before I find a real estate agent?

No, but if you're unsure about your potential house buying budget, going through the steps for mortgage approval can be a helpful way to understand how much you'll be able to borrow, and therefore how much you can spend. You may think you can only borrow enough for a condo, but actually be able to afford a house!

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