House Shopping 101: Where to find house info. in 2021.
By Keith Tripp Text to 416 320 8863 email email@example.com
To prepare quotes and to prepare for inspections, the more I know about the house, the better. Today you can have almost as much info as the real estate salespeople, and at no cost. You should have this same level of info when house shopping and doing your own research.
Age Counts! :For a home inspector, age of the house is extremely important. The age will determine risks related to older electrical and plumbing components, energy performance, and foundation (basement) leakage risk. The true age of the house is often not highlighted in the selling material. Some physical age indicators include: street date (on the sewer caps), installation tags inside the house, window manufacture dates, HVAC equipment dates, type of construction, construction materials used and location. Always find out the year of construction of the OLDEST part of the house when house shopping.
Here are some of the (FREE!!!) tools I use to get info on the property here in the Greater Toronto Area, Ontario, Canada.
HOUSESIGMA.COM : Now my “go-to” site. It is the first site I open up when I have an address to work with, and it also has a map search function that shows not only active listings, but recent activity in the area. It has bigger and better photos than realtor.ca. There is also an alert system that will email you when status of a listing changes. This is one of the “new kids on the block”, arriving when laws were changed to allow for access to the MLS info. This is a powerful tool that real estate salespeople wish did not exist. These new sites are constantly under the scrutiny of the powerful real estate lobby group. Prior to HouseSigma I was using Bungol.ca. Bungol was shut down in August 2020.
HouseSigma has all of the info from realtor.ca except not the name of listing agent. It does have the listing# in the Key Facts section, so that can be used to quickly find the listing in realtor.ca, where the listing brokerage and salesperson name will be provided. The big plus is it shows previous listing history such as terminations, price changes, and previous sales. It shows listing date and time on the market. It also shows when a conditional offer is in place and the expiry date of that condition. Age is shown but the range is quite broad. There is also an indicator of market conditions for each house, ranging from Buyer’s Market to Balanced to Seller’s market , and an estimated selling price.
REALTOR.ca.: This is the public version of the MLS info. It does not show all the info the real estate salespeople can see, for example names of owners and age of house. Search by address on the map, or by listing number: shows house description and names of listing agent. It has recently added Annual Property Taxes. This is probably the best site for cruising neighbourhoods. When reading the listings, keep in mind they are sales pitches with all the positives, but rarely mention any of the negatives of the property. All real estate salespeople in the Ontario system are paid by the sellers, whether they class themselves as the listing agent or the “buying” agent. The so called “buying” agent also has an obligation to maximize benefit for the seller.
Google maps: Photos over previous years can show dates of exterior renovations and even date of construction for newer homes. Click on Street View and the option to look at photo view going back over the years. I can often determine the approximate date that a roof was redone, or significant changes to exterior cladding by looking at this feature. Also good to look at proximity to highways, bodies of water, railroad tracks, industrial areas. Using satellite view shows green spaces and can give a sense of water flow through the area. Satellite view can even show some roof details such as vents and skylights.
mpac.ca: MPAC is the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation. This organization does the property assessments to determine property taxes. You can sign on by using the tax roll number of your existing property. Unfortunately, without a tax roll number I believe you can’t access this info. Once registered, you can go straight to aboutmyproperty.ca. Use the “About My Property: Browse My Neighbourhood” function to search the map. This is the best place to confirm year built. Also shows: Square Feet, Lot size, Number of storeys, Current Value Assessed, Sales Indicator (date of previous sales only back to 2012, not amount). A note of caution on year built on MPAC: If a house underwent significant renovation or rebuild, MPAC may only indicate the date of the newer work. I have inspected homes that were listed as new on MPAC, only to find old foundations and floor structures left in place.
Keith Tripp is a professional home inspector in Toronto, Ontario, Canada