‘Her Assistance was Invaluable’: How Our REALTOR® Helped us Buy Our First Home in Canada During a Pandemic

The stress of living through a global pandemic can’t be overstated, but there was one life-changing opportunity that fell into our lap because of COVID-19: the ability to buy a house and start a life in the nation’s capital.

Let me explain.

As new immigrants from France, my husband and I knew when we landed in Ottawa we wanted to settle here for good and build our family. We didn’t know how long that would take. But after just two and a half months in Canada, the pandemic hit. Its effects on the real estate markets on both sides of the Atlantic made our dream possible in less than one year.

We had always been die-hard city dwellers, living downtown, whether in Paris, France or Ottawa. But as lockdown restrictions began, like many Canadians, we suddenly realized our desire for a house with a backyard. Our apartment was acting as our offices, gym and movie theatre. As the restaurants, bars and stores in our neighbourhood closed, city life began to lose its appeal.

While the pandemic affected the comfort of our home, there were also immediate financial consequences.

We had put our apartment in Paris up for rent as a short-term rental to help finance our move to Canada. That income suddenly dried up when the borders of France closed due to the pandemic. Now we had maintenance fees, taxes, and other costs to worry about on our vacant property. We had to make a quick decision.

We listed our apartment in France for sale and benefitted from the real estate demand caused by the pandemic. The sale exceeded our expectations. The hot real estate market in Paris, coupled with an advantageous Euro/Canadian dollar exchange rate, meant we were much closer to becoming homeowners in our new country. In the meantime, we also learned we were expecting a baby! Now there was a time crunch.

After taking an inventory of our personal savings and repatriating the money from the sale of the Parisian apartment to Canada, we estimated our budget including taxes, bills and home maintenance costs using the REALTOR.ca mortgage calculators.

We knew the real estate market in Ottawa had also become tighter, competition more intense and prices were skyrocketing.

So, what was this budget really worth in Ottawa, and what neighbourhoods/properties could it be suitable for? Our first concrete step was to find a REALTOR®. Nothing beats the advice of a professional. We found Rachel Gagnon, a broker in Ottawa, on REALTOR.ca, filtering by language because we felt reassured by an agent who could explain things to us in our native language, French—especially since the buying process in France and Canada are very different.

Tip: Make sure your REALTOR.ca profile is up to date and includes spoken languages, designations, social media profiles and a high-resolution current headshot. Profile information displayed on REALTOR.ca varies by board or association. Contact your local board to update your information in your board or association’s MLS® System.

Gagnon was excellent. She was able to explain and outline each step along the way, and that was a relief for us. She took everything in hand, from home tours to home inspections.

During our home buying journey in-person viewings were possible, with some restrictions. We wore masks, sanitized our hands and only entered the house with our agent.

Our new home was the only house we viewed in-person, but we fell in love with it instantly. Our REALTOR® knew the area and was able to tell us about local Francophone schools as well as popular shops, restaurants and trails nearby. Because of her knowledge of the local market she was also able to foresee some competition between buyers and recommended we get a home inspection as soon as possible. This isn’t part of the buying process in France, but it helped us feel confident in our offer. Plus, we learned a lot about the house itself and the maintenance it would need.

Gagnon guided us through the entire negotiation process. She explained what we could expect to see when a house has multiple offers and discussed what we felt comfortable with regarding our max budget. She helped us prepare several offers in advance so she could react quickly and make counter offers, if necessary.

We submitted our offer virtually and we were able to complete our paperwork online using DocuSign.

E-signature providers make the signing process easier for both members and clients. It’s easy to link your e-signature provider with CREA WEBForms® to save you time during the transaction process.

Her support didn’t stop when we signed the (virtual) papers. She was also able to advise us on a good French-speaking lawyer and followed up with us until we had the keys in our hands. Her assistance was invaluable and helped us manage the stress of buying a home during a global pandemic.

Gagnon worked for us around the clock. The entire process only took four days: a viewing on Saturday, home inspection on Sunday, offer on Monday and offered accepted on Tuesday.

Today, we are happy homeowners and feel confident we found the right home for our child to grow up in.

Jessica is CREA’s Social Media Coordinator.

As a former online journalist and a digital marketing specialist, Jessica worked in Paris, France and in Auckland, New Zealand before joining the Canadian Real Estate Association as a Social Media Coordinator. Jessica helps facilitate communications and conversations between CREA and our members via our online communities. In her spare time, Jessica likes to visit new countries, discover restaurants, attend music festivals and exercise at her local gym.

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