Advice for Getting Your First Mortgage

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It was just over a year ago that I purchased my first home and with it came my first mortgage. As a personal finance expert, I was quite familiar with mortgages, so there were no surprises for me. However, many first-time homebuyers may not be familiar with the process of getting a mortgage which is why I wanted to share some advice.

You would think that looking into mortgages is one of the first steps for first-time home buyers, but with rising real estate prices in Canada, some people have decided to prioritize other things during their search. The key thing to understand is that mortgages aren’t that hard to understand and if you follow these tips, you’ll be just fine.

first mortgage

Use a mortgage broker

This is honestly the only real tip you need to know about mortgages. A mortgage broker deals with multiple lenders which means they negotiate rates on your behalf. Although a mortgage broker may have access to 50+ lenders, quite often they work with just a handful of them because they know how the lenders work and which one would offer the best rate.

The big banks have their own mortgage brokers on staff who say they can get you the best rate, but that usually means that they may just beat their own posted rate. If you work with a mortgage broker that’s not associated with a single lender, then you’ll get access to those lower rates. Of course, if you go back to your bank after with your quote, they’ll usually match it.

To prevent you from using the services of a broker and then going to your bank with the rate they got you, they’ll usually make you sign a contract for their services. This is perfectly normal, they did do all the work after all. If you prefer to get your mortgage from a major lender, just let your broker know and they’ll negotiate with them for you.

Although I speak highly of mortgage brokers, there are a few who are not honest. Be sure to interview them to see if they’re a good fit and if they ever suggest questionable tactics to help you purchase a home, drop them immediately.

Understand the different types of mortgages

Your first step when thinking about buying is to get a pre-approved mortgage. Yes, that means you’ll most likely start working with a mortgage broker before you find a realtor. A pre-approved mortgage is a “promise” from a lender that they will lend you a certain amount of dollars. With that number in mind, you can start your house hunt.

Now assuming you’ve bought your home, you’re going to need to decide on the type of mortgage you’re going to get. Generally speaking, you should always pick a conventional mortgage over a collateral mortgage. A collateral mortgage may sound good since the lender will register an amount higher than what you’re borrowing so you can access it later, but it may end up costing you more in the long run. Just stick to a conventional mortgage.

You’ll also have to decide if you want a fixed or variable mortgage. Fixed mortgages have a set rate for a set term e.g. 2.49% for 5 years. That means you’ll be paying the same rate for 5 years. On the other hand, variable rates change based on the posted rates (your payments often stay the same, but how much goes to your principal may change). For assuming this risk, you get a lower rate than the current fixed rate. But if rates go up, you might pay more later. Traditionally, homeowners who got variable rate mortgages paid less 80% of the time compared to fixed rate mortgages, but there’s no guarantee of that especially in this low rate environment.

Don’t borrow the maximum amount

When you get your mortgage pre-approval, you might be shocked at the number lenders will extend you. Some people take this literally and start looking for a home in that price range. However, by doing so, you may cripple yourself financially.

Lenders use a formula to calculate how much they’ll lend you. They essentially look at your savings, debts, and income to come up with their number. What they don’t factor in are things such as if you plan on having kids in the future or how you plan on saving for your retirement. If you take the maximum amount from your lender, how exactly do you plan on affording anything else in the future?

It’s in your best interests to figure out exactly how much you can reasonably afford and then set your own max number when buying a home. How do you know what that number is? Well, that’s entirely up to you, but I do admit that with the price of real estate in Canada these days, it can be really hard to figure that out.

Final word

The above is very basic first mortgage advice. If you want to learn more about mortgages, read my post on mortgage basics now. Understand what you’re getting into when you start your home search and never rush things.

About Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances. His blog Money We Have is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel. You can find him on Twitter:@barrychoi


  1. Owen @ PlanEasy on May 2, 2017 at 12:29 PM

    We used a mortgage broker when we bought our house and it was super easy. We also were amazed at how much money they were willing to give us. Seemed like an obscene amount at the time. Definitely glad we didn’t take the maximum.

    • Barry Choi on May 2, 2017 at 3:10 PM

      Hey Owen,

      Thanks for your input. Yeah it’s amazing how much money banks will offer us. I liked how my broker made no attempts to get me to take advantage all of the money available to me.

  2. Darrin Roseborsky on August 10, 2017 at 7:24 AM

    Getting a first mortgage is not easy for many. Well said especially for first time home buyers it becomes very difficult for many. Understanding different types of mortgage as per your requirement is important and to get the best mortgage rate one should take help of a mortgage broker who is professional. Clear out your debt and cross check your investments. A mortgage broker bargains with the lender on your behalf.

  3. Ridley Fitzgerald on December 13, 2017 at 5:19 PM

    Thanks for the great advice for getting a mortgage. My wife and I are ready to get our own home, so this is perfect for us. Using a broker sounds like a great choice, especially if they do all the negotiating for us. I’m not good at negotiating, so that’d be nice!

  4. vijay on October 30, 2018 at 9:56 PM

    Can you please tell me some reputed mortgage brokers in Toronto area

    • Barry Choi on October 31, 2018 at 7:41 AM

      Hey Vijay,

      Canwise financial and Truenorth mortgage are pretty big in the GTA.

  5. vijay on October 31, 2018 at 8:21 PM

    Thank you!

  6. kristine j. fisher on November 27, 2018 at 4:11 AM

    Hi, Barry Choi

    Thanks for sharing such a great information with us. Your Post is very unique and all information is reliable for new readers. Keep it up in future.

    Finding a best mortgage broker is not easy.I think Best mortgage broker can help us by reducing our time as well as its totally Hassle-free.A good mortgage broker should know about Mortgage Laws also. am i right ?

    Also, i want to mention that , I see your post regularly. Your post is very useful to us.

  7. […] Money We Have’s Barry Choi writes a great piece for getting your first mortgage. […]

  8. Morgan Homehow on June 10, 2019 at 12:31 PM

    There are a lot of technicalities that need to be taken care of when you are getting your mortgage. I would suggest you ask a professional about it and how it can be resolved.

  9. Alexander Teng on August 19, 2019 at 11:29 AM

    Great article. I second the advice to find your mortgage through a mortgage broker. I would add that it’s also important to work with a mortgage broker because they care about you for the long-haul. Mortgage means until death, as per the meaning of the word translated from Latin. So work with mortgage brokers because they are invested to be there with you for the long-haul, not just your immediate transaction need. Here’s why:

    Many have fear working with mortgage brokers and prefer the comfort of going to their familiar banks to get the mortgage loan. It stems from a common misperception that banks (corporation) will treat them better than mortgage brokers (individuals). The reality is, mortgage brokers would take care of you better than corporations because your financial future is important to their future too. Banks have other sources of income to sustain them (account fee, credit card fee, etc) but mortgage brokers income comes solely from the commission of closing the mortgage for you. Plus, if you were to go default on your mortgage, the banks will take over, sell your house, and recoup their money from the proceed. There is simply nothing in it for the mortgage broker to give your a mortgage loan that is self-serving to themselves in the short-term that would lead you to a default proceeding.

    So which one of the two entities would you like to work with? One who has become a household name but is a corporation who earns income from you through multiple types of fees and would benefit from you if you went default. Or the mortgage brokers (individuals) whose sole income is from continuous business of getting you the right mortgage terms and who do not benefit in any way if you were to go default on your mortgage.

    I would choose to work with mortgage brokers. But then, some might say my answer is bias because I’m a mortgage broker. I had shared my thinking process above to arrive at my conclusion. Other may decide on their own.

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