In a competitive real estate market, first-time homebuyers must leverage any advantage they can get. Cities like Toronto and Vancouver may be particularly tough to crack – but it can be done. Here are five surprising ways to house-hunt like a pro.

Pro strategy No. 1: House-hunt on a statutory holiday

Spring is peak real estate season, with the widest selection of homes for sale, but also more buyers and higher prices than what you’ll find in the off-season.

Give yourself an edge by shopping on Victoria Day or another holiday. You’ll find less competition and get more of your real estate professional’s attention, too. Sure, you’re sacrificing a long weekend, but if it gets you into your first home… #worthit 

Pro strategy No. 2: Try crowdfunding

In today’s hot real estate market, it’s practically a given that first-time homebuyers will get help from their mom and dad: A full 65% of millennials plan to ask their parents or family for financial assistance. But why stop there?

Another great way to beef up your down payment is to consider using a crowdfunding platform that you can direct your loved ones to for birthdays, holidays and any other gift-giving occasions. If you’re getting married, use it in lieu of a bridal registry.  

Pro strategy No. 3: Write a compelling letter

Make a person-to-person connection, and you may come out on top in a multiple-offer scenario, as one Oakville, Ontario, family discovered. Their heartfelt letter won them the house they wanted, even though their offer was $150,000 shy of the highest bid. (It’s worth noting, however, that they still bid well over the home’s listing price.) 

Pro strategy No. 4: Go in with friends

Not keen on condos? Co-ownership could be the way to afford that detached house you’ve been dreaming of. Pooling resources with friends (or relatives) gives you an edge on affordability. Whether both parties live in the home in separate units or one lives elsewhere as a silent investment partner, protect your asset by having a lawyer  draft an agreement outlining responsibilities and obligations and help guide you through the purchase documentation.

Pro strategy No. 5: Become a landlord

One way to boost the affordability factor of a home is to add an income-generating unit. A legal rental unit can offset your mortgage payments by as much as a few thousand dollars a month, in a desirable neighbourhood.

You don’t need a full apartment, either. If you’ve got a spare bedroom and are willing to share your kitchen and bath, you can earn several hundred dollars each month by hosting an international student through a homestay agency or by renting the room out on peer-to-peer vacation rental websites.

Achieve the homeownership dream sooner