Housing Market

How first-time home-buyers are bridging the gulf between their dreams and reality

How first-time home-buyers are bridging the gulf between their dreams and reality Anyone wanting to buy her first home, especially in a big city, sees the gulf between her dreams and reality. It used to be that you get out of school, get your first job and there you are with your single (detached) home. There are more steps in between

Today, first-time homebuyers will buy a condo or a townhouse. They’ll co-buy with friends or family. They’ll buy a home with a rental unit. They’ll spend more time saving up for a down payment.

We spoke to some first-time home buyers about how they achieved their home-ownership dreams:


Who Robin, 25, recently-graduated nurse, and Adam, 25, diagnostic technician

Where Oshawa, Ont.

What The couple spent $230,000 on a 1,000-square foot bungalow that sits on a double lot in December 2014.

How they did it Robin was reluctant to buy a home. She was studying to become a nurse and tutoring and teaching first aid courses to cover her education. Meanwhile, her husband was supporting them on an income of $31,000. Adam’s parents were renting them a basement apartment for $400 while encouraging them to get into the housing market.

“They said, ‘You’re wasting money with us,’ ” she says. “Adam and his dad came up with the idea to look for a place where we would be able to rent out some part of it in order to make our (monthly) payments cheaper.”

The couple found a bungalow with a basement tenant who had been there for more than 15 years and who wanted to stay.

To avoid paying mortgage insurance, the couple put down 20 per cent as a downpayment, including $10,000 from Adam’s parents who had saved the couple’s rent payments over the years.

Their mortgage payments are $787 a month and their tenant pays $685 per month. They’ve also rented out their garage to someone looking to store a car for the winter and their driveway to another individual who parks an RV there.

Their best advice If you’re a couple, group your finances together and work as a team towards a common goal.


Who Dave, 35, digital marketing consultant

Where Toronto

What Dave and his wife, who is a high school teacher, purchased a $550,000 fixer-upper. The semi-detached two-story home was built in 1928; it has three bedrooms, an unfinished basement and a big backyard.

How they did it They followed the axiom: “Find the worst house on the best street,” Dave says. They saw a listing for a home down the street from where they were renting. “It needed a lot of work. The kitchen was small enough that you couldn’t open the dishwasher unless you stood beside it. Some of the rafters were not attached to the (walls of the) house. The ceiling was sagging.

“But we knew we loved the neighbourhood. The house was on the market for at least a month and the price had come down by $20,000. A couple of weeks later, a similar house across the street went for around $800,000.”

They paid five per cent as a down payment and began the slow process of renovating, with Dave’s father-in-law doing most of the handy work. “We ripped up the carpets. We put in a new floor. We renovated the kitchen. All of the wiring was redone. (We) knocked out walls, put in new ceilings.”

The renovations have cost them about $100,000. To find deals on furniture and materials, they hit up auctions. “We got our kitchen cabinetry for $7,000 at an auction. We got our hardwood floors for $4,000 for the entire downstairs.”

His best advice “Be realistic about what you want to accomplish and when. We had delusions about it being over in three months. Five years later, we’re still working on the house.”


Who Melissa, 33, research associate, and Kieren, 34, trainer in the travel industry

Where East Vancouver

What The couple bought an 800-square-foot condo in the summer of 2015 for $365,000. The two-bedroom and two-bathroom unit is in an up-and-coming neighbourhood.

How they did it It took them a little longer to amass enough savings to make a down payment. They had moved countries twice and Melissa was still paying off her student loans. They knew they needed at least five per cent for a down payment to buy a condo. “House (prices) in Vancouver are pretty unrealistic.”

To get more in the bank, they buckled down and chopped discretionary spending and vacation plans. “We made a few sacrifices, stopped going out as much, stopped buying coffees and lunches and just made sure every spare cent we had went towards our savings,” Kieren says. “I wanted a place. (It was) something I was saving towards instead of saving randomly; it was a goal in mind.”

Their best advice Do your research. “We started looking online at apartments about six months before we were ready to buy.” Also, be prepared for closing costs: “There are legal fees, home inspection fees, moving fees, strata fees. It makes it a lot less stressful if you have some spare cash to pay for these things.”


Who Rachel, 31, public relations professional

Where Toronto

What Rachel and her husband searched for three years before purchasing a $430,000 three-story stacked townhouse in May 2014. They opted for the 1,300-square-foot property because it was close to downtown and had three bedrooms; with their budget, they had previously only been able to find houses with two bedrooms.

How she did it Before buying, Rachel and her husband rented a one-bedroom apartment for $1,300. (Today, their mortgage payments are $2,000 a month.) “The biggest challenge for us was shifting our mindset to better understand that we could own and put money back into our own pockets,” she says. They met with a realtor and talked about how much they were comfortable spending on mortgage payments. Then they approached their parents for $27,000 to cover a five per cent down payment.

“It was an awkward conversation to have, but it was one that both of our parents were supportive of,” she says. “It was a business-structured conversation. We said, ‘Here is our five-year plan to pay you back.’ We engaged them in our house process. We’d send them listings. We co-signed the mortgage with (my husband’s) mom and dad. They took out a personal loan and we’re paying back that loan.”

Her best advice “If you need support, which I think everyone does, especially in the city, lean on the people you can trust. We didn’t want to look like freeloaders. We said, ‘This is a serious investment for us. This is what we’re planning to do to pay you back.’ Show them that you’ve thought of the possible outcomes. For us, it was like a partnership.”


Who Ashley, 32, designer

Where Canmore, Alta

What Ashley bought a 900-square-foot two-bedroom condo that was within her budget of $300,000 to $350,000.

How she did it Ashley was renting an apartment within walking distance of her downtown Calgary office. But she had been thinking about buying a home for a few years. She knew that purchasing in the city would be harder to afford and she had always dreamed of living in the mountains. She eventually bought a condo in Canmore, a one-hour commute to Calgary. “To me, it was worth it, to be able to have your own home,” she says. “You work hard and you want to have something to show for it.”

She’s always been a diligent saver and had amassed a lump sum on her own to put towards her home. The next goal is to chip away at the mortgage.

Her best advice “Start saving young and be mindful of what location and what type of lifestyle you want. I wanted to be outdoors as much as possible.”

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