How to Become a Homeowner on a First-Time Buyer’s Budget
It's not easy being a first-time home buyer right now. At the end of last year, housing affordability hit an all-time low. Additionally, mortgage rates have risen significantly since 2021, while inventory remains tight for many property categories, but especially for starter homes. Even lower-priced condos are harder to snag these days, as investors and downsizers muscle out first-timers by offering stronger, often cash-heavy bids.
As a result, many first-time home buyers are finding that they need to get creative to afford a home or risk renting for longer than they planned. If you, too, are struggling to afford homeownership, here are some workarounds to consider as you plot your first home purchase.
1. Try House Hacking
“House hacking” is a real estate investment strategy in which participants use their homes to generate income in order to offset their expenditures.
For example, renting out a basement apartment or accessory dwelling unit (ADU)—such as a detached garage that's been outfitted with a washroom and small kitchen—counts as house hacking. So does splitting housing costs with a roommate or converting a part of your home into an Airbnb.
House hacking isn’t new. But, it’s grown in popularity as a new crop of digital platforms has entered the market and made it easier than ever for homeowners to generate income from their property.
In some cases, house hacking may make it possible for you to qualify for and afford your first home. A lender, for example, may approve you for a larger mortgage if you purchase a home with immediate income potential, such as a legal duplex or a property with a secondary suite that has a kitchen and full washroom.
But before you make plans to house hack, make sure you fully understand an area's bylaws and homeowner restrictions. We can help you find a property with income potential in a neighbourhood with more flexible rules or less restrictive zoning.
2. Team Up With Friends or Family
If you aren't wild about the idea of welcoming strangers to your home, you may want to consider co-purchasing with a friend or family member instead. This unconventional housing arrangement is also growing more popular as friends and family members cope with higher living costs by pooling resources.
According to Statistics Canada, multigenerational households in Canada have nearly doubled since 2001. Meanwhile, the number of households shared by roommates has grown even more rapidly, climbing by more than 50% during the same period.
Arrangements can be customized to fit your circumstances. For example, you could purchase a home and then rent a portion of it to a loved one. Or you might consider co-buying a home with friends or family members so that you can step onto the property ladder and start building equity together.
Co-ownership could work out especially well for you long-term if it helps you to buy a home that's bigger, has more investment potential, or is located in a high-demand area and so appreciates at a faster rate. Plus, you'll get to see your loved ones more often and enjoy the coziness of shared living with people you like having around.
On the other hand, sharing a big financial responsibility, like a mortgage, with friends or family could get messy—especially if you don't create a clear-cut co-ownership agreement beforehand that outlines your mutual expectations. So plan carefully before you proceed.
In addition, you may need to rethink the type of home you pursue. For example, a smaller home might be cheaper, but do you really want that much togetherness all the time? We can help you set priorities and search for a suitable property.
3. Tap Your Network for Help With Funding
Another established method for affording a first home is to lean on family or friends for financial help. Getting assistance with the down payment or other borrowing costs can go a long way toward making your homeownership dreams come true.
As long as you don't mind asking for help, a free-and-clear gift that's intended for your down payment is an ideal arrangement, since it will allow you to borrow less overall. Or, if that’s too big an ask, your loved ones could pitch in toward closing or moving costs.
Alternatively, your loved ones could help by co-signing your loan. For example, if their credit score is a lot higher than yours, it could enable you to secure a lower interest rate so that your monthly payment is more affordable.
You certainly wouldn't be the only one leaning on family to help afford a home at today's prices. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's latest Mortgage Consumer Survey, around a third of recent home buyers used gift money to help buy their homes. What's more, 22% admitted that they wouldn't have been able to afford to buy without it. Meanwhile, a CIBC study from 2021 found that many parents are gifting increasingly large amounts to their children to help fund down payments.
Just be sure your parents or other generous loved ones are aware they're giving a gift, not a loan, and are willing to put that in writing. A lender will want proof that this money isn't adding to your debt burden and may require documentation from your benefactors.
Another way to tap your network for help is to crowdfund part of your down payment or ask for monetary gifts instead of tangible ones. For example, if you're getting married soon, you could skip the wedding gift registry and ask guests to contribute funds to your hoped-for home purchase instead.
4. Look for Special Programs and Assistance
You could also cut some of your upfront mortgage costs by taking advantage of government programs, tax rebates, and other funding opportunities.
For example, the Government of Canada's new First Home Savings Account (FHSA) initiative could help you trim your next year's tax bill as you gather money for your down payment. When you open an FSHA, you can route up to $8,000 per year of income to the account, tax-free (up to a maximum of $40,000). And if you co-buy with a partner and you both open FHSA accounts, you can squirrel away a combined $16,000 per year.
You may also be eligible for a First Time Home Buyers' Tax Credit up to $1,500, as well as other home buyer rebates, depending on the type of home you buy and where you move. For example, you could get a substantial rebate on some of the GST/HST taxes you pay when you buy a newly-constructed or heavily-renovated home.
First-time home buyers can also borrow up to $35,000 tax-free from their individual Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) to help beef up their down payments. And eligible buyers can take advantage of the Government of Canada's First-Time Home Buyer's Incentive, which offers 5% to 10% of a new home's purchase price in exchange for a cut of the home's equity. We can connect you with a lender or mortgage broker who can educate you about your options and help shepherd you through the process.
5. Expand Your Home Search
If you’re having trouble finding a home within your budget, consider broadening your search criteria. You may be surprised by the kinds of deals that are available when you're willing to compromise.
For example, if you're struggling to find an affordable home in your target neighbourhood, expand your search area and consider homes that are further out of town or that are located in up-and-coming areas with lower starting prices. We would be happy to introduce you to some great but lesser-known neighbourhoods that we consider hidden gems.
You could also save money on your home purchase simply by dropping or revising some of your must-haves and settling for OK-to-haves instead. For example, do you really need two washrooms and a large backyard? Or could you settle for a single washroom with space to add a second one in the future? And would a small garden, cozy balcony, or rooftop terrace still give you the outdoor time you crave? These types of compromises can sometimes shave tens of thousands off your purchase price.
Similarly, if you don't mind rolling up your sleeves or working with a contractor on minor jobs, you can look for homes that need a little TLC. Just because a house looks dated doesn't mean it's destined to stay that way or that it will take a ton of money to spruce up. In fact, a home with good bones but cosmetic flaws could be a perfect match: With less competition, you'll have a better chance of purchasing the home at an affordable price. You can then take your time to save more and fix it up to your taste.
Keep in mind, starter homes are rarely forever homes, but merely a first step onto the property ladder. By gaining a foothold in the real estate market now, you can set yourself up to afford a more expensive property in the future.
According to Statistics Canada, the net worth of a typical Canadian homeowner has more than doubled since the start of the new millennium, climbing from $323,700 in 1999 to $685,400 by 2019. The average renter's net worth, by contrast, grew far more slowly during the same period, rising from $14,600 to just $24,000. We can help you find an affordable first home so you can start building equity to reach your long-term financial and real estate goals.
YOU CAN DO IT—AND WE CAN HELP
Buying a first home is challenging, but it's not impossible—especially when you have a savvy real estate professional in your corner. We will work with you to devise a plan to overcome your financial constraints. Then, we’ll help you find a home that not only excites you but also fits your budget and lifestyle. Give us a call to get started with a free exploratory consultation.
The above references an opinion and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be financial, legal, or tax advice. Consult the appropriate professionals for advice regarding your individual needs.
Financial Post - https://financialpost.com/executive/executive-summary/housing-affordability-crisis-canada-worse
MoneySense - https://www.moneysense.ca/spend/real-estate/income-properties/legal-secondary-suite-or-basement-apartment/
Statistics Canada -
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) - https://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/professionals/housing-markets-data-and-research/housing-research/surveys/mortgage-consumer-surveys/survey-results-2022
Government of Canada -
A Place to Call Home -
Statistics Canada -