Mrs. SPF and I were wed in the autumn of 2009 just south of Ottawa in North Gower. After we wed we decided that buying a home in Canada together as a couple was important to us. Prior to being married we “tested the waters” so to speak by living together in the first house I had ever owned. I bought this house shortly after winning a “permanent” job with my then, and now employer, the Ontario Public Service in Peterborough, Ontario. The house was a 4 bedroom, 2 bath century home that had been gutted, an addition added and even re-bricked. It was situated on a standard 50’x100′ lot with good proximity to the downtown core and shopping / restaurants. The exterior of the house was in great shape and the property even had a 2 storey detached garage while the interior of the house was poorly painted (pink and purple!) with turquoise carpet wherever there was an absence of hardwood flooring.
When I decided to buy the house I was able to look past the decorating, however, I (we) never did get around to doing much redecorating aside from painting over the purple kitchen, dining room and den. The other issues with the home was that it was located beside an auto-body shop, across from a massive General Electric Parking lot, 50 feet from a pretty major road and in an affordable but not overly desirable neighbourhood. The biggest issue with this house however, is that I chose it – we (Mrs. SPF and I) did not choose it together and while the house was serviceable it never did feel like “home”. So we decided that buying a home together was a priority – we wanted to start our lives together as husband and wife, not in a house, but in a home we found and bought together.
Criteria When Buying a Home in Canada
Every home buyer is going to have their own criteria in selecting and ultimately buying a home. Mrs. SPF and I were pretty certain what our criteria were, however, we consciously decided that we had to investigate homes that did not fit our preconceived desires, just in case other types of homes might meet our needs and wants.
The home buyer will have to determine if they want to live in a town or city versus living on a rural property. Some of the first homes we saw, and quite possibly one of the top 5 in terms of how much we liked the home and property, were in rural settings and small towns. We even looked at some farms and strongly considered buying a house outside of Peterborough. Ultimately we didn’t want to commute into town, not only due to the added expense of parking ($720 annually) and fuel costs in our Subaru Outback but also the environmental considerations of burning fossil fuels each and every day plus being out of reach of many amenities, especially since we plan to have a family and kids have all of those activities we’d have to drive to in the city!
So where in the city does the home buyer consider buying a house then? In a lot of markets the North and West parts of town are the most desirable. In Peterborough these areas are indeed popular but there are two other areas closer to the downtown core: the Old West End/Avenues and East City where Victorian (century) homes aged 100 years and older stand proud and graciously. We were pretty sure we wanted to live in these areas due to the fact they are historical, have character, good value, lots of mature trees, a true neighbourhood “feel”, we could walk to work and many amenities and the fact we grew up in Kingston, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec in the types of homes we find in these neighbourhoods. In our city these homes are priced from $250,000 upwards of $450,000 depending on where you buy. The north and west end homes that we would be interested in would be priced between $250,000 and $450,000 so quite comparable. We did go see houses in the north and west. We almost bid on a bungalow (very dissimilar to the 3 storey brick houses we adore!) with great hardwood floors and a massive lot near one of the best public schools in the city, but it sold before we got our bid in. We saw numerous houses in the north and west parts of our city – possibly 10 in total. I think I liked some them more than Mrs. SPF. These houses ranged from 2 to 40 years old. So looking outside our comfort-zone, or where we thought we wanted to live, was a good thing to do to confirm we did not want to live in those areas.
Part of picking a location when buying a house includes things like the quality of schools, if you plan to or currently have children. Proximity to work, amenities (groceries, restaurants, the gym, hair dressers, retail stores etc), parks, playgrounds, recreational centres, and churches matter. The more you drive the more you spend. For us, school quality is important but so is being able to send our kids to schools that teach both French and English. Mrs. SPF (guess who is from Montreal) is fluent in both languages (whereas I am useless in French regardless how hard I try) and we both think fully understanding both of our national languages.
The house itself will have numerous features that you will need to consider as well:
- What types of heating and cooling systems do you require/desire? (we prefer forced air natural gas but ended up with a natural gas boiler furnace and no forced air means no central air conditioning)
- Has the house had an energy retrofit? (our house had no insulation so we decided to get our eco-energy retrofit done)
- How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you want? (we currently need 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom, really)
- How many do you need? (we want to start a family so 4 bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms was more realistic)
- How big of a yard or driveway do you want/need? (we have a Newfoundland dog so we needed some yard for her to run, plus we want to start a vegetable garden so we wanted a “normal” sized city lot minimum)
- Do you want move-in ready or do you prefer a fix-it-upper? (we wanted move-in but ultimately we still have work to do, especially after the retrofit – tons of holes drilled into the walls to pump in the insulation!)
- Do you need a shed or garage? (we will build a shed but decided a garage was a nice to have not a must have)
- What type of flooring do you prefer? (we will pull up the carpet and restore the hardwood eventually)
- Basement? Attic? (Our basement is 100 years old and not finished, no will be get finished. The attic has a ton of potential for a master suite someday)
- Age of roof, furnace, hot water tank – how important are these things to you? (We got relatively new everything)
- Do you require or want a pool? (We didn’t need one and while it may be nice to have, they sure use a lot of power and water and we knew our city was turning to “smart meters” in the next few years)
- How high-end / updated do you want your bathrooms and kitchen to be? How important is the size of these rooms to you? (ours were newer but not high-end)
- Do you want a sun room or den? (we got a sun room addition)
Other Important “To Dos” When Buying a Home in Canada
- Take a hard look at your personal situation before looking at homes for sale and make sure buying a house is the right thing for you and your family. Sometimes renting makes more sense.
- Try to have at least 20% down payment to avoid paying a Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation mortgage “insurance”. This insurance is a tax in reality but if you can get 20% down you avoid the tax entirely.
- Acquire pre-approval on a mortgage loan prior to making an offer on a house. You really do need to be sure you can afford the house you desire.
- Shop around for the best mortgage you can find. You do not have to automatically select the bank where you opened your first chequing account many years ago.
- Understand your other financial commitments. The bank will tell you the maximum you can afford according to their lending models but the reality is houses have numerous costs associated with them. It is smart to err on the side of caution and not borrow the maximum.
- Understand closing costs. As a buyer you aren’t directly paying for real estate agent but you will likely be on the hook for a land transfer tax, outstanding property tax, legal fees and moving costs.
- Find a good lawyer. You will need to have a bunch of legal work done so find a lawyer you can rely on.
What criteria are important to you when you are buying a house? Do you have any other advice to give about buying a home in Canada?