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(Rafal Gerszak/Rafal Gerszak)
(Rafal Gerszak/Rafal Gerszak)

Rob Carrick

Ready to be bold? Sell the house and rent Add to ...

Our bubbly housing market raises questions not only about the wisdom of buying right now, but also about selling.

What if you bought a home many years ago and had the opportunity to lock in a great profit while the market is still buoyant? A Vancouver woman and her husband answered this question recently by selling the family home and signing a one-year lease on a rental.

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“We bailed,” said the woman, who asked to be anonymous in this column. We’ll just call her Ms. Bold. She and her husband have been having annual talks about whether to sell since 2008, when the housing market briefly plunged. This year, they agreed it’s time.

“When you look at all the statistics, it just doesn’t make sense,” Ms. Bold said of the Vancouver market. “Who’s kidding who? The cost of living here is so outrageously expensive and incomes are not keeping pace.”

The average price of a home was up about 6.9 per cent a year over the past decade on a national basis, and there are cities like Vancouver and Toronto where gains have been even better. The average price in the greater Vancouver area was $775,693 in the first quarter of the year – a decade ago the average was in the $300,000 range.

After a long rally in housing prices, concern about a correction of some sort is growing. For a majority of people, the idea of selling now to preserve their gain in the housing market will seem crazy. They like their homes, they like the homeowner’s lifestyle and they abhor renting. Let the housing market rise and fall – they plan to own for the duration.

Still, there’s a case to be made for getting your money out of a house now if you’ve done very well over the years. That’s what Ms. Bold and her spouse have been thinking. They’re in their mid-40s, she a professional coach and her husband an entrepreneur. They have two kids, aged 12 and 7. They bought a $275,000 home in 2003 and sold three years later for $375,000. Purchased for $445,000, their most recent North Vancouver home sold in March for over $1-million after attracting three bids from interested buyers. Time on the market: Less than a week.

“Let me put this in perspective – this is a 100-year-old home, 2,400 square feet on a 50-foot lot,” Ms. Bold said of her just-sold home. “We do not even have a bathroom upstairs with our bedroom.”

More than a million for a non-monster home? “That’s nothing,” she said. “This same home on the west side of Vancouver would sell at $1.5-million.”

Then again, the Vancouver housing market looked a little shaky in March. While average prices moved higher, sales fell sharply. Ms. Bold’s sense is that some parts of the city are holding up, but her confidence level in the market is near zero right now.

At first, she and her husband thought about selling in the traditionally strong spring market, and then buying another home during the traditional summer slowdown. Now, they see no rush to buy back in. Instead, they will rent a four-bedroom house for a one-year period in which they’ll look at their options.

One option is to continue renting in Canada, at least for a few years, and buy a house in the United States. Annihilated in a slump that began five years ago, U.S. housing might in fact offer some opportunities for bargain hunters. Back in February, uber-investor Warren Buffett said he would buy “a couple hundred thousand” single family homes if he could find a practical way to do it.

For now, Ms. Bold and her husband are content to enjoy their debt-free status and the extra cash flow that comes from renting. In fact, their monthly rental costs are only a little less than their mortgage payments, which were set at a high level to speed up the repayment process. But they estimate they’ll save thousands by not paying property taxes and home maintenance costs.

It’s not an easy emotional transition to go from owning a home to renting, but there are compensations.

“The part I’m struggling with is the idea of living in a house that doesn’t look and feel the way I want it to,” Ms. Bold said. “My husband just keeps saying, wait until you see our bank account balance. We’re going to be debt-free with a big wad of cash.”

Infographic: Growth in house prices in major cities

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