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Julian Compton and Amber Kueneman say having their own place has helped them bond as a family, especially during the lockdown

Home a ‘beautiful, safe place’ for Toronto couple and their newborn

Julian Compton and Amber Kueneman say having their own place has helped them bond as a family, especially during the lockdown

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At Home is a five-part series that asks Canadians to share what home ownership means to them from the perspective of the head and the heart. Contemplating making upgrades to your home? Advice from an HSBC mortgage specialist can help make it happen.

Julian Compton and Amber Kueneman were ready to start the next chapter of their lives with a home big enough for a family.

After living in a condo for three lively years full of parties, travel and work events, they decided it was time to slow down and start a family on a quiet little street in a kid-friendly neighbourhood.

They found their dream home in Toronto’s Don Mills area, Julian’s old stomping grounds, where he spent part of his childhood.

For Julian, 34, who, with his mother, sells real estate, moving into his old neighbourhood meant reacquainting himself with his community and childhood friends. For Amber, the trees, parks and friendly vibe reminded her of her childhood growing up in Kitchener, Ont.

Their three-bedroom, three-level, 1950s-style townhouse needed some work, but at $720,000, the price was right and the financial transition relatively easy because, unlike many young couples, they had skipped the renting stage and had been able to buy their condo, which had appreciated in value and built up equity that they could put to use.

“It gave us an opportunity to buy down the road,” says Amber, 36, a shopping marketing manager in the food and beverage industry.

The couple took ownership in the fall of 2018. In February of this year, their daughter Lucia was born.

“For all of Lucia’s life, we’ve been in lockdown,” says Amber. “Our home is like a sacred temple, away from the battleground outside.”

Although she can’t do the things she was looking forward to as a new mother — Mommy Mondays, swimming together, overnight stays with her parents in Kitchener — Amber says the extra bonding time they have had together as a family unit has been a blessing.

“Julian is my village,” she says. “He’s working from home, so he is able to help out with the baby. We’ve established a really nice, relaxed routine that would have been hard to do [otherwise].”

Part of the routine includes lots of cooking in the newly opened-up kitchen, as well as reading and gardening. They also renovated the basement and set up a gym soon after the pandemic restrictions came in.

“We have renovated a lot of the house since we moved in,” she says of the projects that total approximately $50,000 to date. “Every corner feels good because we put our blood, sweat and tears into it.”

Julian and Amber embarked on the buying process by enlisting a bank and a mortgage specialist. They’re grateful that their bank helped them to see the full picture.

“[The bank] was proactive and upfront about mortgage rates, taxes and lawyers’ fees,” Julian says.

Amber agrees. “That conversation is important to understand your debts and that you have to have enough for a down payment plus other expenses.”

Unfortunately, not all banks are created equal. Take the time to find a bank you’re comfortable with and that wants to do what’s best for you.

“That’s one of the advantages of working with HSBC,” says Matt Mercer, Head of the Mortgage Centre at HSBC Bank Canada in Toronto. “We are a bank with mortgage specialists that can help homeowners understand their financial situation and provide a mortgage that best suits their needs.”

For some, it’s a fixed rate. For others it’s variable, depending on how comfortable people are with where interest rates may go and the amount of flexibility they want with their mortgage, Matt says.

“When looking for a mortgage, it’s always a good idea to find someone who talks to you about your lifestyle and your future plans,” he says. “Mortgage specialists help you assess your situation and find the mortgage that is right for you.”

By having a full discussion, Matt says they can help you identify and account for lifestyle factors that you may not even have considered.

“Everyone’s situation is unique and that’s why it’s important to work with a mortgage specialist to understand your individual situation and a bank you know and trust.”

We’re loving [our home] now and updating it as we go. And one day, we can use the equity to buy a bigger place — as our family grows.

JULIAN COMPTON

What advice do the couple have for new homeowners?

“It may sound basic,” Amber says, “but if you’re buying a house with someone, you need to figure out where you want to be. What if one wants to live in the east end and the other wants to be in the west? You have to agree on location from the start and get to know the market. And also figure out how you are going to pay bills. Who is responsible for what, like hydro, groceries, insurance?”

Next, seek out someone who is an expert in mortgages. “You might think you can afford a two-bedroom house, but in reality, it could be a one-bedroom condo, or conversely, you may be able to afford more than you think,” Julian says.

Finally, keep your goals in mind — including long-term.

The couple plan to use their townhome as a stepping-stone to a semi-detached when their five-year mortgage is over.

“We’re loving it now and updating it as we go,” Julian says. “And one day, we can use the equity to buy a bigger place — as our family grows.”

In the meantime, they are enjoying their new lives and community and strengthening their relationship as a new family.

“It’s like being wrapped up in our own cozy blanket,” Amber says. “This is our beautiful, safe place. It’s our heart.”

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A proud sponsor of At Home, HSBC Bank Canada understands that the way you finance your home affects your lifestyle and wealth building potential. In times of uncertainty, our mortgage specialists can help you integrate your mortgages into life’s bigger picture, so that you can enjoy the freedom and flexibility you need to realize all of your dreams. Learn more at HSBC Bank Canada.

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

Credits: Editing by KATHERINE SCARROW; Illustration by MAIA GRECCO; Photography by MELISSA RENWICK; Design and development by JEANINE BRITO and KYLE YOUNG