Back in January 2018, Heather and Aaron Wildgrove received news that their twins’ daycare was raising its rates again. That increase was the last straw.
Although the couple earned a healthy, middle-class income, paying for their New Westminster, B.C., townhouse mortgage meant that after shelling out for their boys’ care, they were left with zero financial wiggle room.
“I was like, ‘But I want to go to Fiji at some point and not work until I die,’” says Ms. Wildgrove.
It was time to take drastic action.
Within months, the couple found new jobs, sold their suburban Vancouver house for a cool $901,000 (which they had bought in 2010 for $452,000). They used the windfall to purchase a new home in a completely new – and less expensive – city: Edmonton.
The infill home offered them everything they wanted for less. Now the young family lives five minutes from West Edmonton Mall, the local zoo and the River Valley. It’s an older neighbourhood with lots of trees.
“For this stage of our life, it has worked out so much better for us,” says Ms. Wildgrove. “We can spend more time with our kids and put them in a yard.”
The family’s story illustrates the lengths some home buyers will go to make a forever home a reality. New homebuyers are just as keen to do what it takes to purchase real estate without amassing crushing debt in the process. Being smart and flexible about where, when and even how you buy your house can save a bundle long-term.
That’s definitely the case for the Niagara, Ont., region, says Susan Pennell, a realtor with Royal LePage NRC Realty in Niagara. She points out that a detached house in Toronto runs an average of $1.3-million these days, while a similar house in Niagara goes for $450,000.
“That’s why we’re flooded with Toronto buyers,” she explains. “A commute is going to pay off.”
While smaller cities offer more bang for the buck, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that it’s easy to lose money on a property if you aren’t careful. In smaller markets, the return on investment isn’t always there in the short term. Ms. Pennell recommends buying a home “that grandma lived in,” a solid brick house that needs some paint, wallpaper and someone to strip away the old carpet to reveal the original wood floors.
“Those are kind of overlooked by people. They go in and do the HGTV, ‘Oh, I want granite counters,’ thing. Well, you know what? You can buy counters,” she says – and save substantially in the process.
Moving to a less expensive region isn’t always possible, however, says Noel D’Souza, a certified financial planner and money coach with Money Coaches Canada in Toronto. One of his clients who commutes to the city from a rural property is now considering moving closer due to the time and money she spends on commuting. All that gas and those oil changes add up.
“She has a lower housing cost, but higher ‘everything else’ cost,” he says.
Still, there are other ways a buyer can turn flexibility into an asset come purchase time. Mr. D’Souza says there’s more interest amongst first time home buyers in purchasing a property together and home sharing. In other cases, families are making condo living work by buying properties close to parks where their kids can play.
And don’t forget about all the usual ways to maximize a mortgage to save money: shop around for the best deal, look for pre-payment privileges and watch out for costly mortgage penalties. Use a mortgage broker to understand the fine print and get the best deal too, says Ms. Pennell.
In the end, knowing when to buy can be just as important as what, she explains. While springtime tends to bring listings galore, there is often much more competition from other buyers. Waiting until winter can uncover better deals from motivated sellers and reduce the pressure to overbid and overspend.
“If you want to save money, don’t get carried away. Don’t put your sights on a house so much that you forget where your line is,” Ms. Pennell says. “I’ve seen this. [Buyers] just keep pushing the price up because people want to win.”