You had your best-laid plans and then COVID-19 came along and hammered the entire economy. But you’ve got this – if you have the right information. Join Rob Carrick and Roma Luciw on Stress Test, a podcast guiding you through one of the biggest challenges your finances will ever face.
ROB: So, here’s the dilemma: The real estate market is too hot where you are but you still want to buy a home. You’re not alone.
ROMA: In the pandemic, there has been a surge of Canadians who are leaving the big city in search of real estate -- and I mean, they’re really leaving it.
ROB: Today we’re finding out what can happen when you go off the beaten trail in search of buying an affordable home.
ROMA: Welcome to Stress Test, a podcast about personal finance in the pandemic for Gen Z and Millennials. I’m Roma Luciw, personal finance editor at the Globe.
ROB: And I’m Rob Carrick personal finance columnist at the Globe.
ROMA: Okay, Rob. So we’re talking about housing again, and it’s not a surprise, all anyone is talking about these days is vaccines, the pandemic and housing.
ROB: And with good reason, because housing is the financial story of the decade and we’re so early in the decade, I’m making a big, bold prediction here. Housing prices have gone through the roof. And what do people do if you can’t afford to live in the city you want? You look elsewhere. And I have been writing for years about Oh, there’s an affordable market in Saint John, New Brunswick, and no one cared until the pandemic came, drove house prices in the city higher. And now all of a sudden, places like Saint John, and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and a lot of these small towns and cities way outside Toronto are red hot. People are discovering you can get an affordable house there. It’s one of the most surprising developments of the pandemic is the huge increases in small town real estate. Have you been shocked by this, Roma?
ROMA: Absolutely flabbergasted. And I’m so happy I got to use that word, by the way. Now, I totally agree with you. The big story of this pandemic has been the spillover of the housing market into these, you know, smaller cities, towns, rural areas that are seeing sort of the frenetic madness of bidding wars, you know, multiple bids, soaring prices frenzy of buyers, and, you know, all of this is, of course, stemming from everyone’s desire to own a home. So what we’re seeing is record numbers of young people leaving the big cities. And tell us a little bit, Rob about the kinds of places they’re going to.
ROB: Well, I mean, used to be that if you couldn’t afford Toronto, you would move to Hamilton, which if you don’t live in Ontario is about an hour’s drive and maybe about four hours in regular rush hour traffic. But they’re now pushing way, way past that. One of the busy markets in Toronto, you would drive down Highway 401, eastbound, out of Toronto, you start looking at the house prices of the communities you’ll find there and they are rising and rising in ways that residents have never seen before. Like we’re talking 20, 30, 40% on a year-over-year basis. Places like Gananoque, Ontario, Kingston, Ontario, Alexandria, Ontario, these places are, it’s unprecedented. There’s a flow of people to the Maritimes. People are discovering was a great quality of life there and some very affordable housing markets. Ontario money has found that and is locked in on it.
ROMA: Now, we wanted to know more about where people were moving and why they were moving. So we did a call out in your Carrick On Money newsletter. And we got a huge response, more than 800 people, you know, told us about what’s happening from their point of view in the housing market. Among those that we asked, 75% had already left the big city for cheaper real estate during the pandemic. A lot of them used to live in places like Toronto and Vancouver, and a lot of them were moving to smaller places like Scugog, Kanata, Cobourg, West Kelowna, Gatineau huge variety of responses. What stuck out for you at that survey, Rob?
The fact that people were just even doing this, you know, one thing I’ve discovered I grew up in Toronto, and a lot of my friends and family in Toronto and Toronto people don’t like to move outside of Toronto. Toronto people like Toronto but they don’t like Toronto’s real estate market. And suddenly, the light bulb has gone on and they are open-minded. And you can see in our survey, where were people coming from? Toronto and Vancouver. People say what can we do about expensive housing? Well, one thing you can do is move somewhere cheaper. And the pandemic enabled this by allowing us to work from home and in our survey, 84% of people said they were able to keep their job when they moved to a different city and work remotely. So I mean, this is the pandemic opening the door. The question I have is post-pandemic, are we all going to be able to work as home as much as we were before? And I hope that people have worked through that before they made their move.
ROMA: Yeah, absolutely. We’re going to be keeping an eye on how that plays out. The other thing that really stuck out in my mind was the question that we asked about people who had made the move, what did they not like about their new location and some of the answers were distance from family and friends, lack of things to do, negative attitude towards newcomers having to drive everywhere. Now, on the flip side, the people that had moved listed a lot of things that they really liked -- more space, better quality of life, quieter location. Closer to nature came up a lot as well as an improvement in lifestyle, less traffic, quieter. So all these things I think are very relatable for all of us that are still stuck in our homes.
ROB: I think the real test of how this has worked out will be 12 months from now when people have had a chance to live in their new towns and cities for a full year. But for now, I think it is one of the most interesting things happening in real estate. It is a creative, dynamic, rational solution to the unaffordability problem. And it’s great to see people opening their minds and taking advantage of the fact that we have this giant country full of places to live that aren’t as expensive as the big cities.
ROMA: Yeah, build your own life and make your new dream home elsewhere.
ROB: We decided to learn firsthand from someone who has made the move from Toronto to Saint John, New Brunswick. Jordan Owens is in his 30s. He has a young family and career and a love of trying new things. When Jordan and his partner and their toddler made the move from Toronto to Saint John,, they documented the whole thing for their YouTube channel.
ROMA: They’re used to sharing all the details, which is what Jordan’s doing today with us. That’s up next.
PRE-ROLL: This podcast is brought to you by CPP Investments. Take comfort knowing the Canada Pension Plan Fund will be there for you. We invest to help ensure the CPP fund remains resilient over the long term, sustainable and secure for millions of Canadians. Learn more at CPP Investments Dotcom.
[JORDAN OWENS ON YOUTUBE]
What’s up guys, and welcome back to another video.
JORDAN: My name is Jordan Owens, I’m 34 years old.
[JORDAN OWENS ON YOUTUBE]
In this one, we are going to be exploring Saint John and all that it has to offer...
ROB: You’re in Saint John, I can’t wait to get into how and why you got there because Saint John is, has long for about two years been my pick as the quintessential community Toronto people should look at. Tell us a little bit more about what you do and how being in Saint John’s is compatible with that?
JORDAN: Yeah, so my work is mainly all online. I am a social person. So I like making relationships face-to-face. Covid has changed all that. Luckily enough, I was able to find a lane that allowed me to work online. This is a new career for me. I’m about two years in, I played 12 years professional hockey. So it’s a bit of a transition phase, as I like to call it, but coming out of hockey, I knew I wanted to set myself up with something that would allow me to kind of maintain that same lifestyle that I was living before. I’m a travel junkie, I like adventure, it’s in my blood. I don’t like doing the same thing all the time.
Jordan, before we joined before we started our conversation, I looked you up on the website, Hockey DB, which for those who don’t know, has every hockey statistic under the sun, and if you’re a hockey fan, you have definitely spent time on this site. And I looked at you, you’ve had a really interesting career playing in a lot of different European cities. Can you just give us a sort of a rundown of where you’ve played?
JORDAN: Yeah, for sure. I started my career in North America, I signed with the New York Rangers in 2009. I was trying to, you know, chase the dream to the NHL. Unfortunately, for me, I never made it all the way aside from a handful of preseason games with those teams. But after that, I took my career overseas to Europe. I started out in Denmark, which was my first time touching my feet to soil in Europe and that in itself was life-changing for me. And I was instantly hooked to the allure of living abroad and experiencing these types of different locations that, you know, hockey bestowed on me. You know, it’s super grateful for that. I was able to play in Italy for a season. After that, I spent three years in Germany, and that’s where my daughter was born. So that’ll always be near and dear to our heart.
ROB: I see that you lived and played in different cities. Does that sort of highlight your open mindedness to working and living in different places and different having different experiences. And I ask that question, because a lot of people who live in Toronto, love Toronto, and they don’t really want to move.
JORDAN: Yeah, I honestly, I don’t blame them. I love Toronto, too. I really do. If I made millions of dollars playing professional hockey, which I didn’t, we would be there I think, you know, we would we would be there if money was no option. But we have to make money. And Toronto is very, very expensive. So that’s what kind of brought us out here.
ROB: Tell me about where you were living when the pandemic started.
JORDAN: We were in Toronto. It was my first year out of hockey. I was working as a developer for a startup in Toronto. And things were going pretty good. We were in what we thought was an awesome spot at the time. It was the cheapest spot we could find. So it was still taking me like 50 minutes to get downtown, which is absolutely crazy. It was a lower level apartment but we were paying $1600. Then COVID hit in March, and I started working from home, it was a one bedroom, by the way. And yeah, it just became a little much with us having a toddler running around in the background and me working in the living room. Parks were closed, everything was closed down as it is right now. And my wife and I just looked at each other and we were like, you know, the warm months are coming, we can’t be stuck in this little apartment, we need to make a change.
ROB: So tell me about your mindset. You realize a change needs to be made. And then you think where will we live? What was your thought process, you and your wife?
JORDAN: Mmhmm, that was a tough time. Because I wasn’t really making a lot of money, I didn’t qualify for a mortgage in any way, even though I had quite a bit of savings. All my money was invested but I was able to access it at any time. It was tough not being able to get a mortgage, not wanting to rent in Toronto, not wanting to rent anywhere, really, we wanted to buy a house. We didn’t have many options.
ROB: How did you end up with your sights set on Saint John, New Brunswick?
JORDAN: Yeah, we get that question quite a bit. And there’s a number of reasons I would say. One, our first reason probably would be that our best friends that we live just around the corner from in Toronto, they moved out here, probably two or three months before us. So there was that in the back of our minds for sure we wanted to be close to them. And my mom has been eyeballing Atlantic Canada, Saint John, specifically, for years. So we did have those in the back of our mind. But when I was looking on realtor.ca for a couple months, I was looking all over Canada. I was looking for the cheapest places that we could live that sort of ticked all the boxes that that we needed, but for whatever reason, you know, we ended up finding a place in Saint John and I was able to put down a cash offer on the house and get it. And here we are.
ROB: Give us some idea about the cost side of this. How much would a house in Toronto that you would have would have been suitable for you cost. And what was the comparative cost in Saint John?
JORDAN: Well, we’re very adaptable. I think we’d both be pretty happy in a two bedroom condo in Toronto. I don’t know how much those are going for these days, like $700,000 - $800,000? Out of our price range for sure. Whereas you can come to Saint John, we bought our house for $99,000. It’s a a two-bedroom. We put an addition on the top, kind of. We renovated the attic, but it added basically another room. So that’s a significant drop in price. And that definitely fell within our budget.
ROB: Ok, we have to circle back here because you got a house for $99,000? Tell us about it.
JORDAN: So for us, we weren’t able to get a mortgage but I was able to take out some money. We bought our house in cash. And so we don’t have a mortgage, we just pay the property tax. And yeah, it was a little scary spending that amount of money, but at the same time, it’s you know, you’re not really spending it, you’re just kind of moving it over. And you know, it is liberating not having that, that giant mortgage payment chasing you down every month. That’s for sure.
ROB: You got a house for $100,000. I mean, most Canadians haven’t been able to think about doing that since probably the ’50s. Can you take us on a quick virtual tour of your house? Describe your neighbourhood and what the house looks like, how many bedrooms it has, that sort of thing. Give us a spoken version of the realtor.ca ad.
JORDAN: Yeah, ok so we’re located on the east side of Saint John. We’re about five minutes from the uptown. The uptown is really good. We grew up in Niagara Falls and okay -- they call it uptown here for those who don’t know -- it’s downtown.
JORDAN: And yeah, it’s downtown. It’s, everything’s backwards I guess. But compared to where we grew up in Niagara Falls their uptown is leaps and bounds better. Our neighborhood is super quiet, you can hear a pin drop. There’s kids running around which is nice to see. Our house though, it’s on a hill. It’s sloped everywhere. It doesn’t make for easy mowing of the lawn. I’m not a huge fan of that. Soon as you enter our house we have a big sunroom which we’re in the midst of renovating. You enter into our living room, nice original hardwood floor still in great shape, decent size bedroom is off of that, you know there’s a small hallway leading into probably the biggest kitchen that we’ve ever had. We do need a new bathroom that’s going to be a cost that’s going to come very soon. Something that we’re fortunate to have is access to the attic from one of the bedrooms. So it’s a walk up attic it’s the first thing that we renovated turned it into the office that I’m sitting in here now it’s my favorite place you know I am a creator so to have everything I need my camera gear set up my computer, you know office area set up all the inspiration that I need around me to just be in a comfortable spot to create you know, it’s a dream come true for me for my wife too as well.
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ROB: Saint John, what is it like, the day-to-day life? Centred on your house, compared to your day-to-day life in Toronto.
JORDAN: Yeah, things move a lot slower out here which is welcome. As I mentioned I love Toronto. I love the energy the city. I was always outside never never in our apartment. So it’s tough to leave that it’s tough to leave all the action. The flip side of that? I love nature, have a giant respect for nature, I love being there it grounds me connects me just helps me remember, remember all the stuff that I should be really caring about. In a perfect world, I think living out in the country in New Brunswick, you know, with acres of land, privacy, I think that would be ideal. If we’re not going to be in the city. For me, it’s one of the other I want to be like, completely secluded from the world out in nature or right in the heartbeat of Toronto. So right now, I think we’re on a stepping stone to get to where we want to go. But yeah, it is it is tough. There’s definitely some adjustments. If you’re a city junkie, it’s different. You know, but if you can find ways to embrace that and look to the positive things, and the things that you don’t really have access to in Toronto that you do out here, if you can embrace those things and find an appreciation for them, I think you’re going to be pretty happy.
ROB: Do you find that Saint John is starting to take in enough people from Toronto and Ontario that you’re getting even a little tiny bit of that vibe there?
JORDAN: Yeah, they’re the floodgates are definitely open. I just read something this morning about the real estate market out here. In New Brunswick, there’s been 58% more sales compared to last year at this time. 58%. Like, that, to me is insane. We have a YouTube channel that my wife and I started, documenting our journey out here. It’s a Tribe Called Owens which has just caught fire in the last month or so. People are really interested in our journey and taking on a different lifestyle. I know one of one of the primary reasons for us coming out here was it’s expensive to live in southern Ontario, Toronto, like, that’s where we want to be. But even in Niagara Falls where we grew up, the average house price there is over $500,000. And yeah, you run the numbers, and mom and dad are working full time. And you know, your kid is your kids are going to daycare, you know, you’re in these situations where you don’t really have the freedom to do the stuff that you want to do. So, to cut ties from Toronto for the time being, we were able to set us up in a position where we can focus on stuff we actually want to do pursue our passion projects. I think it’s a small sacrifice.
ROB: What’s the selection of restaurants and bars like in Uptown Saint John?
JORDAN: It’s awesome. I’m, I haven’t had a chance to experience that yet. Just because of COVID-19. So yeah, that’ll be exciting this summer. I can’t wait to see what the uptown is going to look like in a couple months.
ROB: When you were looking around at various places across Canada, what were the deal breakers for you in terms of places you could live and you could not live?
JORDAN: That’s a good question. The things that were deal breakers all had to do with our daughter. We wanted to be somewhere that had accessibility to you know, stuff for her, you know, other kids being one, she is an only child at this point. I don’t think there was that many other deal breakers. We were open to everything. It was mainly the price. We needed something that was hovering around that 100k mark.
ROB: What is the biggest pleasant and not so pleasant surprise in your move?
JORDAN: Unpleasant? Owning a home, it’s great, I think that’s the Canadian dream, in many senses, homeownership. But it’s tough owning a home it’s it’s constant work, you know, it’s constant work. There’s always something that needs fixing.
Nobody really likes to talk about that. And that takes a lot of time away from free time, you know, you’re already working eight hours a day. And then to tack on all the chores around the house, something breaks, plumbing, whatever it is. But in terms of positive things, you know, it’s great, having something that you can take pride in that you can make yours. Make it how your home should be your sanctuary.
What did what aspect of life there’s just hitting it right out of the park and you’re just you’rejust you can’t believe how good it is?
JORDAN:The people for sure the people here are just so friendly. I mean, when you’re moving to a new place, you know, you have your challenges a little scary sometimes. But when you have people welcoming you with open arms, it definitely takes the edge off.
ROB: Are you able to save money on the side for retirement for your daughter’s post secondary education or do you have an emergency fund in case there’s another issue with the house?
JORDAN: That’s a work in progress. Being a freelancer, it’s tough. You kind of have to hold yourself accountable to put away whatever it is for you 10%, 20% in savings, you know, maybe invest some in the stock market or, you know, chase after and earn an income property Yeah, not having that sense of security of pension or, you know, anything that comes along with, you know, having an employer benefits. But we’ve found a way to keep our expenses sort of as minimal as possible. Right now for Jess and I, we’re both focusing on finding our path finding, making our hobbies, our job, so that, you know, once we can kind of hammer that down and get our steady income coming in, then we’re gonna focus on, you know, the long term financial goals. Having said that, we are mindful of that.
ROB: Is it easier to do all the things you’re talking about here making this transition from hockey to building your career as a freelancer? Do you have way more latitude and comfort doing that in Saint John versus what the situation would have been in Toronto?
JORDAN: Yeah, when you start your business from scratch, you’re not going to become a millionaire. On the first day, it takes time.Being out here and having minimal expenses. It affords us a little more time to invest into our own businesses, our own projects.
Our monthly expenses, I think I calculated we’re just under $1400. For everything well, okay, not including food. I think that’s pretty good. If we were in Toronto, with a $3,000 mortgage, how many more hours do you have to work to come up with that money, plus your car payment? Ideally, you would want to be in a situation where you can buy some land somewhere and build a cabin in the woods and not have any expenses, you know, grow your own food. Hopefully, we can get there one day, I think would be pretty cool. But for now, yeah. Expenses are we’re trying to keep them as low as possible.
ROB: Who would this move work for? What kind of a person? And what kind of person would it not work for?
JORDAN: It’s not for the timid, that’s for sure. You know, it’s for the adventurous, it’s for the person who is just tired of the rat race. And this is a little bit where our worldview comes into play. Life is short. My biggest fear is being stuck in a job that I hate, for 30, 40 plus years, just because I want that pension, I want those benefits. They’re too hard to leave, like, being on my deathbed and thinking, wow, I never went to see the pyramids in Egypt, I never, you know, took that long road trip. That’s terrifying for me.
So leaving friends and family, you know, taking the leap of faith moving cross country is really nothing. When you think about what, what could really happen if you don’t make that move, you know, your whole life could pass you by.
ROB: One of the things I’m finding really interesting about your comments is, I mean, the essence of it is go to Saint John or another town and get away cheaper house, but you’re talking about a much bigger lifestyle experience like this freedom to find yourself and build your life and not have these cost pressures. And this rat race that you have to participate in to generate enough wealth to be able to just hold your head up and pay all your expenses. You’ve got way more freedom to start this new career and to live the kind of life you want in Saint John.
JORDAN: Yeah, yeah, that’s, that’s why we’re here. Coming out of hockey. I never made millions of dollars playing professional hockey. I know a lot of people think professional athletes are multi- millionaires but I was a blue-collar journeyman, I guess you could say. My salaries were under 100K. To me, that’s amazing money. A 100K contract to somebody might be nothing and to others, it’s everything. I was trying to put away enough money that would allow me to take basically a year off and educate myself. I did a coding boot camp in Toronto, which is a fast track to becoming a software developer, you know, a three month program, it cost around $10,000. I was able to, you know, sustain us while I was on the job hunt, and then take a job, barely breaking even. And moving out here just allowed us to extend that, that grace period of like, yeah, it’s a buzzword, but like finding ourselves, you know, in our path. So we are lucky we, we don’t need much. And I think that’s a big thing. Once you can kind of release the need or the want for more things, then you can really just be happy with what you have. And then focus on the things that you actually want to do.
ROB: Want to ask you one last question. Was this move worth it for you and your family?
JORDAN: Yeah, totally, totally. I often think like, if we stayed in Toronto, where would we be right now? So I’m glad that we just had the courage to be able to take the leap of faith and coming out here we have no regrets and I wish we would have done it sooner in some ways. Because yeah, as we mentioned numerous times the price of real estate is going up by the day out here.
ROB: I think what Jordan’s done is super smart. What a practical response to a problem of getting into housing in Toronto. He’s opened up a whole new chapter for his family’s life in a great new location in Canada. He looks like he’s phenomenally well-positioned to thrive in his new spot. I cannot support what he’s done more.
ROMA: I mean, buying a house for under $100,000, living mortgage free. It seems like the dream to me.
ROB: I bet a lot of Jordan’s friends and relatives in Toronto will be down to Saint John to see what he’s up to and they may be convinced maybe to move there themselves. Who knows
ROMA: Wouldn’t mind a trip to Saint John myself. Rob, are you ready to give us your three takeaways?
ROB: You bet.
1) If housing is unaffordable in your big city, start looking elsewhere. But be prepared for rising prices in small towns and cities.
2) Get ready to move by setting up your job to work remotely and be ready for the pros and cons of working and living this way.
3) If you’re doing this move just to buy real estate remember what it means to be a homeowner. The financial responsibilities do not disappear just because you got your house for a cheaper price.
ROMA: Thank you for listening to Stress Test. This show was produced by Hannah Sung and Latifa Abdin. Audio post production by Kyle Fulton and Carly Reem-Neal. Our executive producer is Kiran Rana. Thank you to Jordan Owens. You can check him out at A Tribe Called Owens on YouTube.
ROB: Now, have you ever noticed that a lot of personal finance advice is geared toward people who are in couples? What if that’s not your goal? What do you need to know if you are going solo, for the long-term, with your money? That’s our next episode, watch for it.
ROMA: You can find Stress Test at Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or your favourite podcast app.
And find us at the GlobeandMail.com, where we cover all things financial.
Thanks for listening.