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Whether first-time buyers choose to wade into the market will determine whether Canada’s housing market begins to recuperate or continues to weaken this spring. New entrants are a critical part of what makes the market tick: For every first-time buyer, there’s an owner who`s looking to sell and trade up, and for every upgrade, there`s a retiree looking to cash out. The “trickle-up” effect can make the difference between hot and cold in the market.

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Salem Woodrow, 25, has no doubts about what she wants: a house built between 1980 and 2005, somewhere in Calgary’s south, with a final price tag no higher than $350,000. Originally from Winnipeg, she and partner Ryan Mayman, 28, think they’ll be living in Calgary for at least five more years. And with a sizable down payment, they’re continuing in their search for a home despite lingering fears about overinflated real estate values and the health of the province’s economy.</br></br> “I always have my doubts about the economy, so it always makes me step back and think, ‘well maybe we wait six months,’ ” says Ms. Woodrow. “But at the same time, I don’t believe that the economy will change so much that it will seriously affect my purchase.”Jeff McIntosh/The Globe and Mail

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Avigail Aronoff always loved the character of Montreal’s old houses and apartments – the original crown moulding, the history, the hardwood floors. But when she set her budget for her first home purchase, she also had to decide if she was willing to pay another price.</br></br> “Do I really want crown moulding or do I want my bed to stay put?” Ms. Aronoff said. “There’s so much there that is so quaint and lovely. And then you get in and you start looking at it like a buyer, and you realize, oh except this corner of the room is three inches lower than that corner of the room.”</br></br> So she decided on a newer place, cautious about having to invest later in replacing aging pipes or grappling with structural issues. On Monday, Ms. Aronoff received the keys to the two-bedroom condo that made her a first-time homeowner. Like many apartments in Montreal’s Plateau neighbourhood, it’s a duplex divvied up into units, and the place came in right on the budget she set for herself, in the low $300,000s.</br></br> Ms. Aronoff’s decision to buy was the result of a number of factors. After she began her search in earnest about six months ago, there was rarely a Sunday when she did not find an open house she wanted to check out. She was tired of renting after 10 years, is financially stable on her own, and her grandmother left her some inheritance but stipulated it could only be used toward buying a primary residence.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

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Alice Soo is developing a case of spring fever for real estate.</br></br> In 2011, five years after graduating from university, she made a final payment to erase $25,000 in student loans. At the same time, she has been a disciplined saver, with $30,000 now socked away. Ms. Soo, a clinical secretary at Vancouver General Hospital, is eager to use it for a down payment on a condominium in the suburb of Burnaby, and soon.</br></br> Why the urgency? Condo prices in Greater Vancouver have slipped 3 per cent over the past year, but Ms. Soo believes the softness in the market won’t last. “I’m worried about keeping pace. I’m worried that no matter how long I keep saving, the prices will keep climbing and I’m never going to be able to catch up. That is my main concern.”</br></br> For Ms. Soo, who is now renting the basement of her sister’s home, the first choice is to buy a Burnaby condo priced at roughly $300,000, preferably close to a SkyTrain rapid transit station. Given her modest annual pretax salary of $39,000, Ms. Soo is excited by the prospect of moving into her own place by the time she turns 30 this summer. But price remains the sticking point for buying a condo this spring. She and her agent, Eddy Shan of Homeland Realty, are finding that sellers aren’t budging much from their asking prices.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

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Tyler Padley and his wife Jamie McGovern have been renting in the west end of Toronto and are now looking to buy their first house and start a family. They are coming to terms with the fact that the house they want probably isn’t the house they can afford.</br></br> “A semi-detached would be ideal, but for our price range it’s going to have to be a townhome and it’s going to have to be outside of the area that we want to live in,” says Mr. Padley, 31.</br></br> Mr. Padley works in software development and his wife in pension administration, and the couple has managed to save up a 20 per cent down payment. They want to spend no more than $350,000 to $400,000, but their bank preapproved them for a mortgage of about $900,000. “It’s ridiculous.” The couple currently expect that they will remain renters for much or all of the year. They looked into renting a larger place, one big enough to start a family in, but balked at the costs of those as well.Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

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