Fifty-one per cent of Canadians are considering buying a home in the next five years, according to a recent RE/MAX survey. This number is up from 36 per cent one year ago. As the price of real estate in Canada rises in many major urban markets, this shift comes as homebuyers adapt to the mortgage stress test, and enjoy increased purchasing power as Millennials enter their peak earning years. Despite these intentions, the high price of homes continues to impact market activity in Greater Vancouver and real estate in Ontario – specifically the Greater Golden Horseshoe Area, with tertiary effects on more-affordable housing markets surrounding Toronto and reaching as far as Niagara, Ottawa and even the Atlantic provinces. These factors have prompted an evolution of property types and how consumers are buying them. Ultimately, if your goal is to become a homeowner, you’ve got options.

Creative ways people are buying real estate in Canada

1. Widen your search.

As real estate prices rise in some of Canada’s housing markets, we’re experiencing two notable home-buying trends: more condos, and a shift in migration patterns.

Condos offer affordability by virtue of their design – their compact size comes with a smaller price tag. Shared amenities mean you’ll have to pay condo fees, but the cost is lower than what you’d pay for the same services in a freehold home. And oftentimes condos are located on or near transit hubs that allow you to get by without owning a car.

If you’re not willing to compromise on square footage, then you could be a “move-over” buyer on a suburban trajectory. Living in the suburbs or even in a neighbouring city often means longer commutes to work, family and friends, shopping and daily errands. But for those who want the extra bedroom, a backyard and perhaps a pool, it could be worth the trade-off.

2. Increase your funds.

First of all, let’s look at the money you may already have that can help you buy a home. Have you been contributing to an RRSP? Aside from the tax benefits of doing so, the first-time Home Buyers’ Plan lets you borrow up to $35,000 from your RRSP to put toward the purchase of a home. If you’re buying a home with someone else who qualifies as a first-time buyer, they can also borrow $35,000 for a total of $70,000!

Keep in mind that the HBP is essentially an interest-free loan from your retirement fund. Beginning the second year after your withdrawal, you’ll need to start re-funding your RRSP with the amount you borrowed. You’ll have 15 years to repay and if you don’t, you will be taxed.

Now, let’s look at the money you don’t have, but could have with some careful planning and self-control. Assuming you are employed (and for most of us, there’s no way around this one), set aside as much as possible from every paycheque into a high-interest savings account, a Tax Free Savings Account or another low-risk investment vehicle. The amount you can realistically save will depend on factors like your income, regular bills, debt payments and lifestyle. Some of these you can’t control while others you can.

Admittedly, the saving process takes time, but this is nothing new. With time, willpower and a plan, home ownership is within your reach.

The First Time Home Buyer Incentive

The federal government introduced the First Time Home Buyer Incentive in fall of 2020, to help homeowner carry the hefty weight on their mortgage payments. Here’s how it works: the FTHBI is a shared-equity mortgage aimed at middle-class first-time homebuyers. The government contributes five per cent of the price of a resale home, or five to 10 per cent of the price of a newly constructed home. This amount is applied is a second mortgage on the title of the property, but no regular principal payments are required. The loan is interest free, and it can be repaid at any time without incurring penalties. While homebuyers are off the hook for interest payments on this loan, this “shared equity mortgage” which means the government benefits from increases in your property value when you sell (or after 25 years, whichever comes first). However, if the value of your home falls, your repayment amount to the government will be lower than the amount originally borrowed.

3. Buy with a buddy.

If you’re not crazy about the idea of the government owning a share of your home, consider buying with a buddy. There’s (purchasing) power in numbers! Those who find they can’t afford to buy a home on their own in their preferred area and increasingly looking to co-ownership as a feasible option. The pooling of resources allows buyers to boost their collective down payment and the amount of mortgage they’ll qualify for. Buying a home with family or friends also eases the pressure of the ongoing expenses associated with home ownership, such as property taxes, utilities and maintenance. Share in the cost, share in the rewards! But buyer beware: make sure you work with an experienced real estate lawyer who handles these types of purchases. Remember, this is a legally binding contract with obligations.