Considering buying in Toronto -- what would you do?
March 20, 2016 1:32 AM   Subscribe

I’m single, in my late 20s, living in Toronto. My family thinks it’s time for me to buy property and has generously offered to give me enough money to put down a 25% down payment. I’m feeling slightly overwhelmed and hesitant, for a few reasons. I'm at the very beginning of thinking about this so I'm probably missing some fairly obvious things. Please help me think through this.

The primary issue is that I’m single, but I would very much like to have a partner and child in the next 5 years. I keep going back and forth, thinking:

- I could cover the mortgage on a 1bedroom condo by myself, or a smallish 2bed 1bath, but probably not a 2bed/2bath…which I think I would want if I actually were to have another person/people living here.
- But I also am at the beginning of my career in tech and while I don’t want to make wild assumptions about my salary going forward, it is likely that in ~2 years, I would be able to cover a 2bed/2bath, or a small townhouse.
- Or I could buy a 2bed/2 bath condo/small townhouse now and get a roommate. I've been looking forward to living on my own, but this would be doable if not ideal.
- Having a townhouse would be more expensive, but much nicer than a condo if I did end up having kids…or even if I didn’t, it would be so nice to have access to a little patch of grass and not live in a highrise.
- Either the 2-bedroom condo or townhouse will appreciate much more than the 1-bedroom. My parents are strongly pushing for something with multiple bedrooms for this reason as well.
- I could buy a house with a basement apartment and rent that out, but this seems stressful and financially fraught and I'm not considering this seriously right now, unless you have a great reason I should go for it.
- I have been hearing that Toronto’s real estate “bubble” is supposed to pop soon for the last several years. So far, no dice.
- I could expand my options by buying something outside Toronto (Scarborough, Etobicoke etc, or even further) but I'd rather stay in the city where my friends, family, and job are -- I also don't drive.

What would you do? What am I not thinking of? I suspect part of the answer to this is going to be “see a financial advisor” but I would very much appreciate other people’s thoughts regarding other things I’m not considering, and trying to plan for a future you can’t predict. Toronto-specific advice in particular would be fantastic.

posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Pick the neighbourhood first - - then look for your price.
posted by fairmettle at 3:16 AM on March 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Unless your salary is something fantastic, if you think the mortgage on a two bed/bath would be a bit of a stretch, you can't afford in Toronto with current prices. On top of the mortgage you would have monthly condo fees and/or maintence/repair bills (especially if you end up buying an older house). A place with a basement apartment would be accompanied by a suitable raise in the selling price.

If you are thinking of having a child you also need to be looking at the neighbourhood a bit differently (access to schools/parks/transportation) and neighbourhoods that are good for raising children tend to have a price bump.

I assume you are browsing to guage prices in various neighbourhoods but there is significant distortion between listed price and selling price.

And, too, I can't help but mention that although the offer of 25% down is very generous (I am thinking they are offering over $100,000?), money from family often comes with strings attached (emotionally) and that impact should not be discounted. Especially when you find someone to marry, you may find pressure to do something like a pre-nup if your family decides they don't want to be essentially giving your partner half the money they just have you. (Family law is more complicated than that, but that is often the perception by family members with skin in the game).
posted by saucysault at 3:59 AM on March 20, 2016 [12 favorites]

I can't speak to the Canadian way of life, but we're about the same age and a lot of my friends are about the same age, and this is a thing that happened to me and a few others I know in our late 20s.

Our parents all started settling and buying homes (in a much cheaper America) when they were in their mid-late 20s, and they see us adult children as not having and achieving the same standard of life that they had and get worried and start to meddle. Particularly on this buy property thing. Sometimes, depending on where you live, home ownership just flat doesn't make sense for The Way Things Are Today.

What's really important is that you weigh this for yourself carefully, and if you decide that home ownership is not the right answer for you right now (adding extra cost, extra stress, moving away from your friends, making your life less flexible if you get a sweet new job somewhere else or if you get into a good relationship, etc), being able to say no. Learning how to kindly tell your well-meaning parents to back the fuck off and let you love your life is a skill, but one you're going to be better off learning now.
posted by phunniemee at 4:14 AM on March 20, 2016 [27 favorites]

I don't think there's any reason to buy now except that the interest rates are low. If you were paying rent that was higher than you would pay to own (mortgage, utilities, taxes, condo fees, special condo fee assessments....) then it might make sense. Prices in Toronto are high. If you found a neighborhood you love that happened to be undervalued you could buy but there. Prices are so high. I don't think the bubble will "pop" but it's likely they won't be rising so much that buying right now presents a deal you can't miss.

Why does your family want you to buy? Because it's a "good investment?" They could give you enough to max out your rrsps for a few years, you could actually invest that, and then you can take a portion out using the home buyers payment plan when you are actually ready to buy.

Personally I just wouldn't want to be tied down by property in your situation. What happens if you decide to get a job in a different city or you meet someone and decide you want to live somewhere else? Best case scenario is you sell your one bedroom and make enough to cover your costs and expenses. But you could also be stuck with property that no longer fits your needs.

When we bought (in Ottawa) we watched the market for two years. We narrowed down to one particular neighborhood and tracked listings until we knew exactly how much the house we ended up buying was worth.

I don't think you said- are you living on your own now in a rental you're happy with? If I were you I would probably stall, research neighborhoods, and continue to save your own money until it feels right to buy.
posted by betsybetsy at 4:18 AM on March 20, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'm in the US, but I'll chime in. My generation (about your parents age) and our parent's generation had reason to believe that buying property was a good investment. The markets were stabile, the way they lived was stabile (married young, had kids, stayed in the same place for decades.) That's not how we live now. We move more, our lives change more, and what suits us throughout our years changes more quickly.

Our parents only knew a housing market that appreciated. If it stabilizes or heaven forbid, falls, then you're stuck paying for a home that isn't worth what you owe on it. (See the US--years 2008 to 2014, or just watch The Big Short.)

Check out this article, and see if it doesn't make sense to you.

A house is a crappy investment. A condo is worse.

Condos come with a HOST of problems, issues that in my mind make them undesirable.

1. Assessments. At any time the condo association can decide that a massive repair is required and assess all owners for their share of the fix This can be thousands of dollars, all at one fell swoop

2. Monthly fees. Depending on what services are offered in your building, you will pay a hefty chunk every month for the running and maintenance on the joint. These are typically 1/3 the cost of your mortgage You don't get this money back.

4. Maintenance. If something breaks in your house, it's all on YOU to pay for the fix.

5. Neighbors. If you have sucky neighbors, YOU'RE stuck. You own, they own. It's not like you could just break your lease and move.

Condos don't appreciate as quickly as homes, and they lose value faster than homes in a downturn.

The gift from your parents is nice, but would buying even have been on your radar without it?

Your parents mean well, but you're awfully young and nowhere near ready to settle down. They're also suggesting you saddle yourself with hundreds of dollars of debt to make them feel better.

I don't think this is such a hot idea.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:14 AM on March 20, 2016 [11 favorites]

I'll just leave this here as it directly pertains to your situation, right down to the location.
posted by deathpanels at 6:07 AM on March 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nthing that a house doesn't sound like a necessary or even particularly desirable investment for your right now.

A house makes sense if you love it and think you're going to love it for more than five years. And if you think you're getting a decent price. Sometimes a house can be a good investment for someone who isn't going to save money in other savings vehicle. You don't have that problem.

Tell your family you're concerned about the market and your future housing needs. Tell them you're making a better return in current investment vehicle anyway and you are happy renting. I love renting! No calls to the plumber or hvac man for me!
posted by Kalmya at 6:25 AM on March 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have bought, sold, and bought another house in toronto in the last 15 years, and there is a huge range of property available at vastly different prices - people like to quote the "houses cost one million dollars in the city" thing, but I don't think it's universally true. What I found an invaluable help was having a really good agent. I did shop around a bit for my agent, and the one I ended up working with was really great, she listened carefully to what I wanted, helped me find just the right thing, and gave me a lot of good advice along the way. Memail me for her contact info, she'd be good to talk to even just to figure out if you really are interested in buying now.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:26 AM on March 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was in a similar situation several years ago. My mom and sister (my dad didn't care what I did) thought I should buy too and nagged me about it. They actually seemed annoyed/offended when I seemed disinterested in it. That is the sort of thing they do though - being overbearing and telling me what to do (no bitterness here!). They also said that they (mom and dad) could loan me money for a down payment. I didn't want that because I didn't want to be tied to them in that way. I also wasn't into homeowning at that time. My parents loaned my sister and her husband the down payment, interest-free, for their condo in the late 90's or so? They actually went through lawyers and drew up an agreement and had an arrangement to pay it back. Their condo is an Options for Homes condo - they have a really interesting concept which makes home owning more accessible. I ended up not buying, found a partner and moved in with him. I also live in Toronto.

The question is, do you want to buy? Is home ownership something that you value for yourself? Not, do you think you should buy, but do you want to? If you want to do it for investment purposes there are better ways to invest - apparently if you invest in the stock market you'll always do better than investing in real estate, but do your own research.

Your family is giving you a 25% down payment - are there strings attached? Emotionally or otherwise? Maybe it would be better for your independence to say that you want to pay it back?

What I don't see in your thinking is: if you buy a place now, you can always sell it later, if you get a partner, if you have a baby. You can think of buying now as just a way to get into the market. Given the way the Toronto housing market is going, I doubt you won't make a profit on selling it.

Also, there's no reason you can't raise a kid in a condo. My sister and husband are still living in the same condo with their almost 8-year old with no intentions to move. They have a balcony and no backyard of course. But they live in a really great neighbourhood with lots of access to green space and amenities, it's close to the kid's school and their work.

You might also just want to talk to a realtor that works with first time home buyers e.g. this one. I have never worked with them but have watched Sandra Rinomato's TV show and really liked her style.

Ruthless Bunny makes a great case for never owning, ever. :D This is why it's important to know for yourself if home ownership is something that you value for yourself at this time in your life. I think the most important thing for you is to make the decision on your own. Do research, talk to a realtor, look at places if you want (you aren't required to buy), or go to open houses, run your own numbers. I also don't think getting a tenant in a basement is a great idea. Being a landlord is a huge responsibility.
posted by foxjacket at 6:38 AM on March 20, 2016

Houses will not go down much in toronto. There is finite stock and growing demand. There are decent prices near Lansdowne and St Clair. If you can get one with a basement apartment that's great. Live in the basement and rent out the rest. You can reverse that if you get a partner/kids. Toronto is Canada's major city. Prices aren't going to crash in houses. They may go down in condos. My husband and I regret not buying sooner but we have a cute row house now.
Tldr; you are being offered a great gift. Use it for a house
posted by biggreenplant at 6:43 AM on March 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

Use this rent vs buy calculator to get a ballpark idea of whether it makes any kind of financial sense to buy before you spend too much time thinking about it. In many big cities, you'll be substantially better off if you rent long term.
posted by chrisamiller at 7:03 AM on March 20, 2016

What am I not thinking of?

Your partner. You don't know them yet. Where will they want to live? What constraints will they have (work etc)? This is something you cannot know yet, so you should not buy a house for them and their child. If you must buy, buy for your single life.

We are in Toronto as well and my partner is in tech. We bought downtown in a 1980s condo building, a 10 minute walk from work.* Our neighbours across the hall have private terraces. These buildings generally have large units and well run condo boards. They're cheaper. The condo fees look higher but then you realize that they include everything. I advise everyone to buy these units. Even if they're fully renovated, they're cheaper to buy than the new crap. We borrowed from our family for a down payment, and I agree with biggreenplant that this is a huge gift you should consider taking advantage of.

We bought 9 years ago in a time of bidding war frenzy and it has never calmed. Prices have risen every year, and I see no reason for them not to. Toronto has new immigrants and internal migrants arriving here every day. Don't buy to flip — buy within your current monthly budget, buy something that fits your current life, buy something that will allow you to save money and keep your friendships and date.

Let's say you buy a 1-bedroom this month. As your income rises, throw that money into savings and keep living as if it hadn't gone up at all. This is far easier than being a landlord! In 3 years you get married and sell the condo to buy something with your partner. You can use the equity from the condo and your savings to buy a house.

*Don't underestimate the value of your time. We are very happy to live in a smaller space with a short commute and no transit/gas/parking fees.
**And let's not pretend the new condo units aren't crap. The builders are cutting corners all over the place. Shiny new isn't a guarantee of quality.
posted by sadmadglad at 7:04 AM on March 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

sadmadglad is right on target here. Buy property for what your life looks like today. TBH, working around a partner's commute and neighbourhood preferences is a pain even if you're renting, and it's that much more difficult if you're less mobile. You also really don't know if the partner and child thing will materialize, and an overly-large house that stays empty if you're single long-term may very well make you sad and unnecessarily house-poor.

People definitely raise kids in condos and apartments. Then again, if you have parents who are pushing you to buy property, they may very well be the types of people who think that it's not appropriate for middle-class children to grow up without 2+ stories and a backyard. Just saying.

The other thing is that you might want to rethink whether buying in the close-in 905 cities is an option. Living near a GO Transit station can be a good option. If not being a driver is a choice for you, rather than something you can't do due to medical's full of tradeoffs. Lots of people survive commutes and maintain a good quality of life - it's certainly easier when you don't have kids.
posted by blerghamot at 7:15 AM on March 20, 2016

I'd hug my family (strings are not always attached with these things; sometimes it is just: we'd like to see you enjoy this now instead of having you wait until we die), and buy a house, and have roommates to offset the mortgage and maintenance costs. Toronto homes are not going to get cheaper. Maintenance can be expensive and lowering costs all around would be a nice buffer, and well-chosen roomies can be a boon if you're up for it.
posted by kmennie at 7:17 AM on March 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I could expand my options by buying something outside Toronto

It seems about every eight months the Star or Toronto Life or NOW publishes a revelatory piece on how many young professionals are shaking their heads in disbelief at Toronto's ridiculous prices and buying in Hamilton instead, where your money goes a lot further. Forget the lunch bucket jokes; in its postindustrial existence, it has become a very artsy city, and the GO train departs every half hour (soon to be every fifteen minutes). I have certainly managed to have a job and social life in 416 and a bed in 905 for a sizable stretch of my time in southern Ontario.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:17 AM on March 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

My husband and I took this deal in Scarborough in 1996. We've profited! BUT:

- we never got to travel; our money and time went into the house
- we had basement tenants. First ones were great. Second ones cost us tons.
- when we had a life change, we ended up selling our first house during a hugely stressful time. We walked away with money soon real complaints but man it was tough.
- when we bought again, again in Scarborough, we made sure to under-bye for our budget. This was possible due to the profit and the initial help, -but- it's made a huge difference. Both times we were not buying fancy places.

I would recommend that you only buy if you are really sure you want to (under-buying in this market is probably a fantasy, I know.)
posted by warriorqueen at 8:03 AM on March 20, 2016

My family thinks it’s time for me to buy property

Nthing that "time to buy property" is often an idea based on previous generations' economies and job stability and cultural expectations, and often does not make sense for the current young generation. Heck, I'm borderline old enough to be your parent, and the only people I know from my generation (Gen X) who don't regret buying when single & in their 20's are people who were making enough money that they needed what was essentially a tax shelter (AND they sold before the housing market tanked.) For far more of my cohorts, owning was (or still is) a horrible pain in the ass. Because they changed jobs, and once they partnered up their spouses had their on housing requirements and desires, and kids add a whole other dimension to the consideration of what to buy where. Many of my peers are stuck being landlords (and hating every second of it), because they couldn't sell their early single-dom houses/condos without taking a disastrous financial hit, so the only viable option was to rent the property, hopefully making enough to cover the mortgage and upkeep.

Despite what your family may think, you are not necessarily being foolish by NOT buying here in 2016.

trying to plan for a future you can’t predict.

Don't. You'll drive yourself bonkers. I mean, just look at the list you posted - you've got so many options with pros and cons for each that I couldn't even get through it. You've gone so deep into possible options based on theoreticals that you've paralyzed yourself with too many choices.

If you really want to buy, buy for the life you have now. Sort out the housing for partner and child when that actually happens.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:10 AM on March 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

You don't mention your gender - but either way, it affects the advice.

If you're a woman, it can be very, very nice to have property of your own coming into a marriage. It's a home you can't lose in a potential divorce, and an income producing property if your future spouse brings property in as well.

If you're a man, it can help you attract a partner who is looking for evidence of stability and responsibility.

I would absolutely get a 2 bedroom, especially if your family is making this very generous offer! Yes, house prices go up and down, but over the long arc, they are always going up. If you're thinking of this as an investment for your future and the future of your children, this is a wonderful opportunity.
posted by corb at 8:20 AM on March 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

I could expand my options by buying something outside Toronto (Scarborough, Etobicoke etc, or even further) but I'd rather stay in the city where my friends, family, and job are -- I also don't drive.

You know you want to have a partner but you're unsure about the home ownership thing. Moving to the suburbs and devoting more of your time and energy to a longer commute is going to make it harder for you to find a partner.
posted by grouse at 8:33 AM on March 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Are you comfortable with the answers to these questions:

- What if you meet someone with a great job that's an hour drive from where you've decided to buy?
- What if you get a great job offer that's hours of public transport away, or in another city/country?
- What happens if you lose your job? Will your family cover your payments? Will you want that?
- What if you meet someone who owns their own place too?
- What if you live next door to people who you think might kill you or are otherwise determined to make you miserable, but just on this side of the law so there's nothing you can do?
- Was there anything else you wanted to do with your money? Were you planning on saving any? When you re-do the numbers realistically are you sure that's feasible while you own?
- If the answers to any of the above are "I'll just move out and rent the place out!", how many months can you pay to live elsewhere while shithead tenants from hell refuse to pay rent and refuse to leave, plus court and other incidental costs to get them out, plus fixing your property that they trashed?

My biggest regret is letting myself be convinced that I had to buy a house to be an adult. At the point that I did it, I was coming out of a really shitty landlord situation so it really did seem like the solution to all my problems. Several of the above issues came up. We lost the house.

You'd be better off at this point in your life living modestly and getting your savings ball rolling, and worry about buying a place when you're actually for real ready to settle down with someone else who would like a say in where they live.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:06 AM on March 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

It doesn't sound like you want to buy a place to live in right now, and it doesn't sound like you can afford to buy the kind of place you want to live in. It doesn't sound like you want to start making decisions about living anywhere in the long-term right now. Those are big red flags. Please pay attention to them during this process. That feeling of hesitance? You're having it for reasons.

I live in Toronto, I was recently in my late 20s, and I love this city and plan to stay in it a while. I live in a neighborhood with my partner that we love, and we rent, and will continue to rent for as long as we can live in our chosen neighborhood for half what a mortgage would cost. We will buy when it makes financial and personal sense, so we're not totally opposed to it, but there are no reasons to even think about it now for us.

Several other commenters have pointed out the outdated assumptions that are encapsulated in you being at ' the time to buy property'. You need to have an idea of how you want to live and spend your time now, and where you are happy, before you start looking for a property to buy. Do you live alone (sounds like you might, if you know you wouldn't enjoy a roommate)? What kind of personal space do you like? How much park/highway access do you need? What physical items are important to have in your space? How much time to you like to spend with friends, and where do you like to spend it? Do you like to host dinners and guests in your home? How much money and time do you want to have available for restaurants, travel, and hobbies? It's ok if you answer these questions differently than the way your parents would have at your age, and it's really quite likely that you will. If you haven't lived alone yet, try it out for a while, it really helps answer questions about what you really want in a home (which is what this property will become if you don't rent it out immediately- it's never just property, it's also Where you Live, which is an entirely different set of issues than 'financial'). Then you can start asking the financial questions.

For financial matters- you don't need a financial analyst at this point, it sounds like. You already know what you can afford, and there are -37 reasons to buy more than you can afford, unless your parents are willing to keep giving you money, and you're ok with that situation of continuing to ask. You know how much that 25% is, and what it can realistically buy you in the places that are going to be ok for you to continue living your life in. You can look at the calculators for property taxes, mortgage, and estimate moving costs and possibly new furniture. Can you still save for retirement with your mortgage payments? For a condo, can you afford the fees and assessments? Can you afford repairs or spend time/money on creative solutions for when there for instance is no place to hang a towel in the bathroom because condo bathrooms are designed by people who have never in their lives used or seen a photo of a bathroom? Are you handy, and do you want to be handy? Are your friends interested in discussing home renovations and tolerant of stories of your quest for a reliable contractor? Will they paint for beer?

You say your friends, family, and job are in Toronto, and you don't drive. Don't look into buying a place to live now that will require you to start driving, and cut you off from friends and family. Investing in property and moving your home are very stressful events, even when everything goes well*, and you will want to keep your support networks firm during this process. Building a new network of friends is never easy, but do you really want to spend your time that way now? (of course it's not impossible, but it's definitely harder depending on where you buy). Buying and maintaining a car is expensive and time-consuming, and should be factored into the cost of buying outside of a well-connected transit area. Becoming dependent on a car will negatively impact your physical health and possibly mental health, with the traffic congestion in the GTA. And don't underestimate how valuable a quick commute to your job is- even if you add commute time on the TTC, the time you'd add commuting from an outer suburb will be significant. Even if you move to a place with a couple connections to transit and resolve to stay car-free, you will notice how much faster and easier everything is by car. Toronto transit usefulness for non-drivers really peters out quickly after you leave the core.

*Can you afford to be between jobs for a few months and make the mortgage? Can you afford to live somewhere else for a season and continue to pay the mortgage if you find after the inspection (which, in Toronto, is almost impossible to require before a deal goes through, as you'll be competing with people who don't care) that the place needs to be rewired, or the foundations were not put in properly? If you have an accessible $10,000 laying around, this will all be fine and you can proceed without worry (unless it's a townhouse/house and the foundation thing, but we can't plan for everything). Property, even when it's behaving well, costs money and time to maintain, and if you don't have another use for your time and money, then property might be for you.
posted by slanket wizard at 9:14 AM on March 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Something you might propose to your parents is finding a safe investment vehicle for that 25% for now, until the time to strike is truly ripe in your actual life and not just on paper pretending to know what the housing market will do in the future. For that, you would maybe all go together to speak to a financial planner/investment advisor to talk about the way to make that work for everyone without hitting anyone with an unnecessary gift or gains tax. That investment advisor is probably the best person to explain to your parents why housing is not necessarily an investment.

Honestly, if they react poorly to that suggestion, you'll also have an answer to whether they're doing this out of a sincere desire (if potentially hugely misguided) to get you a leg up in life or if they're just trying to control your behavior.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:29 AM on March 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

I see this a lot with clients at my bank. Property Ownership at Any Price. It's a generational thing in many families. A necessary milestone of adulthood. The reality is this is just a financial transaction. I would say wait. Rent isn't waste. It's a fee you pay to live in a place you want to live. That has value. The other benefits are the ability to move or leave at low cost, and no burden of owning and maintaining the property. Anyone who owns a house and has suddenly had to pay for large projects that they hadn't planned on can tell you about that.

Buy when it fits your lifestyle, not when you can afford it. Buy only when you want to stay for 10 years. The starter home or condo is generally a waste of money.

You want to live in the city, close to friends, in a place that's low maintenance. Your life may change - job opportunity somewhere else, meeting a partner, deciding to go back to school or change careers. All of these will affect where you want to live. Owning a home crimps your ability to say yes to some of those possibilities.

In general, the transaction costs for real estate are quite high. Realtor's fee, land transfer tax, lawyer's fee, mortgage break costs, etc. The only way to do ok in real estate is to hold for a long time. (Also helpful is if you actually have some skill in doing renos - a proper trade, but that isn't your line of work.) But you won't want to have a partner and a kid in 5-6 years in that 1 or even 2 bed condo. So you'll sell, and likely lose most, if not all of the appreciation. Or lose some of your down payment if prices go down, which can and does happen.

I see a lot of anxiety in people your age of wanting to get in before they get priced out. We can't predict where prices will go. In the long run prices appreciate just more than inflation. But don't lock yourself into a long commute, or a place you don't love, or a place you'll have to sell when you want to move in with a partner. Wait.
posted by thenormshow at 9:31 AM on March 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

I would like to add that I agree with those above on the value of renting. If that contribution to a down payment will still be available in 5 years, consider waiting. And when you do take it, buy less than you can afford. Leave yourself a buffer.

Personally I see my condo as a middle option, between renting and house. It does cost more than renting, but I get more autonomy and I get equity. With my condo, I do not own or maintain a roof or a foundation. The fees for building maintenance are steady and never a surprise. I benefit from my condo board's healthy reserve fund, which pays for emergency repairs without raising my condo fees (you can ask to see the books before buying). I do not shovel snow or worry about landscaping. I do not replace windows. We have upgraded wiring and plumbing but only because we did major renovations, and I only had to worry about that within my unit, not the connections to other units.

Again, I would look at older buildings, particularly those which were originally built as apartments. They were built to last and the design is much more human-friendly. They tend to have square unit designs rather than the long thin designs which maximize profit over usability.

When we bought, we researched some specific buildings and waited for the right unit to come up at the right price. Agents will want you to move quickly. Don't let them push you into jumping before you're ready. They work for you.
posted by sadmadglad at 9:38 AM on March 20, 2016

One thing you probably don't want to think about are the rules around marital property and divorce. In Ontario, a home you own going into a marriage is treated very differently from one that you buy together and/or that you own going into a common-law partnership. If you bring a home into a marriage, it is equally divided when the marriage ends, no matter whose name is on the title. More info.

Since you are very interested in a partner and child, I'd suggest that you put much more time and effort and thought right now into finding the right partner and building the right relationship. The right decision about housing will come out of that relationship. As long as you're psychologically able to save money without having a mortgage forcing you to do it - some people aren't - your choice of partner will have a much bigger impact on your financial well-being in the long term than any choice you make now to buy or to rent.
posted by clawsoon at 9:54 AM on March 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

nthing the comments about changing generational expectations and realities w/r/t home ownership -- see this previously. This can be a Boomer thing, and it can also be a ${culture} thing, but it may not be best for you, and that's tricky enough to negotiate without a tremendous gift potentially becoming a burden.
posted by holgate at 10:17 AM on March 20, 2016

Lots of good advice above - you really have to do what makes sense for you. However, I'd like to point out that not all older folks offer down payments to the younger generation out of fuzzy misconceptions about what home ownership means. For some people, they look around at this era of rising property values, rising rents, and stagnating wages and they want to give the younger generation a boost up. I have relatives who did this - pressured some younger relatives to take the gift of a DP. Now, there weren't strings attached to the gift, it was just the giver pointing out that the gift would be less valuable as time went by. And boy did the giver call it - in our HCOL area the younger relatives would simply not have been able to stay in the area had they not locked in the low housing payment. (I realize that mortgages work differently in Canada, so again you have to work through the financials yourself.)
posted by stowaway at 10:20 AM on March 20, 2016

Renting is not the 'waste of money' people think it is. My partner and I feel like our quality of life has been better because our monthly expenses are so predictable. We can, and do, save and invest the money we save by not owning. When something goes wrong, we do not have to pay to fix it. We know exactly what our monthly costs will be. We plan and deposit into both RRSPs and joint investments. We put into a vacation fund every month. Life is good.

Want to reiterate, too, about marital property. I had a modest inheritance a couple years ago and was strongly cautioned, by several people, against putting it into a home. My inheritance is legally protected as MY money, unless it goes into property. The marital home is a special legal entity. How would your parents feel about a hypothetical future partner being entitled to half of that home?
posted by JoannaC at 10:32 AM on March 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you do decide that you want to buy, I would come up with a firm budget of what you can afford on your own, go to a realtor and let them know "I want a 2 bedroom, 1 bath place. If there are any 2 bedroom, 2 bath places in my price range, I want to see them. I am willing to get a Fixer."

When I and my husband bought in our twenties, there were only a handful of 3 bedroom, 1 bath properties in our price range. Everything else that we could possibly afford was all 2 bedrooms. We looked at very few properties. I knew exactly what I wanted and made an offer the day I saw the house and never had buyer's remorse.

Buy for your life today. If you get a great job offer elsewhere, you can become a landlord. If you fall in love, marry and promptly get pregnant, you have at least a few months to think through your options. Also, a couple with an infant in a one bedroom is not unusual and not horrible. You can sell, renovate or whatever as life evolves, in accordance with the direction it goes.

But if there are strings attached to this generous gift, think through some of the advice above very, very carefully with regards to staying a renter, generational expectations and wondering if this actually makes sense for you personally. If it is not freely given, it is not a gift. It is a chain. And that may be far more problematic than buying a house the day before you meet your one true love or get that amazing job offer elsewhere.

There is some quote about giving up your freedom for security and getting neither that potentially applies.
posted by Michele in California at 1:52 PM on March 20, 2016

Don't consider your future partner/family at all. Think about what you can afford, mortgage-wise as a single person.

My experience: bought a downtown condo in a fairly expensive city in late 2011. I was in a relationship, but was planning an exit (I have to admit). Three months later, I was single, but seeing someone who lived in suburbia and had...stuff. Cars, a 24' trailer, a dog that weighs more than I do...stuff. 4-ish years later, we've been spending pretty much every night at his place for logistical reasons, and my sweet downtown loft is pretty much a large closet for my belongings, with a very convenient parking space for my downtown job.

Would I change anything? Hell no! I bought a small place, perfect for a single person. I paid comparatively little - similar-sized units on worse sides of the building have recently sold for $120-140k more than I paid. And even if I don't spend that many nights at my place, when we do spend a night every week or two, it's like a fantastic hotel room in the city, filled with all the stuff I love.

So: find a place that you love, now. Find a place in an area where property values will increase and where there is high demand for housing. And finally, make sure you're comfortable with your cost of ownership now - and later. A place where you wouldn't worry about the payments if you choose to live with a partner 6 months or a year down the road. A place you could easily afford on you own if you expectedly ended a relationship and needed a place to live. If you're going to commit to a mortgage, make it one that won't get in the way of your life - which may change... Which will change.
posted by ortoLANparty at 10:36 PM on March 21, 2016

And Ruthless Bunny is so right - condos are a worse choice than homes, regardless of how good your planning and research are. When I bought my place, the HOA fees were the lowest per sq foot in the area over the last decade. Building finances seemed solid. Nonetheless, the very next year my HOA fees went from $209 to $315 per month. The reasons behind the increase were totally rational - but had I struggled to make my mortgage +HOA, I would have been really stressed. If you're buying a condo or other shared-ownership dwelling, budget conservatively. If communal expenses change, you want to be in a position to say, $100 more a month?! That sucks, but I can weather that, no problem.
posted by ortoLANparty at 10:47 PM on March 21, 2016

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