Note: This was written in early/mid August (I can’t remember exactly when) and is part of a lengthy, rambly series on our journey to buy a house. Feel free to skip or skim if you’re not interested in homes! Here is part 2, part 3 and part 4.
The first step to becoming a homeowner is deciding you want to become a homeowner.
Sounds obvious, right? Like, does this even count as a step? It sounds like it’s more of a pre-step.
But no, it is a bonafide step. At least, it was for us.
Home ownership was never something I gave much thought to. I grew up with divorced parents who would move everytime the lease was up. My mom finally bought a house when I was about 10 years old and sold it a couple of years later. My dad bought a house when I was 13 and actually still lives in that house. But by that point, I had lived in more than 20 homes between both parents so the stability of a mortgage over a lease didn’t mean too much to me.
When I moved out to Vancouver, I always assumed I would just be a renter. I liked the idea of being able to pick up and go. And I really loved the thought of moving abroad whenever I wanted.
Plus, if you know anything about Vancouver real estate, you know that buying here is a lofty aspiration. In fact, affording a home in Vancouver is more often the punchline of a joke than an actual reality.
But then we have Colin, my sweet, stable-home raised, boyfriend. Colin grew up in a single storey home in Surrey with his mom, dad and at least two pets at any given time. This is the only house Colin has ever known. He even has his height marked on the inside of a doorway. (Which, as someone who moved around a lot, is something I am so envious of).
Last year, after Colin’s dad passed away, his mom decided to sell the house. After many months of cleaning, donating items and taking truckloads of crap to the dump, the house was finally empty. Colin and I moved into an apartment in New West and his mom moved into a condo in Port Coquitlam.
The house in Surrey was no more.
But it lives on. We still talk about fond memories on the beautiful backyard porch. We remember the converted garage that served as Colin’s bedroom suite. And we even drive by every now and then just to see what the new homeowners are up to (they keep the blinds closed so we actually have no idea).
So that’s where we came from. I believed I would rent forever and that having a mortgage was too much of a commitment. The longest I had lived in one place as an adult was just over a year. Colin, on the other hand, was signing a rental lease with me for pretty much the first time in his life (he lived in North Van for four months during school but that barely counts).
We’re about halfway through our one year lease on our first apartment together. And naturally, the dream apartment we found in the middle of a snowstorm in December has begun to lose a bit of its charm.
The kitchen, which we loved because it was updated and had a dishwasher, is far too tiny. Two people in there trying to cook is ridiculous. The desk I bought from IKEA that we spent a few late nights spray painting and wallpapering has now become a glorified shoe rack.
Basically, our one bedroom has become too small. With me working from home full-time and our place being just over 500 square feet, this was only natural. It’s hard to make things work when my “office” is the dining room table which shares space with our TV, Colin’s desk and the couch.
So, we knew we wanted two bedrooms in our next place. Being obsessed with research like I am, I got right to work looking up two bedrooms. I wanted to know what kind of places were available and how much more they would cost us.
I’ll be fairly open about our financials here. Our current 500+ square foot, modern, one bedroom apartment in a high rise in downtown New West costs us $1250/month. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is a pretty great deal. When we were first looking for apartments, we found that a lot of the nice new buildings in downtown New West were asking $1600+ for a one bedroom. And then the older buildings farther north had one bedrooms for around $1000, but we didn’t like the look or location. There was very little in the middle so I think we were lucky to find our place.
But my research showed that moving up to a two bedroom and still staying in our location was going to cost us. We were looking at places in the $1800-2000 range. The increase scared us a little bit. Before moving in with Colin, I was paying rent on a bachelor apartment in Kits (a steal at $850), so I was a bit more comfortable with the price jump. But I knew it would be a big change for us. Was it worth it?
I’m not sure how it happened, but I began to move my research away from Craigslist apartment ads and towards realtor.ca. I was curious! And the idea of homeownership had been dropped in my head. A friend of mine in Toronto was starting to look at the housing market with her husband (sending good vibes her way cause their market sucks like ours). And another friend and her partner had just purchased a place in Kelowna.
Plus, when we were looking for our rental last year, Colin’s mom had offhandedly mentioned that maybe we should buy instead. She was even willing to help us with the down payment, as she would have the money after selling her house. I was vehemently against the idea. I love Colin. But at that point, we hadn’t even celebrated our second anniversary. I had never lived with a partner before and Colin had barely ever lived away from home. I was not ready to sign a mortgage with him. Colin felt the same and after one morning of trying to look through house listings, we called it off and stuck with our rental plan.
But here I was, five months into our lease and looking at realtor.ca. What was happening?
I told myself it was just research. I just wanted to get educated. I was bored with the same old listings on Craigslist and I wanted to see something new. But was that it? A part of me that I hadn’t really acknowledged before was super excited scrolling through the home listings. And when I returned to the Craigslist ads, I was noticeably disappointed.
I spent a lot of my university and post-university years rejecting the ideas of traditional adulthood. I never really dreamt about settling down, marriage, kids, the mortgage and the minivan. I would’ve been just as happy travelling the world, moving countries every year and maybe having a partner by my side – kids were optional.
So I went out and I got those travelling experiences. I studied abroad in Amsterdam for five months. I volunteered in Swaziland for an entire summer. I travelled through Australia for a month. And I loved all of those experiences. But I also loved coming home. I loved decorating my apartment and picking out furniture. I loved having a neighbourhood sushi restaurant (my equivalent of having a local coffee shop) and house plants that I tried my best not to kill. I was craving a bit of a fixed life. I loved travelling, but I wanted a home.
And those home feelings definitely magnified when I met Colin. I got to see the world from his perspective, growing up in one home with both parents in the same place for his whole life. I found myself daydreaming about the fixed life we could have together. Slowly, the marriage, kid(s) and mortgage didn’t sound so bad – I’m still out on the minivan.
That’s not to say I completely gave up on all of my travel dreams the minute I got a boyfriend. It’s not like that at all. I was having those fixed life cravings long before I met Colin. In fact, I think things worked out with Colin because I was already in the mindset of placing some roots. And I haven’t given up travelling. Colin and I have gone on lots of trips together in our 2+ years of dating. And I even headed off to Vietnam for a month with a girlfriend while Colin stayed here.
It was never and it will never be a matter of trading in my passport for a mortgage.
Sorry, I digress (again).
All that to say, I was looking at homes for sale and I was getting excited. And when I get excited, I have to start researching. So I started reading blogs about buying homes, what we could afford, what markets were hot and when was the best time to buy. I downloaded real estate podcasts and started sending questions to the podcast hosts. And, most importantly, I started talking to Colin.
Colin and I had already been talking about the move to a two bedroom. The idea of buying had come up but we thought it might be too expensive for us. These were all hypotheticals. And then, my research started to seep in. I would fill Colin in on everything I was learning, in small bite-sized chunks so he didn’t get too overwhelmed. Seeing as my previous obsession was talking about weddings, Colin was much more receptive to housing talk.
He started to get into it with me. I would call him over to my laptop to look through house listings. We would run the numbers together and see if we could afford it. We talked through neighbourhoods (more on this later) and sent each other links to relevant articles. Once the house hunt moved to Surrey, Colin got even more excited. We even spent one weekend in July going to open houses!
So, we were more than seriously considering it. We are more than seriously considering it. We are very much looking to buy a home when our lease ends in February 2018. We have crunched the numbers, gone to the open houses and started to reach out to realtors and mortgage brokers. We’ve started to discuss down payments with our parents and the state of our finances with each other. It’s happening! It’s kind of scary to admit but….
We want to be homeowners. We are planning to buy our first home in early 2018.
(Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Am I the only one freaking out? Typing that sentence gave me heart palpitations!)