New foundations: Calling Calgary home

Two families share their stories of moving from China to Calgary

This is the first of a four-part homebuying series for new Canadians in partnership with the Epoch Times. Each month, the series will explore hot-topic issues such as understanding market trends, processes for buying a home, determining factors that influence house prices and more.

Like many first-time homebuyers, Calgarian Helen Yao had three must-have items on her checklist: location, location and location.

Yet new to Canada and the  real estate process, she didn’t know where to start.

“I looked at some homes and some builders, but I had no idea at first. I only wanted to buy a house,” said Yao, who grew up north of Beijing and later moving to Montreal.

“My friends recommend Calgary was a good city because of the oil and the gas, a lot of job opportunities,” she said. “So I followed my friends here.”

At the time, Yao, her husband and young daughter were renting a basement suite in the northwest community of Varisty.

“It was near the [University of Calgary], a good school area. Even though we lived in the basement, everything was OK,” she said.

Recognizing she would eventually need more space, Yao and her husband started to look at buying a place of their own. The requirements were simple: it had to be in the city’s south or northwest, close to a good school and have easy access to amenities.

Upon advice from her daughter’s tutor, Yao and her husband obtained a real estate agent and decided to build a house in Nolan Hill, located northwest of Shaganappi Trail and Stoney Trail.

“The REALTOR® helped me choose the colour, the interior design – everything,” said Yao. “I recommend to my friends, the Chinese people, even if you’re building a new house, a REALTOR® is important.”

Yao’s story is a familiar one. According to a 2011 National Household Survey, 1.2 million foreign-born people immigrated to Canada, making up 17.2 per cent of the foreign-born population and 3.5 per cent of the country’s total population.

The good news is new Canadians are not alone when looking to purchase their first home in the country. In addition to REALTORS®, Immigrant Services Calgary provides newcomer support in the form of information, orientation and referrals.

Services are provided in 70 different languages and allow people to have one on one interaction in learning about their new community.

“Moving to a new city or country is an incredible and exciting challenge,” said Jospehine Pon, chair of the board of directors with Immigrant Services Calgary.

“At Immigrant Services Calgary, our vision is to help newcomers and their families participate fully in an integrated and cohesive Canadian society and to help them feel at home while starting their dream of new life in Calgary and Canada.

“We aim to walk with them on their journey of settlement and integration so they can meet that incredible challenge.”

CREB® president Bill Kirk said an incomplete or inaccessible credit history is one of the most common stumbling blocks for new Canadians when looking to purchase their first home.

“It’s important they have a credit history that Canadian lenders will accept, and that they have access to their funds in Canada rather than having to rely on transfers from overseas institutions,” he said.

“Usually, this is best done by having a relationship with a mortgage broker who will establish their actual mortgage capability and tell them how to structure their finances from the point of view of a mortgage institution.”

For Anni Yin, who moved to Calgary from Nanjing in 2007, finding a new home was a fairly easy process.

“For me, it was easy. My husband first (looked online) and asked his friends to give some suggestions. He found many different channels,” said Yin, who also used a REALTOR® who was “very helpful.”

Yin, who works in IT, said her best advice for new Canadians looking to purchase a home is communication.

“Language is the biggest thing,” she said. “It’s important to communicate well.”

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