Making the transition from renting to buying is a lot about finding the right location with inventory that fits your budget
As a single female with a career in the arts, Jamie Dunsdon wasn’t sure she could even qualify for a mortgage to enter the property-purchasing arena.
“I was afraid the only thing I could afford was something terrible,” said Dunsdon, who is the artistic director with Verb Theatre.
After nine years of renting in Calgary, Dunsdon says she had enough of renting at high prices and hopped in the market last summer. As with all folks who are looking to purchase a property, location and budget were a major part of her decision.
“The first thing I learned is that I could definitely afford homes in the northeast, or in the far north or far south,” said Dunsdon, adding that she wanted to spend no more than $350,000.
“Distance became a thing. I didn’t want to be in the far north or south.”
Dunsdon spends a lot of time downtown because of her work in the arts. To help focus her search, she drew lines across a map of Calgary narrowing down the areas where she was willing to look. Those lines didn’t go farther south than Glenmore Trail or farther north than McKnight Boulevard.
However, the closer to city centre she looked, the more rundown the properties in her price range became.
“I found houses that needed so many repairs. I didn’t know if I’d have the necessary expertise or money to fix them up,” she explained.
While she did find a house in Bowness she loved, it was at the top end of her price range. She also found several homes on the west side of Crowchild Trail that were possibilities. Townhouse-style condos were also considered, but unaffordable condo fees took her down a different path.
“I was getting really desperate. I had fallen in love with at least five houses and I lost all of them in bidding wars,” she said.
The process of finding an affordable and detached home proved far from easy. Dunsdon even considered the possibility of buying a house with a basement suite that she could rent out to help cover mortgage costs.
Eventually, a home in Highland Park entered the market and was owned by a builder whose plans for redevelopment had fallen through. Although the house needed some updating and repair, Dundson immediately made an offer and paid around $380,000 for the small, 1914-era two-storey home with a big yard.
“If you’re on a budget and want to live downtown, you’re going to have to live in either a really tiny house or a fixer upper and abandon the idea of a basement. Or, you can get a home that’s bigger and newer, but is further out,” she explained. However, Dunsdon is glad she went down the road of home ownership.
It certainly is cheaper to buy a place the farther out from the inner city you go. But consider your transportation costs and your overall cost of living, and try to pick a home that’s both near where you work and near the things you do.
“It feels safer taking a risk on a house because of the land value. I know I could sell this place, and sell it quickly, if I needed to.”
John Harrop, president and CEO of Attainable Homes Calgary Corporation, agrees with Dunsdon that distance from the city centre needs to be considered when selecting a neighbourhood in which to buy a residence, particularly for first-time homebuyers with limited means.
“It certainly is cheaper to buy a place the farther out from the inner city you go. But consider your transportation costs and your overall cost of living, and try to pick a home that’s both near where you work and near the things you do,” suggested Harrop.
Attainable Homes Calgary works to remove barriers to home ownership through partnerships with builders to offer properties to those who qualify at a reduced price. Attainable Homes also provides down-payment assistance for would-be buyers.
Attainable Homes’ list of residences includes those in communities farther from Calgary’s centre – communities like Silverado, Skyview Ranch and Varsity – but also in communities nearer to the city centre like Bowness, Renfrew and some soon-to-be-released units in Sunalta.
“In every quadrant, there’s something to offer. In new communities, there are often a range of housing styles and entry points,” said Harrop, referring to those communities in which one can buy on a budget.
He advises buyers to look for smaller, older homes with modest finishings – perhaps even “fixer uppers” – to stay within limited means. Harrop says another good bet for first-time buyers on a budget are those communities with more condo and townhome offerings.
“Only buy what you need.”