I Got Married So I Could Buy A Home In Toronto
I don’t love telling you how I managed to afford my place, but in the name of demystifying how we homeowners come up with our down payments, here I go…
Buying a home is the biggest purchase you'll ever make — but who says you have to make it? Welcome to New Lease, a series that examines our long-held beliefs about home ownership and renting in Canada.
I married for money. There, I said it. If you want to get specific, and I know you do, it was a cool $40,000. Maybe that’s not enough for some of you to pledge your life to a Croc-wearing Italian, but it was plenty for me. Besides, we had been dating for eight years. And, if I’m being honest, he married for money, too. That 40 grand was a gift to my husband from his grandfather, an inheritance with a very specific purpose: to cover a down payment on a home, if and when he tied the knot.
And so he did. Five months after Marco and I signed our marriage certificate, we inked another, scarier contract: a $500,000 mortgage on a three-bedroom semi-detached home in Toronto’s Corso Italia neighbourhood.
Not gonna lie: I don’t love sharing this information with you. For one, like a lot of Canadians, I’m squeamish when it comes to talking about money. Or thinking about money. (I once went three years without filing my taxes, but that’s another story.) Also, I don’t want you to hate me for having it so easy. My husband and I are two employed white people who've had it pretty good during a time when so many are suffering from job losses and financial insecurity that threaten the roofs over their heads, not to mention the ongoing violence committed against Black, Indigenous and other marginalized people in this country and beyond.
I know it's a privilege to even be discussing buying a home, but here’s why I think it’s important to be upfront about how my husband and I stepped onto the property ladder: There’s a secrecy around how we homeowners come up with our down payments and carry our mortgages — whether you had help (like me), or made huge sacrifices in your lifestyle to save, or earn a shit ton of money — and it’s stoked the perception that buying should be easy and on everyone's to-do list.
These notions are both untrue and outdated, a holdover from previous generations, who bought when the cost of owning a home was in line with an average family’s income, despite high interest rates. Today’s twenty- and thirty-somethings face both the shaky job security of the gig economy and soaring housing prices that not even a global pandemic can bring down (at least not yet). And yet, thanks to the lessons passed down from our parents’ as well as our national obsession with real estate, home ownership is still seen as a marker of success, the most adult way to adult, and the best investment we’ll ever make. These myths are setting many of us up for failure — and a boatload of anxiety. We fret about whether we’ll ever “get into” the market, as if it’s a snotty members’ club (though I suppose it kind of is). We brag that “we bought just before things went crazy.” And we buy shoebox-sized condos just so we can own something.
In fact, a whopping 80% of Canadian millennials want to own a home, according to a 2019 study by Abacus Data, but only 27% do. One reason why the strong desire for home ownership is a little nuts: Housing costs in Toronto would eat up 79% of a median income household; in Vancouver, that number is a nauseating 88%; across the country it’s 56%. (To put this into context, responsible financial-advisor types would tell you not to spend more than a third of your income on your mortgage.) And even with Canada’s fairly conservative lending practices, you can easily find yourself with a mortgage that you can’t feasibly carry. Hence the term “house poor.” This is where double-income couples like Marco and I have a huge advantage over single-income households.
Given how physically tied we’ve been to our homes in 2020, we’re more invested in our spaces than ever before. But does that space have to be one we own? Of course not, but I think the premium we put on owning is only going to increase thanks to our time in lockdown. In May, a Toronto Real Estate Board survey found that 45% of Torontonians ages 18 to 34 planned to buy within the next 12 months. Not surprisingly, in July home sales rose 25% in Canada over last year, with prices up 14%. Then, in August, home prices hit a record high in Toronto. (We bought our semi for $540,000 in 2013; similar homes in our area are currently listed for around $1 million.) Even in the midst of a global pandemic that has impacted our job security, thrown entire industries into peril, and upended the future of work, we still want to sign up for decades of mortgage debt. The flip side to all this home-ownership worship is the stigma attached to being a renter of a certain age, particularly if you’re a parent. But there are plenty of reasons why renting is not only a sound choice, but a smart one.
That’s why this month we’re launching New Lease, a series that aims to change the conversation around home ownership and renting. We’ll be tackling the pros and cons of buying vs. renting, demystifying how real people actually afforded their homes, singing the praises of lifelong renting, looking at what the hell is going on with the Canadian housing market right now, and examining what it's like to rent while Black. Our aim is to help you make whatever decision is right for you. (And we plan to have a little fun along the way: Stay tuned in the coming weeks for renting decorating tricks and the best roommate horror stories.)
My husband and I never once considered that home ownership may not be the right choice for us, that there might be other ways of investing or money without being tied to a crumbling 112-year-old semi. And, believe me, there are many days I wish we had. Owning a home is a privilege, but it’s by no means the key to happiness.