Buying a home will probably be the most expensive one-time purchase you’ll ever make. It can also be one of your best investments (housing values have historically increased over the long run) as long as you choose wisely and pick a house you can afford.
Saving for a down payment
How much money do you need to put down to buy a home? Lenders generally prefer a down payment of at least 20%.
For many young buyers this is not always realistic. If you put down less than 20% you will require mortgage loan insurance through CMHC or Genworth Canada. You are required to put down a minimum of 5%, but do try to come up with at least 10%. The lower your down payment, the higher your mortgage insurance fee. The insurance is paid to the lender and is generally blended in with your mortgage payments.
Automate your savings into a high interest savings account or choose laddered GICs to protect your principal amount.
Another way to secure a down payment is through a gift from a family member. You will need a letter to present to your bank stating the amount is a gift and need not be repaid.
Before buying a home
You’ll save a lot of time and heartache in your search for the right place if you first have a realistic idea of how much you can afford to spend – both on the down payment and related closing costs, plus the monthly mortgage payments.
You might even be better off renting for another few years (especially in high-price housing markets like Vancouver and Toronto) so you can build up further savings and grow your incomes. Get your finances in order before you start your house hunt.
Find out exactly what you can afford from your lender. Lenders will add up your estimated housing costs to figure out what percentage they are of your gross monthly income, a figure known as your Gross Debt Service (GDS) ratio.
According to CMHC those monthly housing costs (mortgage principal and interest, taxes and heating expenses) shouldn’t be more than 32% of your gross household monthly income. They also suggest that your entire monthly debt (house and other debt payments) shouldn’t be more than 40% of your gross monthly income. They will also take into account your credit scores. So keep that in mind if you are wondering whether you should pay down debt or save the down payment.
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Don’t forget to factor in the other upfront costs:
- Appraisal Fee. You can often negotiate to have this fee waived. If you have to pay it yourself, it will be between $250 and $350.
- Deposit. This is part of your down payment that must be paid when you make the initial Offer to Purchase – 1% to 5% of the purchase price, depending on area.
- Home inspection fee. CMHC recommends that you make a home inspection a condition of your Offer to Purchase. This is a report on the condition of the home and can cost around $500.
- Property Insurance. The mortgage lender will require this because the home is security for the mortgage. It must be in place on the day you close.
- Legal fees and disbursements. These have to be paid upon closing. Legal fees are generally a minimum of $500, plus the cost of any disbursements made.
- Property transfer tax. This amount varies by province. It is generally calculated as 1% of the first $200,000 of the price, plus 2% on the remaining amount.
Be realistic about what you can actually afford to spend. If one of you wants to stop working or slow down their career after you start a family, would you still be able to pay your mortgage comfortably?
Before you start house hunting take some time to discuss the features you must have and those you could live without. Model show homes are especially enticing. Making a prioritized list can curb your enthusiasm for every new feature. A list can also help you narrow down your search and keep you from wasting time looking at homes that don’t meet your criteria.
When you explore various neighbourhoods, ask yourselves if it’s reasonable to expect that this community will still be an attractive place to live in ten or fifteen years.
Is it an up-and-coming area or an established community? Are there nearby schools? Is there a mix of business development close by so you can go to a local restaurant, dry cleaner or grocery store?
If you are looking at a new community, what are the future development plans? Work with a competent, experienced real estate agent who will act in your best interests.
You might consider buying a larger, but less expensive, house in a neighbouring bedroom community. Don’t fail to take into account that the one-hour plus travel time to your job in the city in heavy traffic at peak hours can become stressful day in and day out. Lengthy commutes also take a toll on your car and take time away from your spouse and children. Is the commute worth it for a bigger yard?
Think of the lifestyle you want to live. You are buying for the long term so you want to think about your future needs as well as your current ones.
Pick the mortgage that’s right for you
There are several elements to consider in a mortgage:
- Amortization period. This is how long it will take to pay off the total mortgage which typically ranges from 5 to 25 years. Sometimes you can secure a 30-year mortgage. Remember that the longer you take, the lower the payments, but you’ll pay more in accrued interest.
- Mortgage term. Terms range from 6 months to 10 years. When the term expires, you can renegotiate terms, pay it off, or renew it for another term. Interest rates will vary according to the term you select and whether you choose a fixed or variable rate.
- Fixed interest rate. The interest rate will remain the same for the entire term. Usually, the longer the term the higher the rate.
- Variable interest rate. The interest rate is tied directly to the prime rate. When rates change, your payment amount will still remain the same, but the amount that is applied towards interest and principal will change.
Carefully select the type of interest rate based on your risk tolerance.
You can discuss various options and prepayment features, and go through different calculations with your mortgage broker or banker. Then spend some time discussing with each other how much of a loan you’re willing to take on, and which type makes the most sense for both of you.
It’s become the latest trend to pay off a mortgage in 5 years, or so. I’m not really in favour of this for young couples who often have a lot of competing goals to save for. If this is you, however, make sure you at least have a decent emergency fund so you can weather any unforeseen personal or house related expenses that can knock you off budget.
Some help for first time home buyers
There are some programs that may make it easier for you to buy your first home.
- The Home Buyers’ Tax Credit allows you to claim a credit of up to $750 on your income tax.
- The Home Buyers’ Plan allows you to withdraw up to $25,000 from your RRSP to help buy your home. You must pay back the amount you borrow within 15 years or it will be added to your taxable income.
- You may also be exempt from paying a property transfer tax. Your lawyer can apply for the exemption on your behalf when the property is registered at the land title office.
Further reading on Financial Planning for Couples: