Real Estate

5 Ways to Help Out First-Time Homebuyers

On Tuesday, June 13th, I have the privilege of speaking on the “Millennials and Home Ownership” panel at the 2017 Ontario Housing Summit. The affordability of real estate is surely a topic that will be heavily focused on. To address this, the Ontario Liberals recently introduced the Fair Housing Market Plan. Although it was a step in the right direction, there’s still a lot more that remains to be done. Here are five ways the government could further help first-time homebuyers in Ontario.

1. Waiving Land Transfer Tax for First-Time Homebuyers

While I appreciate the province’s doubling of the provincial land transfer tax rebate for first-time homebuyers from $2,000 to $4,000, it doesn’t go far enough. As a property virgin, you’ll still end up paying land transfer tax if you spend more than $368,000 on a home. (Not to mention you’ll also pay a municipal land transfer tax if you’re buying in Toronto.) Even with the rebates, you could still find yourself paying tens of thousands of dollars in land transfer tax. Ouch!

If the province and the city of Toronto are really serious about helping property virgins, they’ll step up to the plate and waive the land transfer tax entirely for first-time homebuyers. This offers the best of both worlds: it wouldn’t hurt the equity of baby boomers and it’d help cash-strapped millennials be able to afford to get into the real estate market sooner.

2. Educating Millennials About the Benefits of Renting

There’s a bias towards homeownership. Everyone from the banks to the government to your parents encourage homeownership. But owning a home doesn’t make sense for everybody. For some, it actually makes more sense to rent instead of own. For example, if you’re a millennial who’s just started your first job, it doesn’t make sense to rush out and buy a home right away (especially if you’re precariously employed). What if you don’t like your job and want to go back to school? What if you find a better job opportunity in another city, province or country? In these situations, it probably makes sense to rent.

We need to do a better job of telling both sides of the story and educating millennials about the benefits of renting. If you aren’t ready to put down roots and stay put for the next 5 years, renting is a perfectly viable option. Your 20’s is the perfect time to travel before you have any attachments. Renting typically is also less expensive than owning a home since you don’t have to worry about carrying costs, such as property taxes, repairs and maintenance. If you decide to rent, automate your savings, so you’re saving and investing the extra cash flow, instead of spending it.

3. Making Condos More Attractive

In the GTA, condos remain an affordable housing option for millennials looking to make the jump into the housing market. So why aren’t more millennials buying condos? I believe it has a lot to do with condo fees. There have been stories about condo boards mismanaging the reserve fund, leading to a spike in condo fees. There’s also the laundry list of rules you must comply with as a condo owner. Personally, my lifestyle is better suited for condo living, but because of the condo fees and the rules, I decided against it. I know many millennials who feel the same way. There needs to be greater transparency around condo fees, so more people will consider them.

Airbnb is a great way to offset the high cost of housing, yet each condo has a different set of rules for short-term rentals. I’d like to see one set of rules put in place by the province. This would give condo owners some much-needed peace of mind and make it easier to plan without the worry of Airbnb being banned at some point in the future.

4. Addressing the “Missing Middle”

There’s a mismatch between the type of housing stock that’s available and the type millennials are looking for. Baby boomers were supposed to downsize, but that’s not happening in many cases. We have baby boomers living in these oversized houses with empty rooms. My parents are the perfect example. They live in a spacious four bedroom house, yet there’s only two people living there. Why haven’t they moved to a condo? Because they don’t want to leave their neighborhood, family and friends. (Toronto’s double land transfer tax doesn’t help either. They’d have to pay $30K or $40K just to move across the street. This has many baby boomers renovating their homes instead of moving, leading to fewer starter homes for property virgins.)

How do we address this? By building condos and townhouses in already established neighbourhoods that cater to retiring baby boomers. This means having amenities, such as restaurants, drugstores and shopping nearby, that boomers are looking for. The government could help by cutting the red tape to get shovels into the ground sooner rather than later on these projects. (And I know it’s a windfall for the city, but the municipal land transfer tax needs to go in Toronto.)

5. Greater Transparency in Bidding Wars

One of the biggest frustrations as a first-time homebuyer is dealing with bidding wars. I know all about this firsthand. It took me three years of house hunting before I was finally able to successfully make an offer on a property. I know a lot of millennials who share this same frustration. In a bidding war, you’re pretty much going in blind. When the seller ask you to improve your offer (they almost always do), you could be bidding against yourself without even knowing it.

The province mentioned in its 16-point plan that it would do a better job of making the offer process more transparent. I’m curious to see how the government addresses this. It’s safe to say that the current rules aren’t working. Should Canada adopt a similar offer process as Australia where everything is done out in the open? This is a debate we need to have sooner rather than later to help level the playing field for millennials anxious to get into the real estate market.

Sean Cooper is the author of the new book, Burn Your Mortgage: The Simple, Powerful Path to Financial Freedom for Canadians, available now on Amazon and at Chapters, Indigo and major bookstores.

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