Home hunting: How to find the right housing option for you
By Russul Sahib
Posted on February 22, 2021
As a newcomer, finding the perfect home for you and your family means considering many things, from location to price point to space. Not to mention that different housing options can offer different benefits and disadvantages for newcomer families. Many new immigrants may also face difficulties when it comes to learning about the types of housing options there are, how much they cost, as well as what is included in their monthly rent. Yet, whether newcomers settle in an apartment, condo, or house, their home must be well-suited for their needs and lifestyle.
Apartments and studios
An apartment building is a building composed of different residential units. People live in separate units, called apartments. Unlike regular apartments, studio apartments may not have separate bedrooms from the living and kitchen spaces. Choosing to live in an apartment or studio means that you have to pay monthly rent to the person or company who owns the building. For people living alone, it’s also an option to find a roommate to help split rents costs. A roommate is someone who shares the apartment with you and helps cover the costs of rent or even other utilities. You can ask friends or people you know about the possibility of renting an apartment together, or you can print and distribute flyers or post an advertisement online to let people know that you are looking for a roommate.
In Canada, big cities charge higher amounts of rent, while smaller cities can provide a cheaper alternative. In October 2019, the average price of rent in Canada was $1,574 a month.
Robert Mundie, a retired professor, and researcher who studied immigrants and housing, said in an email response that the pricing of housing in these big cities is the biggest challenge faced by recent immigrants.
“Housing markets such as Toronto and Vancouver, where many immigrants end up, are very expensive. The housing market in Montreal and smaller centres is generally less expensive and therefore more accessible,” Mundie said.
Other cities in Canada, such as Quebec City or Saskatoon, offer one-bedroom apartments for an average monthly rent ranging between $870 to $969.
While some cities in Canada have pricier rent costs, Mundie said apartments are still generally more affordable than other housing options.
Another good thing about apartments is that the costs of other utilities, such as electricity and water, are often included. This means newcomers often do not have to pay extra for these, as they are included in their monthly payments. However, it is always important to double-check what is included in the rent of the signed rental agreement. Many apartments also come with amenities, such as a swimming pool or playground, which can offer fun entertainment for young children or the whole family!
Generally, apartments are a great option for smaller immigrant families or single individuals who do not need as much space.
“Rental apartments, especially newer builds in central city areas, tend to be relatively small and are not suitable for large immigrant families, thereby leading to overcrowding,” Mundie said.
However, some apartments have multiple rooms which could be a solution for larger immigrant families.
Condominiums (condos) are very similar to apartments, except that you can own your condo! You can typically pay a monthly rate until you have paid off the full price of the condo. When this is done, you become the owner of the home! For newcomers looking for long-term investment options, condos can be a great option, as it allows them to pay for their home over a period of time and ultimately own their home.
According to Remax Canada, “financing” or paying for your condo means that you have to first pay five to 20 per cent of the overall value as a down payment, when signing the condo agreement. You must then continue to pay the remaining amount as a monthly expense, similar to how a mortgage is taken out on a house. These payments are added up until you are finally able to own the condo. However, living in a condo means that you also have to pay monthly maintenance fees to keep amenities, such as gyms or swimming pools, clean and functional.
In December 2019, the average sale prices of condos in Canadian cities ranged greatly. Generally, the sale prices of condos ranged from around $170,000 to $670,000 across various Canadian cities.
“Condos are often newer and generally larger than rental apartments” Mundie said. “Because they are often newer and contain more amenities than rental apartments the monthly cost for maintenance is higher,” he said.
Despite being a little pricey, condos are a great option for newcomers hoping to own their home rather than rent. Many condos are much cheaper than actual houses, giving newcomers more leeway and flexibility.
Lastly, houses are another housing option that some newcomers may consider. There are many kinds of houses newcomers can choose from, ranging from townhouses, semi-detached houses, and detached houses. These terms simply refer to whether your house is connected to another house or not. Detached houses are physically separated from surrounding neighbours, while townhouses and semi-detached homes are not. The price of the home will vary depending on whether your house is attached to others or not.
In December 2019, the average sale prices of a house in Canada ranged between $186,000 to $1.6 million for Canada’s most expensive city, Vancouver.
“The major advantage of a house over rental apartments and condos is size. Houses are larger and therefore tend to be more suitable for larger immigrant families. They also usually contain a backyard space that is ideal for younger children,” Mundie said.
In October 2019, survey results showed that one in five Canadians buying a house was a Canadian newcomer who had arrived within the last 10 years. As much as 75 per cent of the newcomers surveyed came to Canada with savings reserved for the purchase of a home. The results also showed that on average, it takes about three years for newcomers to purchase a house in Canada.
For newcomers who may not have the financial means to buy a house, there are also opportunities to rent a house. Newcomers typically make arrangements with the homeowner to pay a monthly price to live in the house for a specified period of time. There are also opportunities for newcomers to rent someone’s basement if they do not have enough money to rent a house. Renting a basement can be a cheaper alternative for families or individuals who cannot afford to pay more. TorontoRentals.com is a website that lists the different properties up for rent in major cities in Ontario. For example, a basement in the Greater Toronto Area is typically rented for $1200 to 1500 per month. Houses for rent in the GTA range between $2000 to $4000 monthly, depending on the number of rooms in the house.
There are many housing options available for newcomers to consider and choose from. While the cost of housing can be difficult for newcomers to deal with, options for housing usually increase as they settle in and find employment.
“As their time in Canada increases and they achieve more stable employment, many will be able to improve their housing position,” Mundie said.
There are also many organizations and services available that help match newcomers with cheaper housing options as well as offer support for paying rent and handling the legal aspects of lease agreements. For example, the Housing and Help Centre offers many services, such as the Toronto Rent Bank, which provides interest-free loans for those unable to pay overdue rent or provide a rent deposit. They also offer programs that help newcomers pay for their electricity and gas if it is not covered in their rental agreement. This website also allows new immigrants to find affordable housing services based on the region they live in. After choosing the region they live in, newcomers can click on the “Housing Assistance” link, and this will provide them with an entire list of housing organizations around them. New immigrants can learn more about each organization, such as their application processes, eligibility requirements, and contact information, by clicking on the links to each housing organization.
Newcomers struggling to find appropriate housing can get in touch with organizations and settlement agencies that provide housing assistance and resources to receive help. It is often difficult to find housing on your own, especially if you are unaware of where to look or who to ask. Make use of any help that is available to you, and don’t be afraid to ask for more help if you need it. At the end of the day, housing is a human right, and everyone deserves help in finding the right home for themselves.