Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

That will be $90,000 down, please

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The easiest part of buying a house in Vancouver is thinking you can actually afford it. You love the location, the weather and the vibe of being close to the mountains and the ocean. You and your partner are a professional couple and, because you do not have children, think it's a good time to make the biggest financial decision of your lives.

Everything is cool until you realize the average price of a detached house is $1.8 million, with a minimum down payment of $90,000.

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Even if you can manage to come up with the down payment, and even if the interest rates continue to stay as low as they have the past few years, you just can't see how you are going to pay off a mortgage of more than $1.7 million over 25 years. After all, a fixed five-year term at four per cent interest comes to $8,942 a month or $107,304 a year. By the way, those are after-tax dollars that do not include property taxes and insurance.

After you get over the shocking prices, you begin the trade-off game.

This approach is not for the faint of heart. But you are not yet ready to give up on the idea of a single-family house with a white picket fence, great boulevard trees and within walking distance of a coffee bar. So you get out a map of Metro Vancouver and begin thinking about living in the suburbs, which are cheaper -- the average single family home sold across the region for $1.17 million in May -- but have a lot of their own problems.

Commuting time is the first problem. While studies have shown many people are willing to put up with 40-minute commutes each way to work, commuting into Vancouver from suburban municipalities can sometime take more than an hour -- each way. That's more than 10 hours a week, or 40 hours a month, just sitting in a rapidly depreciating car that also requires gas, maintenance, parking fees and insurance. Then there is an increasing body of scientific evidence that suggests the continual stress of commuting can be hell on our minds and bodies.

Another problem with the suburbs is the suburbs themselves. Let's be charitable here: Sometimes the suburbs are OK. There are single-family homes, of course, leafy winding streets and sometimes they have sidewalks. There are parks for the kids and lots of really huge shopping malls full of big-box stores. But too often, they are boring and culturally deprived. You probably have never heard someone from the city say: "Honey, let's go to the suburbs."

So, you are your partner rule out the suburbs and ask yourselves if you could live in the city -- in a condo or a townhouse. It won't be a house and your square footage will be much diminished but at least you'll be in town close to, well, pretty much everything you have to drive to from the suburbs.

In Vancouver, however, condos and townhouses aren't exactly cheap -- the average condo price at the end of May was $557,000 while the average townhouse went for $794,000. You realize either will still require an amazing amount of your collective earnings.

By this time, you and your partner, if you are still talking to each other, are pretty damned depressed. It wasn't supposed to be this way.

You begin to wonder about housing alternatives. Sharing a house with Mom and Dad may make some financial sense, particularly if you have private entrances and separate kitchens, but it's not exactly an ideal situation.

Why not just rent? While renting has often been seen as the sad brother to home ownership, there are increasingly numbers of people, at least in Vancouver, and Europe and Asia, who have accepted that they will never own a home. And many are OK with that. They don't have to save for a down payment, they don't have to pay for or do home renovations, and they don't have to pay property taxes. They go on annual airplane vacations and some even buy a much cheaper recreational property that fulfils their pride of ownership.

According to RentBoard.ca, a one-bedroom apartment in Vancouver rents, on average, between $1,435 and $2,250 per month. A two-bedroom rents from $2,107 and $2,600 per month.

With an additional million people expected to move into the region in the next 30 years, from across Canada and around the world, and with Vancouver's already limited land base for housing, many predict house prices can only move one way -- up. That's the future.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 17, 2013 A11

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