'Not going to happen in our lifetime': First-time homebuyers share their struggles with purchasing a home

The astronomical rise in the average price of a home in Canada has left 39-year-old Jennifer Charbonneau more discouraged than ever before, she said.

“The fact that even though we're able to afford … just under $2,000 a month for rent, but that we're not eligible for a loan to be able to pay a mortgage that’s $1,000 a month, I find that's just like a slap in the face,” she told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “We've come to the realization that [owning a home] is not going to happen in our lifetime.”

Charbonneau said she and her husband have been looking to purchase their first home in Quebec for about 10 years. After renting an apartment in Montreal, Charbonneau moved to Laval, Que. with her husband and three children with special needs in July 2020, and now rent a duplex.

Her family’s hunt for a house has been especially tough since April 2021, when Charbonneau was let go from her job as a receptionist for a corporate law firm. Neither she nor her husband have permanent jobs at the moment, and can’t get approved for a loan, she said. Both have been living paycheque-to-paycheque with no financial support from relatives, and are barely making ends meet.

Prior to losing her job, Charbonneau said she and her husband had been approved for a mortgage that would have allow them to purchase a home with a price tag of up to $200,000.

“We don't need any marble countertops, we just need a functional home with three bedrooms, and we can’t find anything that would be in our price bracket,” she said.

The family is still looking for a home under $350,000, but have noticed an increase in housing prices throughout the years in their area, Charbonneau said, making this goal increasingly unrealistic.

‘PESSIMISM’ AMONG FIRST-TIME HOMEBUYERS

It appears as though a number of other Canadians feel similarly. According to a recent survey conducted by Canada Life, an insurance and financial services company, nearly 50 per cent of respondents who rent said they expect to do so indefinitely, or are unsure when they will buy a home.

“There is a certain pessimism about being able to enter the housing market right now,” Paul Orlander, Canada Life's executive vice-president of individual customer, told CTVNews.ca on Thursday in a telephone interview. “The challenges right now around the housing market are making it difficult for most renters to see how they would, in a five-year timeframe, transition from renting to homeownership.”

Additionally, 64 per cent of respondents said new homeowners will only be able to enter the housing market with financial support from others. Charbonneau said she feels the same way, noting that among her friends, the only way some of them were able to purchase a condominium or a house was with financial support from their parents who contributed to the down payment.

“They all had that type of financial advantage,” she said. “Some of these friends, they ask, ‘Why don’t you have a home?’ I tell them we don’t have mommy and daddy to help us out, and they kind of give us a funny look like your parents are supposed to help you out, but we're not in that position.”

The reason for a lot of the pessimism expressed in these survey results stems from high housing prices, Orlander said. Nasma Ali is a real estate broker based in Toronto, and the founder of One Group Toronto Real Estate with Remax Hallmark Realty. Although certain parts of Ontario, for example, have seen activity cool down within local markets, others are still seeing high prices for residential properties, she said. As interest and inflation rates climb, this increases the financial burden placed on homebuyers, particularly those looking to purchasing a home for the first time, Ali said.

“The market has been on steroids and usually, the people that kind of fall on the wayside are the first-time buyers,” she told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “First-time buyers are the ones that end up continuing to lose out against multiple offers, and they get really discouraged.”

First-time homebuyers are especially vulnerable given the fact that they have yet to enter the market, she said, and don’t have any equity to rely on as a result.

“If you already own, it doesn't really matter as much because you're selling in the same market as you're buying,” she said. “But for a buyer, they’re just jumping in with no equity.”

Rising interest rates also have an impact on the affordability of homes, Ali said. Combined with the rising cost of living, prospective homeowners are likely concerned about being able to make ends meet, she said.

“Stepping into homeownership is a challenge for prospective homeowners,” Orlander said. “People are concerned about a squeeze on their personal finances as they're seeing the price of goods and services go up from inflation.

“For many Canadians, those prices are going up faster than their own earnings are.”

SOME HOPING TO FIND THEIR ‘END-GAME HOUSE’

Some prospective homeowners, such as Liam Keeling, say they’re hopeful about the future. Based in Cobourg, Ont., the 25-year-old and his girlfriend have been looking for a detached home to purchase over the last couple of years, he said.

With the interest rate hikes imposed by the Bank of Canada over the past few months, Keeling said he has noticed homes in his area becoming more affordable. Larger properties with more square footage are beginning to fall within his budget of $400,000 to $550,000, and more homes are being sold for amounts that are closer to what they were listed for, he said.

“We can buy more of our end-game house, rather than our stepping-stone house,” Keeling told CTVNews.ca on Tuesday in a telephone interview.

But prior to that, he was in situations where he would be outbid by as much as $70,000, even after submitting an offer that was already over asking price, he said. This was especially frustrating after realizing he and his girlfriend did not qualify for Canada’s first-time homebuyer incentive, as their combined annual income exceeds $120,000.

Still, it may be some time before the ideal home is listed at a price that falls within his budget, Keeling said.

“[We’re] kind of caught in the middle where the interest rates are starting to go up, so you're going to pay more for your monthly [mortgage payment], but then housing prices are still expensive,” he said. “So you're also going to pay [more] upfront for your down payment.”

As a result, Keeling said he and his girlfriend will begin looking again more actively in August or September to see what impact the next interest rate hike in July will have on housing prices. But he is hopeful they will be able to purchase a home before the winter, having already locked in their interest rate, he said.

“Looking in the same price range [now], we're seeing a little bit nicer houses over the last couple of months here,” he said. “For sure going into the future, there's going to be some nicer houses coming into our price range with the interest rate hikes coming in.”

Charbonneau, however, said she is not hopeful that her situation will improve anytime soon.

“I've been optimistic for 38 years in my life, it's only been about the past year that we're just like, it is what it is,” she said. “If things move forward and get better, great, but … in our lifetime, it's not going to happen.”