Canada: Finding a place to live

The majority of Irish newcomers rent rather than buy. Here's our guide to costs, furniture and utilities

 
Housing in Canada varies greatly between provinces and territories, cities and suburbs, so what can you expect when searching for a home? Where can you go for advice?
 
If you are still trying to decide on a province or city, the government-run Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation website  has comprehensive information on housing to buy or rent in all Canadian cities, as well as destination guides to some of Canada’s lesser known areas. It also offers a useful newcomer’s guide to Canadian housing, with advice on renting or buying for the first time.
 
Renting a home
Most Irish newcomers to Canada will be looking to rent rather than buy. Properties are rented by calendar month, so it is best to start looking just before the end of the month, rather than at the beginning, when choices will be more limited.
 
“Furnished but pricey apartments are available to rent by the week [through websites such as MakeYourselfatHome.com, TorontoFurnishedRentals.com  and airbnb.com, which are useful for families while they are searching for a more permanent home, but young singles and couples are more likely to stay in a hostel until they find their feet,” says Irishman Ruairi Spillane, who runs the information website Moving2Canada.com.
 
“Toronto and Vancouver are big cities, and very spread out. The public transport networks are good, but if a couple are moving here together, it is better for them to wait until they are set up with jobs until they decide what area to rent in.”
 
The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Toronto is C$1,288 (€890) per month, but units in the downtown area can be much higher. The same is true in Vancouver, where average rents for a two-bed are C$1,368 in the greater city area, but about 50 per cent higher in the centre of the city.
 
Moving2Canada’s website has a useful section describing the different neighbourhoods in the main cities and what rent you can expect to pay in each. 
 
Furniture and utilities
With the exception of sub-lets, almost all rental properties in Canada are unfurnished, which will add a substantial amount to start-up costs. Cheap furniture can be found in thrift shops and on websites like Craigslist.ca, especially towards the end of the month when people are preparing to move house. Ikea outlets are located in, or close to, most major cities.
 
Cathy Murphy, executive director at the Irish Canadian Immigration Centre in Toronto, advises new arrivals to check what is included in the rent before signing a lease. “Some tenants will be responsible for paying their own utility bills, but heating, electricity, cable television, telephone and internet will often be included in the monthly rent, which can greatly reduce costs,” she says.
 
“If you are responsible for your own bills, it is worth checking what type of heating is installed in the building. If it is electric, your bills are going to be huge, especially when you are trying to keep your home warm during the harsh Canadian winter. Gas will be much cheaper.”
 
Landlords will usually ask for references, and some will request employment and income details. They are also entitled to conduct a credit check to ensure prospective tenants can pay the rent. (This is more likely to happen to those who arrive in Canada without a job set up in advance.)
 
“It can be useful to have references and a letter from your Irish bank prepared before you leave Ireland,” Murphy advises. “The more paperwork you can provide, the less hassle you are likely to have.”
 
Buying a home
 
For those looking at the move as long-term, purchasing a property can be a viable option. House prices in Canada have continued to rise rapidly over the past couple of years according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. The average house price as of July 2016 was about C$480,000 (€332,000), up from C$437,430 in 2015.
 
Prices vary hugely depending on the province and city, with the average price of a home in the Greater Vancouver area clocking in at more than C$1 million (€690,000), more than twice the national average.
 
The average house price in Toronto is C$709,825 but a shortage of properties is pushing prices up, especially at the cheaper end of the market, with a 16.5 per cent increase in prices overall in the past 12 months. Houses in Saskatchewan province, which in recent years has attracted a lot of Irish workers because of a construction boom, are on average about C$303,414.
 
The Canadian Real Estate Association has a useful interactive map comparing prices over the past 12 months between provinces and cities. See crea.ca/content/national-average-price-map .
 
Irish people with permanent residency have the same rights as Canadian citizens when it comes to buying a property. According to Michael Polzler, executive vice president of Re/Max real estates, buyers need a deposit of at least 10 per cent and proof of income to support mortgage repayments. Non-residents on a visa will need a downpayment of at least 35 per cent of the purchase price. A good financial adviser or mortgage broker will be able to talk you through your options.
 
When considering mortgage applications, banks will also ask for mortgage or rental payment receipts for the past 12 months, evidence that you have paid all utility and phone bills on time, copies of tax returns, and statements from an Irish bank account for the past year. These documents should be prepared before leaving Ireland, especially if you intend to buy a property soon after arriving in Canada.
 
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