Go west for a new home in Canada


Thousands are fleeing the recession in Ireland to make a life in Canada. But how easy is it to set up house there?

If you are still trying to decide on a province or city, the government-run Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation website ( cmhc.ca) 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, which has advice on renting or buying for the first time.

For those looking at the move as long-term, purchasing a property can be a viable option. The average price of Canadian homes sold over the past year was $363,258 (€281,224), a 1 per cent increase on the previous 12 months.

The CMHC’s housing market outlook for 2012 and 2013 predicts that prices will remain stable. However commentators are more cautious, with a recent column in the Globe and Mail newspaper warning that foreign investment might be overheating the market, especially in Vancouver and Toronto. Values vary hugely depending on the province and city, with the average price of a home in the Greater Vancouver area clocking in at $775,695 (€597,275), more than twice the national average.

“The price of housing can be a huge shock to people when they first arrive here,” says Gerry Ryan, a real estate agent who runs ImagineVancouver.com, a website offering advice for potential buyers.

“City centre apartments and family homes in sought-after suburbs can cost even more, but outside of those areas, property prices and rents come way down, more in line with Toronto or Calgary.”

House prices in Toronto average $493,693 (€380,137), but a shortage of properties is pushing prices up, especially at the cheaper end of the market, with a 10 per cent increase in prices overall in the past 12 months. Houses in Saskatchewan province, which is currently in the midst of a construction boom where they are advertising for Irish workers, average around $261,000.

The majority of Irish newcomers to Canada arrive on one-year International Experience Canada (IEC) visas and look to rent rather than buy, according to Ruairi Spillane of Moving2Vancouver.ca, a website for new Irish arrivals in the city.

“Furnished but pricey apartments are available to rent by the week , 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,” he says. Moving2Vancouver has a nine-bedroom house where people can stay short term until they work out where they would like to live.

“Toronto and Vancouver are big cities, and very spread out,” says Spillane. “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.”

Properties are rented by calendar month, so it is best to arrive just before the end of the month, rather than at the beginning, when choices will be more limited.

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 commonly found in thrift shops and on websites like Craigslist.ca, especially towards the end of the month when people are preparing to move house,” Spillane says. Ikea outlets are located in, or close to, most major cities.

Rents in Toronto and Vancouver have increased in line with demand over the past few years, and the cost can come as a shock to people when they arrive first, especially in Vancouver. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Toronto is $1,149 (€885) 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 $1,237 (€952) in the greater city area, but about 50 per cent higher in the centre of the city. Moving2Vancouver’s website has a useful section describing the different neighbourhoods in the city and what rent you can expect to pay in each. For Toronto, check out Solas.ca, a recently launched Irish-run property website which aggregates results from all other property websites that have listings in the city.

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, which is more common for 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.”

When it comes to buying a property, Irish people granted residency in Canada have the same rights as Canadian citizens. 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.

One to buy, one to rent in Vancouver

For sale: 931 Semlin Drive, Grandview

This 100-year-old 4-bedroom family home has retained its original solid wooden floors and stained glass windows, but has benefited from recent upgrades including the fitting of new windows, kitchen, bathrooms and roof. It is located on the more affordable east side of the city, which is popular with young families, yet close to the trendy Commercial Drive area known for its great bars, cafes and restaurants. Property tax: $4,700 (€ 3,622) per year. Price: $999,000 (€770,000)

Agent: Gerry Ryan, Dexter Associates Realty; imaginevancouver.ca; tel: 001-604-6007667

To let: 111 West Georgia Street

Centrally located between Yaletown and Gastown, this bright 1-bedroom apartment in the Spectrum Towers has stunning views over the waterfront, with shops, cafes, bars, restaurants, theatres and a cinema within walking distance.

It is fully furnished, and internet, cable, telephone, electricity and heating are included in the rent.

Residents also have the use of a gym in the building, with a swimming pool, jacuzzi and steam room.

Rent: $930 (€715) per month

Agent: Private listing; vancouver.olx.ca