By ADAM STANLEY
Friday, January 19, 2018
OTTAWA -- Mark Mackay and his girlfriend, Kristin Renaud, have steady jobs, two cars, a dog and a house about 15 minutes from Ottawa's downtown core.
Despite the generational dread that millennials are doomed to never own homes, the couple has bought a threebedroom, 21/2-bathroom freehold town home adjacent to a specialized public high school in the city's Urbandale neighbourhood.
When they bought two years ago, Mr. Mackay was 29.
He and Ms. Renaud have benefited from the capital-area's combination of high median incomes and low average home costs to be able to get into the market faster than their contemporaries across the country.
Ottawa's median income is north of $100,000, while the most active price point for residential sales is between $300,000 and $450,000 according to November statistics from the Ottawa Real Estate Board.
Sixty-six per cent of condos sold in Ottawa, meanwhile, are priced between $150,000 and $275,000.
After a few years of renting a one-bedroom apartment in Beechwood, an up-and-coming neighbourhood about 10 minutes from the popular Byward Market, the couple got the bug and started looking to buy. They missed on their first choice but landed on their current home without issue.
Mr. MacKay says the price was right, along with the location - they can get to TD Place to watch the CFL's Ottawa RedBlacks for less than $15 by Uber. Although it needed a little work, the couple was happy to do it because the house was "way bigger" than the first one they looked at. "It was kind of a blessing in disguise we missed out on the first one," he says.
The Ottawa market is millennial friendly, realtor Theresa Seguin says. "Houses aren't as expensive, obviously, as Toronto or Vancouver. So that's the big reason why millennials can buy."
The average price for all home types in Toronto was $780,104 in November according to the Toronto Real Estate Board, while Ottawa's was $418,354 - cheaper by almost half.
Mr. Mackay knows Ottawa isn't as congested as Toronto or Vancouver and admits that, if he had the equivalent property in Toronto, it would be worth "at least double, maybe more." But he says people in Ottawa have the magic combination of access to secure jobs and a low population density, allowed young buyers to get into the market sooner.
"It seems like there is a little more room to grow here," he says. "You don't get that same competition amongst buyers because you have more options."
Still, Ms. Seguin says millennials often come to her with a laundry list of expectations, but have their grand ideas checked by the limits of their budget. However, she says, it's not hard to make a slight neighbourhood adjustment and still be only 15 minutes by car from Ottawa's downtown.
Younger buyers generally know what they are looking for and, when they see it, act quickly, Ms. Seguin says. "They see what's out there but they can make up their mind fairly quickly."
Ben Coles, 28, began looking for homes in Ottawa's west end early in 2017. A news director with CTV Ottawa based in the Byward Market, he found his house after just three days of looking.
The two-bedroom town home had already caught the eye of other buyers and there were two offers on the table when Mr. Coles joined the fray. Then, one of the other buyers pulled their unconditional offer. After one round of back-and-forth with the sellers, the home was his. He got the keys in November.
"I went to this place and immediately, well, the cliché is that I was 'home,' " Mr. Coles says of the home, which features an ensuite bathroom in the master bedroom, hardwood floors, a garage and a small backyard. "I just felt like I was so comfortable."
Patrick Rogers bought his three bedroom, two-bathroom home in Ottawa's Alta Vista neighbourhood ("15 minutes without traffic downtown, 20 minutes with," he says with a smile) when he was 28. Now 33, he just recently renewed his mortgage and has casually begun looking for a new house with his wife, Gabrielle Rogers.
Mr. Rogers, who works in regulatory affairs for Music Canada, says there was a "real sense of affordability" in Ottawa.
Growing up in the west end of Toronto, he knew how expensive the real estate market was there, but says buying in Ottawa allowed him lots of opportunities that Toronto did not.
"If this was Toronto, Alta Vista would still be part of the greater downtown core," he says. "The massive advantage of Ottawa is that you can make your purchase contingent on a home inspection and a land transfer and all these things passing. In Toronto, that's laughed it. It's like, 'do you want it or not?' There's a more level playing field and it took a lot of scariness out of [the process]."
Whether it's a house or a condo, there are options for millennials, according to Ms. Seguin.
"Some people want to buy in the city and say 'I want to be as close to work as possible,' so they will buy the condos in the city. A lot of people are moving to neighbourhoods [outside the city] because there are a lot of young people living there," she explains. "It's about affordability."
Christine Pilon, 28, closed on her stacked townhouse in Ottawa's east end in 2016. It's 20 minutes from downtown, has two bedrooms, 21/2 bathrooms, two balconies, has just over 1,400 square feet of living space and a parking spot was included.
At first, Ms. Pilon, an interior designer, was looking at a new build, but her realtor convinced her that a condo-type dwelling in her price range - even with the associated fees - wasn't such a bad thing.
"Next thing you know, I'm a homeowner," she says. "When I was looking at the market ... every time I would go to a house that I could afford, the realtor would mention about the roof, for example, that needed to be replaced in a couple of years. I was like, 'oh my gosh, how much would that cost?' In terms of what I could afford now, it would take up all of my savings. I didn't want to buy something and then have to come up with another chunk of cash in a couple years to replace the roof or the HVAC or whatever else might happen."
She adds: "The quality of life in Ottawa is a lot different than in Toronto and that goes handin-hand with affordability. I've heard stories in Toronto that a bachelor apartment is $400,000.
You look at how much square footage I was able to afford - and for essentially half that cost."
That feeling is echoed by Mr. Rogers.
"With the backyard and the front yard and having the detached home ... this was just not an option in Toronto," he says. "Ottawa is perfect; If you lived in Toronto, this wouldn't be happening."
Mark MacKay and Kristin Renaud bought a three-bedroom home just a 15-minute car ride from downtown Ottawa.
DAVE CHAN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL