Professional women go it alone to buy their first Lower Mainland home

Professional, single women are a growing force in the local real-estate market, and they know what they want

Andrea Visscher is on a mission. The 27-year-old Vancouver resident is shopping for her own home, which is no easy feat for anyone in Canada’s most expensive housing market. But despite the obvious challenges, Visscher is determined to go it alone.

“I’ve been looking for about two months but considering this for a long time,” Visscher says. “I really want to purchase a home on my own without assistance from a partner or my parents.

“Finding something I like in a price point I’m able to afford is my biggest obstacle,” she adds. “I don’t want to leave things too long, though, because I think the earlier in my life I can get into home ownership the better it will be in the long run.”

Visscher represents one of the latest trends in real estate: professional, single women becoming independent homeowners.

According to a recent TD Canada Trust national poll that surveyed female first-time home buyers between the ages of 20 and 45, 82 percent were single women. (That figure includes people like Visscher, who have a partner but are buying on their own.) The average age was 29, and almost half had obtained a university degree.

When asked to describe the best thing about home ownership, 34 percent of Canadian women surveyed said it was having a place of their own. Other factors were being able to decorate or renovate the way they wanted (34 percent) and having a backyard or garden (32 percent).

Eugen Klein, president of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, says that although no hard numbers exist, single women have outpaced single men in home purchases recently.

“It does change from month to month, but if you look over the last 12- or 24-month period, by a few percentage points, single women have bought slightly more properties than single men,” he says.

Local real-estate marketer Bob Rennie has seen the trend play out in Vancouver. At Marine Gateway, a development on Marine Drive at south Cambie Street that sold out on opening day and offered more than 200 units under $270,000, 50 percent of buyers were female—a big jump from past projects.

“Although we didn’t track demographics as diligently 10 years ago, I think that a safe estimate would be that the dial has moved from the 35-percent range to where it is today,” Rennie says.

The main concern among female buyers is security, with many women opting for units above ground level and for buildings that require a pass card to access individual floors.

“Of course, safety and convenience are factors,” Rennie says.

Naturally, so is price. With a maximum purchase price of $200,000 in mind, Visscher is focusing on condos in Surrey. She’s seen some units in Vancouver at about that amount, but they’re too tiny for her liking.

Making the move to the suburbs will be a big change for the media-relations specialist who has lived in a large, funky, sunny West End studio for eight years. She pays $775 a month, including parking.

“I want to be near transit so I can get rid of my car,” Visscher says. “I don’t want to pay more for a mortgage than what I’m paying in rent. I don’t want to sacrifice my lifestyle and be a slave to an incredibly high mortgage payment.”

Although she says she’s fortunate to have found a real-estate agent she trusts, Visscher admits she finds the process overwhelming. It doesn’t help when well-meaning relatives and friends share their two cents’ worth: everyone seems to have a different opinion on where she should be looking or if she should be contemplating home ownership at all.

“My father is very pro get-into-the-market-whenever-you-can; my mother thinks it’s not a good time, that I shouldn’t be investing in a home when my rental is working for me,” she says. “I’m also the first one of my friends to look into home ownership, so none of them are really able to give me insights I’m looking for.

“Some friends and coworkers are telling me to look in White Rock; other people are telling me it doesn’t matter where I look but just don’t be on the other side of a bridge. I just have to try and trust my best judgment.

“Although I have fantastic rent and an amazing landlord, I’m just ready to start investing in myself, and investing in a home is a large part of that,” she adds. “As opposed to putting in rent for a really cool space, I just want to get something that’s more my own.”

Comments (16) Add New Comment
john michelou
I agree with your mother. This is a horrible time to buy property! It is most likely the peak of a bubble, and 775 for a downtown apartment is a great deal!

Surrey is quite a bit different than the west end. Perhaps you should try renting there first! You want to transit everywhere, in surrey. Yeah good luck with that!!
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morgus
This is unbelievably foolish, anything in for 200k even in Surrey is going to be absolute garbage in terms of construction, location and anything else you can think of.

A home is not an investment; it is a money sink and always has been. I really hope someone gets through to her before she makes a huge mistake.
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Loretta
Paying rent is a money sink. Say hello to equity!
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Try REITs
If you want to invest in real estate, why not try Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT)? I'm not going to get into a long explanation, but they are companies that own an array of large residential and/or commercial properties. You buy and sell shares on the stock market, so there is no need to go "all in" like when you buy a crappy Surrey condo.
I really hope you stay in your West End rental. Listen to your Mom on this one.
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teth adam
$200,000 in Surrey? Good luck with that! Try a dump in Chilliwack or beyond Hope, seriously...

Does she think Surrey is some abstract outland with uber-low property values?

Looking at some decent condos in the Guildford area (similar feel with Coquitlam Centre area). One and two bedrooms range between $250,000-$300,000. She might find a crack shack in Newton (scuzzy area of Surrey) for $200,000. Maybe a 700 square foot condo in Delta (borders Newton/Scott Road area).
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Devore
You won't find a decent place for $200k anywhere in lower mainland, certainly not a townhouse. So she's going to be doubling her housing costs to buy a realistic property (after mortgage, property tax, maintenance and insurance), ten-toupling her commute, just so she can paint the walls purple and build equity? Equity is nothing more than a forced savings plan. If she has a bundle of money burning a hole in her pocket, I suggest she max out her TFSA and RRSP contribution room.
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Elizabeth King
You should never buy a condo anywhere as an investment vehicle. I bought my first place for 190 000 in 1996.My friend bought a condo for 150 000 the same year. She had a small 1 bedroom and den condo. I had a 4 bedroom fixer upper that needed new paint, windows, carpeting and a 1/4 acre lot. We both sold within a few years of each other I made 40 000 she broke even.
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Peter Mare
Elizabeth King, Times are changing! Houses are not as popular as they used to be as Baby Boomers leave the nest and look for smaller ones! I actually see condos being more and more appealing for many, who don't like to alone in a big house, far from anything, and with a huge place to maintain! Security? A house is not as secure as a condo, but I am confused when women fear ground floor condos. I have NEVER had anyone breaking in in 20 years, but I have sheers and curtains which I close all the time. I have wood bars in the windows for added protection.
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Thisisdiana
I'm about your age and I bought a condo in 2005. It's really been a headache for me and I will be so glad to get rid of it with a even price. Too much spending on maintainence and very minor increase on the value over years. I prefer renting as soon as I get rid of it, and don't mind renting for a long term. PS I'm in surrey.
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John B.
I have to agree with the majority of comments here. When I compare your rent in West Vancouver and your possible investment of $200k, I can not see it working out.Whether you rent or buy is a more complex question with many invisible costs, that you don´t count right now. Again, if you buy a crappy condo in Surrey, you will have a hard time selling it for a good price within 2-3 years. And imagine all the taxes, maintenance and other expenses that you will have to pay.
You should really listen to your Mom on this one and wait for a better moment.
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Mutasem
Andrea, don’t let your sense of ownership affect your judgment and consider your options logically. I know most people consider inflation to be their number one priority to protect their money against, but in reality a miss timed investment can rob you of your money far faster than inflation. If you look at history you will realize that real-estate is just another asset that goes through booms and busts and if you buy at the top of the boom you’re left holding the bag and will take you a long time to get back to the price you paid. Even if in the very long term the price will eventually go up, the price you pay now determines your mortgage payment for the next 25 years!
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Carol GIbson
@ Peter Mare who's "confused when women fear ground floor condos". Perhaps that's because you're not a woman. I had 5 break-ins in 2 years in a ground floor condo, 2 of which occurred within a week. One of the investigating officers told me I had likely been identified, and targeted, as a single woman. As I didn't care to live in a dark, curtain-drawn and window-grilled 'home', I moved.
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Jamie in burnaby
What she says in the article is correct, ie. "I think the earlier in my life I can get into home ownership the better it will be in the long run." However, she should have bought 10 years ago when she was 17. You missed the boat Andrea, wait for the next one (housing correction).
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Bede Cocks
I say go for it! These days it seems there is never a good time to enter the property market. I think you are taking the right steps in researching and taking your time, smart. I wish you the best in your quest to find the right place at the right price.
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Heather Smith
Oh Georgia Straight, who do you think your audience is? You act like everyone is well off condo dwellers who can afford air plants in glass bowls! Me and everyone I know missed the real estate boat long ago and cannot afford to buy now. Anyone my age(mid-late 30's) who did buy thinking it would be a good idea have a massive mortgage, no room to move and high maintenance expenses. Also one must have good credit blah blah blah to even get a mortgage, and for many of us, there were years of school, high living expenses, not so well paying jobs etc which make many of us look bad on paper to the bank. It certainly isn't new news that women are buying their own homes. We've learned long ago that we can't wait for a partner to come along.
Why not have some balance and weigh the pros and cons of renting vs owning? On one hand it seems like renting is throwing money out the window, but over a lifetime, you still pay much much less money than if you bought a $200000 + condo. And yes maybe you can redecorate as you wish, but have to foot the bill for all repairs, damage etc.. And condos have fees, regulations etc that you might not like. Is her job secure? Where does this woman work? She is already in downtown Vancouver, great location, probably can walk or bike to work and no need to have a car in the city. Why would she want to swap a possibly easy short commute for something long and to be in a place she might not want to be?
I believe the whole property ownership is old news and an outdated relic of the past that our parents believed in. It was also only for a short time that 'everyone' could afford to own. They were able to buy homes with very little money and be mortgage free easily. Also, how much time do you actually spend at home? If you spend all your time at work to pay mortgage which could be for the rest of your working life, what is the point? Yes, I would love to own property, but it is not possible, so that's that.
There will be a major correction in the market, it might take time, but I might be able to buy then, and by then Visscher might be able to afford something she actually likes.
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vangrl
this is a joke right?

you want to give up a "large, funky, sunny West End studio" that costs $775 a month to buy a condo in Surrey at the very beginning of a historic housing crash?....you almost had me
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