Home search: Raising a down payment by leaving Metro Vancouver for more lucrative work

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      The path of homeownership in B.C. took Jeff Cullum to Alberta.

      “I went to the oilsands in Fort McMurray,” Cullum told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “I worked there for about five years doing rotation work.”

      He was going in for 20 days in a row, clocking 12 hours a day, flying back to Metro Vancouver for 10 days of rest, then doing it all over.

      “You really have no personal life, really, when you’re doing that kind of work,” Cullum related. “You kind of sacrifice on that end, and you miss a lot of things like birthday parties. I wasn’t around when my niece was born a few years ago.”

      Going to Alberta to do drafting work paid well for Cullum, who was trained in geomatics engineering technology.

      He was still staying at his parents’ house in Surrey at the time, but he wanted to be independent one day.

      “I was working up north there for the first three years and I was still living at home, and then at that point I decided I had enough, financially,” Cullum said.

      Although he was originally looking to buy a home in Surrey, realtor Adam Chahl, a long-time friend, advised him to buy in Port Moody. According to Cullum, Chahl explained that for investment purposes, properties in Port Moody may be easier to sell in the future.

      In 2012, with a loan arranged by mortgage agent Aimal Pamir, Cullum put down an initial payment for a two-bedroom condo in Port Moody.

      He went on to work for another two years in Alberta before deciding to stay put for now in B.C. “I don’t know if I would have been able to purchase a home as soon as I did,” Cullum said about his stint in the oilsands.

      He now does drafting work in the planning department of a telecommunications company, which doesn’t pay as much as that in Alberta. “Nothing would really pay like that, doing what I do locally, like, say, in Surrey or Vancouver or the Lower Mainland,” Cullum said.

      According to him, it would be helpful for many prospective homebuyers in B.C., especially young people, if salaries were better.

      Based on earnings and employment trends monitored by B.C. Statistics, the average weekly wage in the province is $923 as of March 2017. In Canada, B.C. is in fifth place, behind Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

      A 2014 income survey by Statistics Canada provides another picture of where B.C. stands when it comes to earnings. With an annual median employment income of $31,100 for individuals, the province lags behind Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Manitoba, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

      “I can see a lot of people being affected by it because…the wages people are making these days aren’t really enough,” Cullum said.

      In addition, many people are reeling from the impact of unstable earnings, as can be seen from the results of a nationwide survey commissioned and later released on May 17 this year by the Toronto-Dominion Bank.

      The TD poll showed that 37 percent of adults aged 18 and up reported having experienced moderate to high income volatility during the past year. Nine percent indicated that they delayed a rent or mortgage payment in the past 12 months.

      Because his Alberta job also allowed him to put away some savings, Cullum said that he doesn’t worry much about his mortgage payments.

      He’s building equity as well. The last time he checked, the listing prices for places comparable to the one he bought in 2012 for less than $300,000 were hovering at about $440,000.

      Still single, Cullum plans to stay in his Port Moody condo for a few years until he starts a family. He turns 31 at the end of June.

      Asked if he is willing to go away again if that would mean being able to afford a bigger house for a future family, Cullum said: “I definitely wouldn’t rule that out. I mean, if the opportunity arose again, I think I definitely wouldn’t say no right away.”