Home search: Making the most of public programs did the trick for Port Coquitlam woman

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      A combination of federal and provincial programs helped Macarena Nuñez buy her first home.

      Last May, the supply-chain professional and her fiancé moved into a condo in Port Coquitlam, where she will turn 29 this July. “It’s overwhelming at first, with all the paperwork,” Nuñez related in a phone interview with the Georgia Straight.

      She availed herself of the federal Home Buyers’ Plan (HBP) and the new B.C. Home Owner Mortgage and Equity Partnership (B.C. Home Partnership).

      Nuñez said she feels good that it’s all done, saying: “It’s like I accomplished something.”

      She had known about the HBP, which allows first-time homebuyers to withdraw up to $25,000 from their registered retirement savings plans (RRSPs) for a down payment.

      When she entered the workforce, Nuñez opened an RRSP account not only to get a tax break and save for retirement: she also made contributions to her RRSP with the additional goal of using the funds for an initial payment for a home.

      According to the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), at least 2.9 million buyers have used the HBP since the program started in 1992.

      In a submission to the finance committee of the House of Commons in August 2016, CREA stated that home purchases made through the HBP in 2015 generated $2.4 billion in spinoff spending and at least 17,100 jobs.

      The industry association recommended indexing HBP withdrawals to inflation to keep pace with continuing increases in home prices.

      Nuñez was 17 when she and her family moved to Canada from Peru in 2006. A year later, her parents bought a home in Coquitlam.

      According to Nuñez, her parents had always encouraged her and her younger sibling to work toward owning a home because it’s a good investment. When she started making her own move, she was referred by her parents’ realtor to Camilo Rodriguez with MortgagesLab Financial Inc.

      Rodriguez, who is also secretary of the board of the Mortgage Brokers Association of B.C., assessed how much of a loan she could qualify for, and she started looking for properties in the Tri-Cities area.

      “I lived in Coquitlam since I moved to Canada 11 years ago, and I really, really like the area. I find it very family oriented,” Nuñez said.

      Her purchase plans got a boost when the province unveiled the B.C. Home Partnership, a program that provides first-time homebuyers with an interest-free loan for a down payment (started January 16, 2017).

      According to figures provided to the Straight by B.C. Housing, 327 applications for the program had been approved in Metro Vancouver as of June 6, representing about $5.9 million in total loans.

      With her HBP withdrawal and B.C. Home Partnership loan, Nuñez was able to make a sizable initial payment for a 940-square-foot condo that she won with a bid that was less than $400,000.

      Nuñez figured that a typical two-bedroom and two-bath apartment unit comparable to hers can rent for $1,600 a month, which is about what she pays for her monthly mortgage.

      “The way I see it is I’m paying rent to myself,” she said.

      Although she’s on a fixed-rate mortgage, Nuñez is mindful of interest rates.

      There is increased speculation that the Bank of Canada may increase interest rates on July 12, a development that will immediately affect borrowers on variable-rate mortgages. If that happens, Nuñez may have to pay more when she renews her mortgage.

      Results of a survey conducted on behalf of the Manulife Bank of Canada indicated that many homeowners do not have the means to deal with rising interest rates, unforeseen expenditures, or loss of income.

      In a media release on May 23 this year, Manulife stated that the survey revealed that 70 percent of mortgage holders cannot afford a 10-percent increase in their payments.

      Nuñez was living with her parents before she and her fiancé settled into the condo she purchased. They share the expenses, and they have big plans.

      “We are getting married in November,” Nuñez said.

      They’re looking at staying in their Port Coquitlam condo for at least five years.

      “I don’t expect to sell the place right now or in the very near future,” Nuñez said. “If prices were going to go down, I would wait until they go back up again because, eventually, they would go up.”