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Choosing the right neighbourhood for kids and commute: A homebuyers’ guide

When looking to buy a new home, there’s nothing wrong with wanting it all—a close commute, low taxes, a top school district, and a great community. In 2020, a record-breaking number of Canadians living in large urban areas, like Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto, packed their belongings and moved out of the city in search of greener pastures in suburban and rural communities. This urge to leave big cities was reflected in rising housing prices just outside of Canada’s urban hotspots.

Many young families and young adults, in particular, used the pandemic to search for more desirable quarters with larger spaces, cheaper price tags, and qualities that could strike a good balance between family and work objectives. According to a report from Statistics Canada, people are spending more time at home, which has increased the demand for larger homes with additional space for a home office, remote learning, or accommodating extended family members.

Most likely your new home won’t meet all the criteria on your wish list. But for families looking to plant new roots, the process starts with doing some research, crunching the numbers, and following these five tips that could help you zero in on the right neighbourhood for you and your family:

1. Make a list of your priorities

Jeffrey O’Leary, creator of The Village Guru blog, and real estate broker with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Signature Service in Mississauga, Ont., recommends that his clients “create a list of what they must have in a home, what they’d like to have in a home, and what they can’t have in a home.” These requirements should speak to the home itself, the surrounding neighbourhood, and how your family wants to spend their time.

“Some buyers might put a strong emphasis on being close to work,” says O’Leary. ” In that case, they will already narrow down areas they want to live. Some might put a high value on good schools; while others may want to be close to outdoor recreation.” Putting pen to paper can be a clarifying exercise that can help both you and your realtor “filter communities based on budget, desired home factors, and lifestyle,” says O’Leary.

When it comes to choosing a neighbourhood, focus on the“must-haves” and understand that the “like-to-haves” will depend on your budget and location. “I’ve worked with every type of buyer—from entry-level to multimillion-dollar luxury buyers—and one thing they all have in common is that everyone has to compromise on something,” says O’Leary. “There is no perfect home out there.”

2. Do investigative research

Finding the right neighbourhood can take a bit of detective work, so do some online digging to get a full picture of your ideal neighbourhood’s crime rates, schools, family-friendly locales, outdoor parks, recreational activities, walkability, and access to medical centres, transportation, shops, and more. “I always recommend buyers Google the communities they are interested in ahead of time,” O’Leary says. “If a neighbourhood has a high crime rate, they will see a lot of content about crime in the news.”

There is also a lot to be gained by visiting neighbourhoods you’re interested in. Scoping out an area on foot can give you a completely different perspective: Visiting local coffee shops, parks, even going to open houses can give you a real feel for the community than if you just drove through it. Another tip: Go at different times—in the morning, middle of the week, and late at night—which could tell you a lot about how the area is 24/7.

Lastly, if you have children, or are planning to, research potential school districts. This factor could be the key in deciding whether you should commute a little longer each day. Having your kids go to a good public school versus having to pay for private school just to live in a particular urban area closer to work could be a compromise worth considering for your financial health. Other positive effects of living in a good school district include common family goals within a community and higher property values.

3. Ask your realtor the right questions

When it comes to choosing a neighbourhood that’s right for you, lean on your realtor. They’ll likely have the inside scoop if they regularly work with clients in some of your preferred communities.

According to O’Leary, here are some important questions you’ll want to consider asking a real estate expert:

  • Is there any future development planned for the area and how do you feel it will affect home values?
  • How busy is my preferred neighbourhood? Does the town hold weekend or social events?
  • What are the local amenities? Are there parks and recreational facilities close by?
  • Are there any external factors that will affect my enjoyment of the home? For example, is it on a flight path or close to a highway, busy street, or railroad tracks?
  • What are the demographics of the community? For instance, if you have a young family, you may want to choose a neighbourhood where there are other young kids as well.

Getting everything you want in a home may not be realistic. Your realtor is one person who can objectively guide you through the choices you have and help you decide what factors you should pay most attention to for homebuying success.

4. Calculate the affordability of your lifestyle

Before you can choose potential areas in which to look for a home, you need to determine what you can afford. The price point of a particular area is most likely the biggest factor in determining your buying potential. It’s worth noting and comparing what the costs are like in one community compared to another.

Another important factor for due diligence: researching the taxes in a particular area. In some cases, the taxes could be prohibitive. Other important pricing considerations: What’s the cost of living in the area you want? Can you cover the price of groceries, dining out, and gym memberships?

You also need to consider the cost of transportation, especially if you are landing in an area that is further from your workplace than you’re used to. When calculating this figure, don’t just think about gas but also wear and tear on your car. If you plan to take a train, be sure to calculate your monthly ticket into your budget.

Tools like a mortgage calculator can be vital in helping you determine whether you are looking at all your costs in order to make the best neighbourhood choice for you and your family.

5. Think about the long term

During the pandemic, many aspects of people’s lifestyles have changed: Office jobs have gone remote, classrooms have gone digital, and social events can now occur over Zoom rather than in person.

If you’re sure your employer is embracing remote or hybrid work (meaning you only have to be in the office part-time) for the long haul, you might be able to cross “close commute” off your list of must-haves. Yet, buyers shouldn’t let current circumstances fully dictate their decisions when it comes to finding the right neighbourhood.

Also, if you are planning to have kids in the future, change jobs, go back to school, or retire, these decisions could impact the lifestyle priorities you seek in a potential neighbourhood. “A home should be a mid-to-long-term investment,” says O’Leary. While it’s hard to predict the future, buyers should try to imagine what their lives will look like over the next few years to anticipate whether or not they’ll be spending as much time at home—and adjust their budgets accordingly.

Seek insights from the experts

Aside from working with the right realtor, there are also financial experts and tax advisors that can guide you through the process because you’ll want to ensure mortgage payments won’t weigh too heavily on your budget. It’s important to know whether you can truly afford the neighbourhood you’ve chosen versus what other options may be out there.

Having a professional help you avoid some of the common mistakes of first-time homebuyers and guide you through the complete home buying process can make all the difference in finding your forever home.

Contact a Coast Capital Mortgage Advisor to discuss how a new home can fit into your financial planning.

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