Six houses and counting
When it comes to Toronto real estate, there are roughly two kinds of people: those who own a home in the city and fear (or vehemently doubt) that a crash is upon us, and those who don’t own a home in the city and pray with all their might that a crash is upon us.
The latter group has good reason to be gleeful about the possibility of a housing Armageddon. In the absence of a crash or a sizable correction, the reality of this city is such that hardly anyone can hope to purchase a family home without the help of well-heeled parents or relatives. According to a newly released survey conducted by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., nearly one in five first-time homebuyers received help from a relative with their down payment. That’s a lot of help.
If you’re a young person who makes a decent salary and you feel bad about the fact that you can’t afford a house (and you don’t understand how your co-worker landed that detached Victorian in High Park because he doesn’t appear to make any more money than you do) try to remember that a lot goes on behind the scenes we aren’t privy to. Adults get help every day. Most people who say they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps didn’t.
And those who did pull themselves up with little help made big sacrifices and big, complex plans, along the way.
For example, Sarah Larbi, a 33-year-old Toronto native who owns six houses with her common-law partner – one in Oakville, where the couple lives, and five in Brantford, which she rents out for $1,300 to $1,500 a month. She has been saving aggressively for several years to amass what is essentially a suburban empire.
Larbi, who received no financial help from family to buy the couple’s properties, works as a sales manager for a major food and beverage company.
She puts away 50 per cent of her paycheque and sometimes skips vacations or cashes them out. Larbi bought five of her properties for less than $300,000. Her partner pays the mortgage on the couple’s Oakville home, enabling Larbi to focus her attention and funds on the couple’s other properties. Larbi’s goal is to one day own up to 30 properties and make a passive income of $25,000 a month, so that she and her partner can retire early.
And yet, even though Larbi is presumably the last person to shy away from big risks, she isn’t willing to take an investment risk on Toronto real estate. “If I buy a house (in Toronto) and it’s a million dollars, let’s say, then you’ve got to make $10,000 a month (in rent) or something insane in order to make any money at the end,” she says. “For me it doesn’t make sense because I’d have to do high, high management, like Airbnb, to even break even. So Toronto just wasn’t a smart option for me.”
It isn’t an option, period, for a lot of people.
Toronto is fast becoming the kind of city young people party in but exit the moment it’s time to grow up – not because they’ve had enough but because they can’t afford to raise a family here, let alone buy property.
An appropriate rental unit in Toronto for three people or more turns up about as often as an elusive white squirrel turns up in Trinity Bellwoods Park. And when you finally lay eyes on one, it’s gone in an instant. But renting is increasingly the only realistic choice for people who don’t have a chunk of change lying around from a parent or a grandparent.
Larbi’s advice? If you have an appetite for risk, consider investing in a property outside Toronto, where prices are cheaper, “and maybe you’ll be able to use the equity to buy something (in Toronto) later.”
Or just rent. You won’t be house poor, you’ll never have to fix your own sink, and you’ll be in a good position to clean up if the crash comes. Fingers crossed.
Emma Teitel is a national affairs columnist.
Edited on 22 June 2017