Sixty days doesn’t seem like enough time for a young family of five to find a new home and leave their old one behind. But this past fall, my family and I learned that’s how long we had to move out of our rented townhouse. My three kids were playing in our lovingly decorated family room when our landlord showed at our door, a notice to end tenancy in hand. Our landlord was taking back what was his, setting up home in a house that was never ours to begin with.
Two months earlier I had published an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail about my desire to live in our rented townhouse long-term. I talked about putting down roots in a home that wasn’t ours, and my fear of eviction, especially as a mother to three children who were enmeshed in their community and school. We’d been living in our rented townhouse near downtown Guelph, Ont., for more than three years. I knew that we should have requested that our landlord sign a new lease agreement, but my husband was in the middle of applying for a job that would secure our future in our community, and we didn’t want to jump ahead until he received a confirmed offer. Weeks after he started his new job, within walking distance of our rental home, we received the notice to end tenancy.
We were given 60 days to find a new home that was both affordable and suitable for our family of five. While we had a right to a hearing with the Landlord and Tenant Board, and were confident that we’d be able to extend the 60 days, we were also anxious about the prospect of a contentious battle with our landlord. We didn’t want to spend the holidays embroiled in stress, while facing the reality of losing our home. We decided that if we could find a house quickly we’d leave amicably. But the obvious question remained: Where would we go?
The rental options are already slim in Guelph, with many larger homes rented out to students who attend the University of Guelph. Our rental budget was $2,000 monthly plus utilities, a steep increase from the monthly rate of $1,550 plus utilities that we were currently paying. Even with our increased budget, the houses we looked at were all unsuitable for a family with three young kids. I couldn’t stomach the idea of moving our family into an apartment or duplex, when we’d already felt cramped in our 1,000-square-foot townhouse rental. We started to discuss purchasing a home, an option that I felt would suit our family best and offer much needed stability – especially for our kids.
Two days after learning that we were being evicted, we received word that we’d been gifted a living inheritance from a generous family member – it was a life-changing moment for us. We could buy a house, but on a very limited budget, a major time crunch, and with minimal inventory in Guelph. It felt like an impossible feat to pull off. With a combined income of $85,000 – my husband works as a pastor at a small church, and I work very part-time as a journalist – I knew securing a mortgage would be a challenge.
With the inheritance and our RRSP, we had $45,000 to work with. Our mortgage broker found a lender that was willing to consider my self-employment income – a major hurdle crossed. We were also required to pay off our remaining debt of $6,500 on our 2015 Dodge Caravan, and be able to put a 10-per-cent down payment on a home (5 per cent of that had to come from our own cash). We had to find something under $400,000, and, though there were no suitable freehold homes on the market at that price, there were a few condominium townhouses for sale in Guelph in the mid-300s.
We found the perfect townhouse across the road from our rental home almost immediately, and put in an offer on a Tuesday evening, just one day after learning we’d be receiving the living inheritance. We offered $10,000 over asking, and included a heartfelt letter about our family’s desperate housing situation. The seller went with a different offer, and I was crushed. We had wanted to stay as close to downtown Guelph as possible, because my husband works in the downtown community, we share one car and we already have a close-knit network of friends and neighbours.
A few days later, we found ourselves at an older townhouse complex, a less-than-ideal 10-minute drive from our current rental. The townhouse was more than 1,300 square feet, and included a finished basement that would be suitable as a rental apartment, if we ever chose to go that route. While the bones of the home were good, the seller hadn’t cleaned or staged the place, and the house reeked of animal feces. I hated it, but my handy husband saw its potential. With no other options and time running out, I agreed to put in an offer, but one that would leave us enough money to carry out some much-needed renovations.
We offered $330,000, far below our budget, and $35,000 less than the first offer we’d put in. A few hours later, our agent called to say that we were homeowners. Seven days before, our landlord had delivered us a devastating blow, and in only one week we’d purchased our first family home. The living inheritance we had been gifted changed our lives for the better, and we were so glad that we’d been slowly putting money into our RRSP, another key to our home purchase.
As soon as we received the keys to our home, we began renovations. We ripped up all the flooring in the bedrooms and installed new carpets, and are in the process of doing a frugal remodel of the kitchen. We’ve deep-cleaned every inch of our home, painted every surface and are lovingly decorating a space that is our own. Our new house is 300 square feet bigger than our former townhouse, and that doesn’t include the finished basement, which adds on another 400 square feet. We feel like we live in a palace, and all for the price of $2,200 each month, which includes our mortgage, condo fee, utilities and property tax. We also no longer have a car payment, which allows us to save $215 monthly.
Purchasing our home ended up being cheaper than renting at the current market prices. A home like ours would likely rent for about $2,200 each month, plus utilities. But we don’t only feel joy because we finally get to be homeowners – we are grateful because we feel secure. We will never be evicted from our home, and we can let the roots grow deep and strong here – a house that is ours to claim, for as long as we’d like.
Your house is your most valuable asset. We have a weekly Real Estate newsletter to help you stay on top of news on the housing market, mortgages, the latest closings and more. Sign up today.