Having grown up in India watching as many Hollywood movies as Bollywood, Sean was fascinated by scenes featuring the classic North American house, with children playing in the backyard while the family enjoyed a lovely summer afternoon barbeque. Those images, along with the allure of a balanced life in a beautiful country with friendly people is what brought Sean and his family to Canada – by way of India, Abu Dhabi and Singapore. This is Sean’s story.
It was the early days of my career and owning a home with a backyard was out of the picture for me. I lived and worked in India, then Abu Dhabi and finally in Singapore where such a situation was available to very few families and well beyond my means. Coming up to year twelve in Singapore, I realized that to fulfill my goal of a home with a backyard (let alone a barbecue), I would have to look elsewhere. My wife and I decided to make the move and set our sights on Canada.
Where to live is your first, most important decision.
Moving to a new country comes with many immediate challenges. First and foremost is finding a place to live — a place to call your own, even if it’s temporary accommodation while you find your bearings. Beyond providing shelter: a place to eat and sleep, your first place will be your homebase for all of your job searching, school assessments, and life explorations and adventures.
Where you live plays a critical role in your frame of mind in a new country. To start our journey on a positive note, we decided that our introduction to Canada should be really great. So we moved into a hotel for the first 10 days while we began searching for the right permanent accommodation. It was a tight deadline and we had set out a strict criteria:
- Location: We were accustomed to living in a bustling city and wanted to continue to live as close to downtown as possible. More importantly, the jobs in my industry (advertising) were virtually all downtown. Since I adopted a networking approach to my job search, I wanted to make sure that I could meet people at short notice or any time of the day without having to travel a lot. Try this free online tool to find the right neighbourhoods for you in the Greater Toronto Area based on your budget, lifestyle, needs, goals and interests.
- Accessibility: Beyond making sure that we were conveniently located to transportation, shopping and medical services we did not want our children to have to travel too far to reach school during the winter.
- School Ranking: While many people are fixated about high-ranking schools within their boundary, we considered a ranking of six and above as sufficient to meet our criteria.
- Cost: Basement accommodation might sound like a cost-effective option, however for us, living in a high-rise can make you feel on top of the world. Condos could be a bit pricey, so we settled for a two-bedroom apartment where the cost of utilities was included in the rent.
We moved into our rented home (apartment) at Davisville in midtown Toronto. Davisville Junior School was right across the street and the TTC station was a five-minute walk. Our first home in Canada was only twenty minutes from downtown and pretty close to the buzz of Yonge and Eglington, with shops, restaurants and theatres, and more.
Even if newcomers arrive with enough money to buy a home in their first year of landing, I still recommend renting so that you can better understand the landscape and figure out where you really want to live or where you feel a sense of belonging.
Finding your dream home: Do the research and have fun!
As soon as we moved into our condo, we were thinking ahead – considering our next move. We had achieved our short term goal but kept our eyes on the long term vision: a house with a backyard and a barbecue.
We gave ourselves six months to settle into our new home and didn’t waste any time asking ourselves, ‘What next?’ Sometimes, as newcomers, we may find suitable accommodation early and get comfortable, not looking ahead to our future needs, like a growing family. Our view is that moving towards our goals is a continuous process. Just as you never stop networking for a job, you never stop looking for your dream home until you find the right one.
Our next home was going to be the one that would make us love our life in Canada, so we were ready to invest the time to find the right place. The best way to find that home is to see homes of people who are like you. We spent the coming months making a lot of friends, visiting their homes (when invited) and understanding how they went about choosing the home they currently live in. We were actually having fun, making friends, socializing and exploring Toronto and surrounding areas while researching the housing market.
Some of the things we learned during these visits:
- We would need a 20% down payment if we did not want to pay 3.5% CMHC Insurance.
- The pros and cons between condos, townhouse condos, semis and detached.
- Layouts that are available vs what we preferred.
- Cost of homes in downtown vs. suburbs.
- The many incidental expenses that come along with owning a home.
- Safety of different neighbourhoods.
- Good primary and secondary schools (thinking long term).
- Is it good or bad to have an unfinished basement?
- All the other costs that you need to be prepared for.
To pick the perfect place, know what’s right for you.
The perspective of friends did not substitute the need for our own research or hiring a good real estate agent, but it created a foundational understanding. We needed the space, so we did not opt for a condo. We couldn’t afford downtown, so we chose the suburbs.
We looked at semi-detached, detached and townhouse style homes. In Canada, most semi-detached and detached homes come with the added responsibility of clearing snow from the driveway in the winter, keeping your lawn and gardens maintained in the spring and summer, and clearing leaves from your lawns in the fall. Four distinct seasons bring an extended ‘to do’ list.
We weren’t quite ready for all of that extra work, so we chose a townhouse condo where snow removal and lawn care were included as part of the maintenance cost. Most Importantly, we now had a backyard and we bought ourselves our first barbeque.
The first year went by so quickly between decorating the house, inviting friends over to barbeques and watching the children so excited about their own rooms (from having to share a room in Davisville). We thought this would be our home for the next five years, but we were wrong. The children were growing quickly and our parents kept visiting us for extended durations. Soon the desire for more space moved in.
Find the place where you belong. You’ll know it when you see it.
We were now on the prowl for more space. This time I thought it would be a bit easier because we knew that we did not want to move out of the area where we were living. We had established ourselves; we had good friends around us, our children were at great schools and everything about the neighbourhood was living up to our expectations.
Our weekends were typically busy with social engagements or kids’ activities, however this one particular weekend we were driving around the neighbourhood and we saw quite a few Open House (viewing without appointment) signs. These are signs set outside of homes that are for sale by real estate agents inviting people to come into the home, walk around get a sense of all it’s benefits, and if all goes their way, fall in love with the home and place an offer to purchase. We went to a lot of open houses.
Open houses became our newfound source of inspiration and information. Just when I thought finding the right home would be simple, my wife introduced me to a new level of detail that involved evaluating and comparing every room in the houses we were considering. I was really happy that one of us had the patience to go into that level of detail because this time we were planning to live in this home for a long time to come.
Finally, in November we found the house that we were looking for: spacious rooms, bigger living space in general, and a bigger backyard. By setting both short-term and long-term goals, creating criteria for assessing each phase of our home journey, and then sticking to our plan, we were able to find the right place to suit each stage of our life in Canada (so far).
Not only did I realize my childhood dream inspired by those Hollywood films, we realized our goals as new Canadians. Now to find my dream barbeque to match.