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Buyer aware

What you need to know before purchasing your first home

Most neighbourhoods in Ottawa are gay-friendly, says realtor Paul McAllister. Credit: Thinkstock

Do you own or rent?

That nosy question, particularly impertinent if you barely know the asker, can start to sting as we get older and figure it’s high time we stopped renting and bought real estate like the rest of the grownups.

Whether it’s a single-family home in the suburbs or a condo in a stylish high rise, there is a lot to consider when becoming a first-time homebuyer. That’s why Xtra asked queer realtors Jan Carter Lea, from Royal LePage, and Century 21’s Paul McAllister to share their expertise. David Chick, Domicile’s vice-president of sales and marketing, also agreed to share his thoughts.

Single-family homes, townhouses and condos

“Single-family homes and townhouses are pretty similar — it’s just that you’re sharing walls with your neighbours with townhouses,” McAllister says. “Single-family homes are a lot more expensive, but you get more property and more space between you and your neighbours.”

From downsizing baby boomers to young singles and couples, many buyers enjoy the ease and amenities of condo living, Chick says. “A carefree lifestyle, lock and leave, not having snow to shovel, grass to cut and something to fix all the time,” he says, summing up condos’ attributes. “Condos can be a really good choice for first-time buyers because they’re typically less expensive than a traditional house,” Carter Lea adds.

Freehold condos

A freehold condo means you have sole ownership and are responsible for maintaining the property yourself. “The freeholds give you more freedom to alter your property if you want to make changes to it,” Carter Lea says. “I know a lot of people who like to do their own lawn cutting and shovelling the driveway and things like that.”

“A lot of the townhomes can be freehold, which means you don’t have condo fees,” McAllister says. “You maintain your own house. If the roof leaks, you deal with it.”

Incentives

With Ottawa’s increasing population nearing a million, the condo boom will continue, Chick says. Real estate in Ottawa will always be a safe investment because our market doesn’t fluctuate like Vancouver’s or Toronto’s, Carter Lea says, also pointing out that first-time home buyers can access provincial and federal financial incentives, rebates and tax credits.

Hot ’hoods

“Westboro’s always been the hottest over the last 10 years,” Carter Lea says. “It is absolutely booming.”

McAllister agrees but adds that Vanier’s become more popular in recent years, even for flippers. Anything central is in demand, and if you like the ’burbs, Orleans, Kanata and Kanata Lakes are good bets. For high-end properties, Manotick and Rockcliffe Park have become the places to buy, he says.

New development or an established neighbourhood?

Depending on the area, an established neighbourhood could offer great schools, big trees and a mix of people — or the schools could be a bit rough and the properties run-down, McAllister says.

With a new development, you get a new house and often younger families, and some neighbourhoods are tailored to that, with schools nearby and plenty of green space, he says.

LGBT-friendly

You can’t beat the Village for restaurants, bars and other amenities within walking distance, but those luxury condos come at a high price. Whether you’re raising kids or single, is every Ottawa neighbourhood LGBT-friendly?

“There are certain neighbourhoods that don’t feel as friendly,” Carter Lea says. “There’s some areas around Bayshore that I find a little bit rough; there’s some areas east of St Laurent that I find a little rough, and Carlington south of Shillington.”

McAllister disagrees. “Most people who’re buying property aren’t painting the Pride flag on their house and doing the big disco lights and the stereotypical things that straight people would think we do,” he says. “Regardless of your orientation, you’re going to have the good and bad neighbours, but a bad neighbourhood? I don’t think there would really be one.”

Final words of advice

Condo buyers should steer away from complexes where they might pay for amenities they won’t use, McAllister says.

“Condo fees tend to increase gradually because costs in general go up,” he says. “Keep in mind, condo fees are based on the amenities that you have . . . If the pool is there and you don’t really want to use it, you’re still going to pay for it.”

Carter Lea advises putting together a top-notch team of professionals to help you through every aspect of your purchase. “The seller is paying the commission, typically, on your purchase, so you don’t have to worry about that cost,” she says.

“Get yourself a really good realtor, a good lawyer, a good home inspector and a good lender, preferably a broker . . . Make sure you feel comfortable and that they explain the whole process to you. You shouldn’t feel nervous about doing this. By the time you make that purchase, you should just feel excited.”