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There goes the neighbourhood

Buying a home as a same-sex couple

As neighbourhoods evolve in Ottawa, the choices for “lifestyle neighbourhoods” have continued to evolve and increase. Credit: DGLimages/iStock/ThinkStock

Coming out, getting married, starting a family — all of these processes are assuredly becoming simpler for the LGBT community as human rights continue to progress. But of all life’s landmark moments, the most expensive one, buying a home, isn’t always so straightforward for same-sex couples. John King, who has been an Ottawa-based realtor for 22 years and is lead real estate agent of Engel & Völkers Ottawa Central, notes that while it may not seem obvious at first, there are important differences that same-sex couples face when making their biggest investment.

Fortunately, from a legal perspective, same-sex Canadians don’t face any additional barriers when buying a home. King attributes this to largely accepting communities that have helped advance gay rights in Canada. However, the absence of legal barriers doesn’t mean that same-sex couples have the same experience as straight ones.

Where differences arise is in what same-sex couples tend to look for. King points to lifestyle as a major differentiator when same-sex couples start their search. “They were looking for real estate properties that were highly based in urban Ottawa — fewer bedrooms and more focused on entertaining and lifestyle rather than large single-family homes.”

Fewer children leaves a couple with different criteria when looking for a home, and in 2011 just 9.4 percent of same-sex couples reported having children, versus 47.2 percent for opposite-sex couples. This disparity is important for both buyers and agents to understand. Couples without children won’t need as many bedrooms, or a nursery. Further, they tend to have more disposable income, fewer obligations at home and more time to spend in the city. This means that not only is the type of home important, but location is also a big factor.

Not long ago same-sex couples would seek refuge in downtown cores in order to avoid harassment in less accepting areas. However, King notes that today the landscape has evolved and same-sex couples are embracing new parts of the city “We are now seeing [same-sex] couples not feeling like they have to be in such a defined area,” he says. “As neighbourhoods evolve in Ottawa, the choices for ‘lifestyle neighbourhoods’ have continued to evolve and increase.” Gay rights progress isn’t just opening doors for couples, it’s opening entire neighbourhoods.

Even with new areas embracing same-sex couples, King says he still sees many couples opting to stay downtown. “Many are happy in the outlying areas, but it has been common for me to relocate these couples back into more mainstream urban areas.’ My experience hasn’t been that these couples weren’t accepted; it’s just been their choice of wanting more lifestyle type neighbourhoods.” Moving forward it will be interesting to see whether same-sex couples remain downtown, or pursue the suburban life as adoption rates increase.

Regardless of trends, the buying process will always be unique for each couple. These nuances are key for both buyers and agents to understand when it comes to looking for a home. “There are many agents who I meet who ‘love the gays’ and are ‘gay-friendly’, but it’s just not the same as working with someone who is gay and just understands the unique needs and wants we have,” King says.