Tools for finding your first home as a newcomer to Canada
As a newcomer to Canada, one of the first things you will need to do is find a place for you and your family to call home. For most people new to Canada, your first home may likely be a rented house or apartment.
Canada’s housing market has traditionally been stable towards buyers and renters, with the recent increase in interest rates signalling a contraction in housing prices.
In 2018, a study conducted by Statistics Canada found that “44% of 1,153,400 recent immigrants lived in a private dwelling owned by a member of their household”. While this is below the national average for the Canadian-born population, it represents a significant portion of newcomers who are already owners of their own property within five years of landing in Canada.
Due to a combination of new housing policies and economic conditions, buying a home in Canada has also recently gotten easier for newcomers, a feature of a wider buying climate that is quite receptive to immigrants.
According to the same 2018 study, however, the majority of newcomers will look to rent a home upon first moving to Canada.
Where can I find properties to rent?
Once you have chosen what kind of place you are looking for, where you would like to live, and your monthly/yearly housing budget, there are many resources you can use to find places to rent.
For example, one of the simplest ways to find housing is to visit neighbourhoods where you would like to live and look for “For Rent” signs on houses or buildings. You can then ask the superintendent if there are any places to rent now or upcoming availabilities.
This process can also be replicated online through services like Google Maps, if one is doing a wide-area search for rental properties.
Other places to apartments or housing to rent include:
- Realtor.ca: A website that allows you to search for properties for sale or rent across Canada. You can use filters to narrow down your search by location, price, property type, and more;
- Zumper: A platform that helps you find apartments for rent in Canada. You can search by location and filter by price, number of bedrooms, and more;
- PadMapper: Another platform that helps you find apartments for rent in Canada. It allows you to search by location and filter by price, number of bedrooms, and more. You can also view the location of each apartment on a map;
- The classifieds section of the local newspaper, or online classified listings. Kijiji is a classifieds website where you can find apartments for rent or sale, as well as other things you might need for your new home, such as furniture or appliances. Another popular choice is Facebook Marketplace, which helps connect with communities and individuals on the platform;
- Your local library: Some libraries offer resources and workshops on finding housing, such as how to search for apartments, how to read leases, and more. You can look online for public libraries in your area;
- Bulletin boards in grocery stores, libraries, laundromats, health clinics, community centers, service clubs or real estate offices; and
- Your local immigrant settlement agency. Many immigrant settlement agencies offer housing-related services, such as help with finding a place to live, understanding your rights and responsibilities as a tenant, and more (note that these are specifically for permanent residents, protected persons, and some temporary residents). A quick web search of services offered in your city, district, or even province can be very useful here to understand what services are open to you. Government funded websites like Compass to Connect are also useful for their ability to amalgamate and search settlement services across Canada.
Where can I look for properties to buy?
There are a variety of tools that newcomers can use to find a home to buy in Canada. Some common tools include:
- Realtor.ca: This website can be excellent for buying prospects as well. The results are curated by realtors and feature listings for both residential and commercial property. The site also has listings for realtors, should one want to purse getting representation for the home search and buying process;
- Private real estate agencies: while many people choose not to employ a realtor on their home search, getting representation can often make the entire process much easier. Keep in mind that realtors only get paid commission on successful deals closed, meaning that they are low risk as well;
- Classifieds: Kijjiji, Facebook Marketplace, and more can be good ways to find private places that are for sale. While this method does not have any intermediary, it can be risky to do private deals of property without representation; and
- Local settlement services: Settlement services for newcomers can also provide help with finding places to buy. Visit Compass to Connect or search for local settlement services to learn more.
What kind of properties am I likely to find in Canada?
There are several different types of rental and permanent housing available in Canada to newcomers. These can include:
- Apartments: apartments are a single-family unit in a building or house. Most apartments have one, two or three bedrooms. “Bachelor” units have a combined bedroom and living area;
- Single-family detached: a home that contains one unit, that stands alone on its own lot;
- Duplexes or triplexes: a house that is divided into two units (duplex) or three units (triplex). It is common for the owner of the house to live in one unit and rent out the others;
- Townhouse: three or more units are built side-by-side and share adjoining walls. These can also be stacked, so the top floors will be separated from the bottom floors; or
- Rooms: homes can be divided into separate bedrooms that are rented to individuals who share common spaces like the kitchen and bathrooms.
How can I tell if I am being scammed?
Housing scams are unfortunately a real part of the housing search, and newcomers can be especially vulnerable.
Among things to be aware of when looking for rental or buying agreements are:
- Already rented apartments that are listed twice, or phantom rentals;
- Missing amenities;
- Suspicious money or payment requests (usually payment by cheque or e-transfer are the norms in Canada); or
- Little to no background checks to enter a lease or buying agreement.
In light of this, new buyers or renters can take several steps to protect themselves, including:
- Never dealing in cash;
- Never entering an agreement without first visiting the property;
- Speaking with current/past tenants if possible;
- Demand a written lease that is in line with your province’s landlord and tenant board; or
- Hire a realtor/representation to make sure that your agreement is legally enforceable and valid.
Lastly it is advised to make sure that a realtor is registered with their respective provincial boards, if one should choose to employ one. Always check your realtors' credentials, including whether they are registered with a relevant provincial board authority, what properties they may have helped close in the past, and past clients experience working with said realtor.
These are just a few examples of the free tools and resources available to newcomers in Canada. By using these resources, you can make your home search easier and more efficient, and hopefully find a place to call home in no time.