Paul Liberatore

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For first-time house-hunters, it’s important to be realistic

 

Brent Bowker and wife Ashley Bowker are in between homes and staying at Ashley's parents home in Chilliwack, B.C., on July 24, 2015. The couple recently bought a single detached home in Langley, BC â an upgrade from their current condo in New Westminster. They tried finding a house in New West at first, but relocated to Langley once they realized they could get more for their money out there, including a basement suite to help pay their mortgage, which was a dealbreaker for them. (Jimmy Jeong/www.jimmyshoots.com)

Throughout the summer, The Globe and Mail is featuring buyers hunting for homes in the Lower Mainland at different price ranges and the challenges faced at each rung of the ladder. Today, a buyer looks to upgrade from a condo into a detached home, eventually landing in Langley for just over half a million dollars.

 

Brent Bowker and his wife, Ashley, were ready to commit to a $700,000 mortgage and take the next step from a one-bedroom condo in New Westminster to a house in the same neighbourhood.

The young couple soon discovered the listings in their price range hardly qualified as an upgrade. “Anything at $700,000-$750,000 in New West was going to require – for what we would want to live in – about $50,000 worth of renovations to get it livable. So it becomes very expensive very fast,” Mr. Bowker said. “You can get a newer house with updated wiring and all that, and less worries, when we looked over the [Pattullo] bridge.”

Vancouver-area real estate agent Patricia Houlihan said buyers should not expect to move into their dream home on their first purchase. What is most important, she said, is entry into the real-estate market “because you can move up.”

“If someone wants to buy and get into the market, they absolutely don’t need a million [dollars],” she said. “And for people to think they should be able to go out and buy a three-bedroom house on a standard lot for a first house, that’s just expecting too much out of life.”

The Bowkers settled on a single-detached house in Langley for $550,000. The Globe and Mail spoke with Mr. Bowker about altering his expectations during his search and moving farther out of the downtown core than planned.

 

What did you expect $700,000 would get you?

When we [first] started looking in New West about a year ago, there were houses that we thought we could live in. This year, around May-June, we looked at what was available and got a little depressed, and then decided to look elsewhere.

What was discouraging?

We’re in a one-bedroom condo right now, and at under $750,000, you’re looking at a two-bedroom, one-bath house, and probably without a basement suite, which was a requirement for us to be able to carry our mortgage.

We decided a two-bedroom didn’t really give us enough extra room to grow in a house, and we’d need to move again probably in the near future. So it wasn’t really a wise decision to move into a small house.

We moved out to Langley. We could adjust our cost expectations a little out there, so we were looking below $600,000, and Walnut Grove is where we ended up.

How does the house you bought in Walnut Grove in Langley for $550,000 compare?

It’s 2,000 square feet – about 800 square feet of that is a two-bedroom basement suite. We’re hoping to rent out the basement for Oct. 1.

And then we have three bedrooms on the upper floor, and a laundry room and entryway on the ground floor.

No basement suite was a deal-breaker for you; anything else?

I used to have a motto that I didn’t want to ever have to take a bus again, so I compromised on that. I work in downtown Vancouver, so it’s a bit farther for me. But I’ve also negotiated to work from home a couple days a week, so my commute is actually no worse than [before].

It’s going to be harder to live with one car in Langley, but we’re going to try. Hopefully, we can maintain that, but it may be harder in the long run, when we have kids. I used to be able to bike from New West to downtown.

My wife works in Cloverdale, so she’s somewhat happy to be out that way.

How competitive was the close?

There were multiple offers. Not quite over list as much as friends of mine have experienced in Vancouver.

We actually bid twice: We lost the first time because we went under list, but the financing didn’t go through for the other person and we came back in, went a little bit over list, and won the second time.

Any open house we’ve gone to in New West or Langley has always been jam-packed with people looking.

How long do you plan to stay in this house?

We see it as a five-year-plan house. It is small, so if we have kids and they get big, we’re probably going to outgrow some of the bedrooms.

We hope to sell our condo at some point in the next two years and then use that money to get something a little newer.

Once we started seeing who all our neighbours were, we kind of like the demographics in Langley, because the people who can afford houses are more our age group.

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