My Dream Of Owning A Home Is Dead — & I Couldn’t Be Happier
I always assumed a home would be the best investment I’d ever make, but here are the reasons why renting makes much more sense for me — and maybe for you too.
Buying a home is the biggest purchase you'll ever make — but who says you have to make it? Welcome to New Lease, a series that examines our long-held beliefs about home ownership and renting in Canada.
I recently moved into the loft of my dreams, with high ceilings and massive windows in a storied, mid-rise building in Toronto. It’s the kind of place I’ve always wanted to buy. But I’m renting.
When I landed in my last apartment, which I lovingly refer to as the “dollhouse” because of its low ceilings and narrow hallways, I hoped my next place would be mine, you know “gee thanks, just bought it” type of mine. Crossing over into my mid-30s made me realize I didn’t want to live in a main-floor apartment where I could hear my neighbours — next door, downstairs, upstairs — much longer. I wanted a place I could settle into, one that was reflective of the progression I’ve made in other areas of life. But buying just wasn’t feasible.
So when a friend, who owns an amazing loft downtown, told me she was considering moving out last winter, I planted the seed that I’d love to be her tenant. Six months later, I signed a lease.
I always thought buying a condo would be a significant marker of adulthood for me, a home where I’d host brunches with way too much food, get cozy with bad rom-coms on cold winter nights, and build custom bookshelves that nearly reach the ceiling. But in a market where I’m priced out, finding a solid rental at a great price that’s ideal for my lifestyle is surprisingly satisfying. And it’s a sign I’ve been able to see through the myth that buying is objectively a better choice. Which is surprising because I always assumed a home would be the most responsible investment I’d ever make, but here are the reasons why renting makes much more sense for me — and maybe for you too.
Can I afford a condo?
Once a year, I’d freak out about not owning property, start to browse listings, and calculate what I could realistically buy. Since my parents are realtors, they were eager to show me how I could make it work. But as a single person working in the unstable media industry, I never felt like my salary was reliable enough to carry a mortgage.
I’ve prioritized making more money recently, and last year, I looked into buying a pre-construction condo in a mid-rise building. I talked to a mortgage broker and started to collect the paperwork to make an offer. But in the end, it wasn’t quite the right spot for me. Since then, when I have peeked at listings, I’ve come to accept a certain reality: To buy a condo I actually want to live in, after adding up mortgage payments, condo fees, and property tax, I’ll spend about $3,000 a month. That number is double my rent at the dollhouse and $1,000 more than I’m spending now. That doesn’t factor in surprise costs condo residents are hit with when repairs are needed to common areas and the building’s structure.
Even with a good salary, I simply can’t afford that on my own. And while I don’t have a partner to help split costs, I’m not alone in facing this problem — couples are also struggling. “The market has been so impenetrable for this generation,” says Octavia Ramirez, founder of Paper & Coin, a financial coaching company. “Millennials are having to grapple with the fact that the dream of having a home might not be a reality for them.”
The terrifying reality of Canada’s housing market
After a temporary slowdown last year fuelled by stricter rules on mortgages and higher interest rates, the real estate market is raging again after a brief pandemic-induced pause in the spring. The Toronto Regional Real Estate Board reported sales were up 40% in August compared to last year, and selling prices were up over 20%. The average price for a home in Toronto is now over $1 million, compared to $817,000 last year. Seven figures may not even buy you very much — a tiny two-bedroom bungalow that looks more like a laneway house in the city’s desirable Little Italy neighbourhood was listed for $1 million in July. And while demand for condos has slowed down, prices have still gone up — the average price for a condo in Toronto is now $673,000.
Forget the mortgage payment for a minute — ever-increasing prices means saving enough for a downpayment is a moving target. Amal El-Rass, a Toronto broker with Royal LePage, is pro-buying: She thinks the Canadian housing market is a solid investment. But El-Rass only advises clients to buy if they can comfortably afford it. “You don’t want to use $100,000 and live really poorly after,” says El-Rass, using a $500,000 condo as an example where the buyer would put down 20%.
Beyond the numbers
Ramirez estimates about 75% of her clients come to her to learn how they can afford to buy a home, but they often leave her office considering a totally different set of questions. As a financial coach, she wants them to grapple with what they want their entire life to look like, starting with how satisfied they are with their career and if they have plans to change course. If they’re considering making big changes to their work life, she may coach them to hold off on plans to buy.
This really resonates with me. I just left a salaried job to freelance and work on a book I’ve put off writing forever. And I’m actually sitting in someone else’s apartment in Berlin as I type this, having decided to take on a project here and work in Germany for a few months. I don’t think I could have made that decision if I was carrying a mortgage. Career satisfaction is really important to me — which means so is having financial flexibility to accommodate that.
And then there’s the lifestyle factor Ramirez asks her clients to consider. Is a walkable neighbourhood important? Access to parks? Being close to friends and family? (Check, check, check.)
In her words: “Are we going to put homeownership on the altar at the expense of everything else in terms of your lifestyle? Including your career?”
Buy or rent: Making the decision
In major cities like Toronto, Victoria, and Vancouver, renting isn’t cheap — the median price for a one-bedroom and Vancouver sits at $2,000, according to a September Padmapper report. But renting from a friend means I’m paying below market value and given the numbers I’m working with, it was an easy decision for me to make. But what if I could get a mortgage equivalent to my rent? The obvious answer is that you should buy, right? Actually, that’s not a rational way to make that decision, says Benjamin Felix, a financial advisor at Ottawa-based PWL Capital.
A more accurate way to crunch the numbers is to look at your unrecoverable costs, advises Felix. With renting, that’s easy to figure out: your monthly rent. With buying, it’s a bit more complicated — it would include property tax, repairs, and maintenance. He estimates that annually, owners spend an additional 5% of their property’s value on these kinds of costs.
A simple way to compare renting vs. buying is what Felix calls the 5% rule: You multiply the cost of a property you’re considering buying by 5% and divide it by 12. Then you compare that to a rental. You can also flip the calculation: You take the amount you’re paying in rent, multiple it by 12 and divide by five percent. Still with me?
So if I’m paying $1,875 in rent, it would be equivalent to buying a place for $450,000 in terms of unrecoverable costs. (At this point in the Toronto housing market, I think that might buy me half of a walk-in closet downtown.)
While the 5% rule isn’t perfect, it challenges the prevalent Canadian myth that renting is objectively irresponsible in the long run and forces people to think about other ways to invest to secure their future. “As soon as you give someone the tools to think about renting and owning as being potentially financially equivalent, I think people feel relief,” says Felix.
The emotional pull to buy a home
My realtor parents were supportive of my latest move into a pricier apartment, which was hella surprising given how much they’ve pushed me to buy — even they recognize it's just not possible for a single person on my salary to be able to carry a mortgage. But a lifetime of programming that owning a home was the ultimate goal has been hard to undo. And there’s another emotional pull. My parents immigrated to Canada with very little, didn’t have parental help, and were still able to buy a home. So why can’t I manage it?
Ramirez says many of her clients struggle with the same question. Her parents, like mine, immigrated in the 1970s. And while she says it was a “huge accomplishment” for them to be able to become homeowners, when looking at today’s rapidly climbing prices and wage stagnation, it’s just not fair to compare what the price point of entry was then and now.
Ultimately, when getting caught up in the FOMO-driven housing market, I remind myself that flexibility is the key to my happiness right now — I’m not responsible for fixing pipes, tied to a physical asset or even the city itself. And for me, that’s priceless.