Rani Sheen on New Home Ownership

If you live in a big city and you aren’t a lawyer or a dentist and you don’t have a trust fund, the prospect of buying your first home can be daunting. You could probably buy a place in the city’s outskirts or one of many indistinguishable condos, but if you want a sliver of garden on a tree-lined street in a downtown neighbourhood, ingenuity is required. My fellow and I, along with another couple, are planning to co-buy a house in Toronto’s West End (with help from buyingblock.com). We’ll live in separate apartments, rent out the basement, and in five years, we’ll review. Reactions to this plan have ranged from enthusiasm to bemusement to patronizing concern. Here are some other innovative approaches to home ownership.

Rani Sheen is a Torontonian of eight years, features editor at Fashion Magazine, and lover of dancing and holidays. She writes about her zeal for vegetables and vegetarian restaurants at nosubstitutions.ca. Follow her @ranisheen

1. The end of home ownership?

Here, Toronto-based American urban theorist Richard Florida claims cities with less home ownership are more innovative, experience higher growth and are home to residents with higher incomes. He claims this is partly because renters are more flexible in times of economic downturn–when they lose their jobs, they can downsize to a smaller apartment or move somewhere else for a new job. But he does say, “Multi-family housing is one place people are actually profitable.”

2. Is a condo a good investment?

Condos suit plenty of people, and address urban density by packing tons of bodies into a tiny footprint of land. But they also represent a particular kind of anonymous yet communal lifestyle and don’t lend themselves to renovation and personalization. And, if my urban planner friends are to be believed, they are an evil force altering the urban landscape irreparably. Still, buying a condo is a great way to enter the property market, right?

3. In London, a co-buyer’s matchmaking agency

As single-family home purchases spiral out of many people’s reach in massive hub cities like London–where the average age of first-time buyers is now 38–interesting alternatives are springing up. Propertymates.co.uk is basically a dating site for potential co-buyers seeking same; it throws “property networking” parties and matches online profiles to set members up. You can be friends with benefits (investment-property partners), take things slow (rent-together-before-you buy) or live happily ever after (co-buy).

4. A little help from friends

In 2006, the website Torontoist documented the efforts of popular artist, record-label founder, promoter and former Eye Weekly art director Tyler Clark Burke to raise money to buy a house. She both auctioned off items donated by famous friends, and offered bidders the chance to have their name painted on a brick from her future home for $20 a pop. A heated comment thread ensued over whether such upfront shilling was refreshing or tacky, whether the project constituted art, and the merits of buying a house at all.

5. Artists lead the way, as usual

Toronto’s Artscape published this guide for artists looking to buy live/work spaces in the neighbourhoods they’d helped make popular. (It has since been adapted by Chicago Artists Resource.) There’s plenty of wisdom here for non-artists too, including topics you should discuss with your co-buyers (“What happens when Fred dies?”), how to find a lawyer to look over your agreement, and types of insurance available. The guide was compiled in 2002; Artscape is currently raising funds to update it.