If you've watched the news lately, chances are you've already seen how the Vancouver housing crisis has created a vacuum of exploitation, with ads offering free housing in exchange for sex.
When the news story first broke, those like myself who work directly in the housing market were horrified. But the more I thought about it I realized that this is not a new scenario. Poverty, a lack of assets and financial instability make people vulnerable. By that measure, women typically make less money than men and are more likely to be single parents; making them most vulnerable to those looking to benefit from that misfortune.
While it's tempting to go ahead and dismiss this story as the desperate behaviour of a few desperate men, the reality is that -- in one form or another -- almost all of us will encounter variations of it at some point in our lives. Whether you lack the ability to leave a job where you're mistreated, a relationship in which you're unhappy, or are so desperate you must offer your body in exchange for shelter, being vulnerable robs you of your ability to make a choice; any choice. And that can take shape in many incarnations.
When we're young and starting out, a lot of us don't have much interest in planning ahead. Pensions, mortgages and life insurance are things for our parents; for older people with "real" jobs and "real" responsibilities. But that type of attitude and that kind of disregard for your own future does nothing to help you in the end. Think of it another way: owning a home or property is an investment in yourself that empowers and safeguards you against the very type of situation we're seeing right now in Vancouver.
Owning your own home can be nothing short of an awakening.
There is no shortage of people out there talking about why you shouldn't put your money into a home (just do a Google search, I got 821 million results). But in my opinion, particularly for women and minorities who have traditionally been disenfranchised, owning your own home can be nothing short of an awakening.
That sentiment is echoed throughout a publication by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) with the bold title, "PROPERTY OWNERSHIP FOR WOMEN ENRICHES, EMPOWERS AND PROTECTS."
While geared primarily towards women in developing nations, their sentiments are no less salient here in B.C. In it, the paper cites "Women who own property or otherwise control assets are better positioned to improve their lives and cope should they experience crisis... Women also can use a house or land as collateral for credit during a financial crisis or to invest in a small business..." In short, when women own and control assets like property, it improves gender equality and becomes an important tool towards economic security.
Sounds like a good plan to me.
I am aware my belief that renting is a waste of time is not everyone's sentiment, but it's definitely mine. Just 25 when I got my condo, looking back even now as a mortgage broker, I can see how the process can be daunting.
There are many things to consider beforehand; the cyclical nature of the market and fluctuation of interest rates are just a few. I am not suggesting that someone with no stable source of income go out and get a mortgage on a half million dollar property. You must look at what opportunities you have within your budget. But a property also needn't be a home. There are all types of investments out there if you're willing to do a bit of ground work.
Just 25 when I got my condo, looking back even now as a mortgage broker, I can see how the process can be daunting.
One of the more interesting observations I have made over the years is about those who happily make the switch from owning to renting. While there are some who decide to return to renting and gladly see the responsibility of maintenance, taxes and home improvement back in a landlord's hands, it's often those who are the most financially stable and have the least to lose.
They don't feel vulnerable to the threat of, say, homelessness because they have the money to weather a financial crisis. And if they really need to, they can always buy again. Not only that, as a renter you are always at the mercy of your landlord. If they decide it's profitable to sell, it's you who's back on the street and looking for a home in a city with an all but non-existent vacancy rate.
For those who don't fall into this category, home ownership seems to provide an anchor of safety and a deep measure of relief both emotionally and psychologically.
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Say you fall in love with the newly constructed condo with the huge-enormous windows. I know, you see yourself enjoying your morning coffee and newspaper bathed in streaming sunshine! Only on that first morning (the blazing light searing your eyeballs) do you realize that huge-enormous windows mean huge-enormous drapes. And only once you start to shop for huge-enormous drapes do you learn how shockingly expensive and hard-to-find large window coverings in unconventional dimensions can be. In other words, you must take the long view. If you adore the unique detail of fireplaces in every room, make sure you also adore stacking firewood and checking flues and befriending chimney sweeps. Know that romantic, crumbling cottages like something out of Wuthering Heights come with leaky windows and wispy insulation, so ask yourself if the fairytale aesthetic is worth it.
For many of us, hiring someone to do work around the house is the first time we manage an employee. When we bought our first home, my husband and I had a few little changes we wanted to make before moving in. (The very phrase "little change" is itself a new-homeowner fallacy, but we didn't know that yet.) The contractor we hired kept asking questions that I would turn back on him -- "What kind of light fixture do you think would be good here? Do you think we need new spigots in the bathtub?" I wanted his opinion, but more than that I didn't feel comfortable bossing around someone who was old enough to be my father. I thought I was being polite by being deferential, but I eventually realized I was actually making his life more difficult by being wishy-washy. There is a way to tell someone what you want without being rude; and, if that person is working for you, they like you better for it.
A woman could go crazy thinking about all the things she can't afford. But comparison shopping within your price range is another story.
A broken doorbell is one of those problems with which you think you can live. It doesn't seem like a big deal, but it's possible that you will change your tune once you've gone hungry because you missed the pizza man, Zappos-less because you didn't hear the UPS guy, lonely because your friend with a dead cell-phone battery stood there ringing the mute bell until she finally gave up and went home. There are many problems you are not going to fix today -- global warming, race relations, twerking. But a doorbell? It only feels unsolvable. There is someone who knows how to do this. Figure out who to call. Feel so much better.
This Houzz survey revealing that 12 percent of couples consider divorce during renovations seems like a joke all the way up until you are embroiled in your own remodeling. Then. Then you understand. Everything suddenly becomes symbolic. "What do you mean, let's expand the kitchen -- so I can spend more time cooking for you?" a frazzled and totally-not-me wife might say. And a stressed and completely fictional husband might respond, "You realize that expanding your bedroom closet shrinks mine, right? Do I not get to wear clothes anymore?" Just remember to try to see things from his proverbial side of the closet. After all, this is not just your home or his home, it's your collective home, where you chose to live together.
Now you get why your mother was always telling you to get your feet off the couch. Because, as you learn in the post-futon world of furnishing your first real, adult home, couches are really expensive! Feeling a sudden desire to vacuum the cushions daily and banish your cats from the living room forever? Don't worry, it's natural.
By this point in your life surely you've noticed that, in the words of the poets (er, the Rolling Stones), "You can't always get what you want." The walled garden with reflecting pond does not fit in your price range. The airy, open loft for sophisticated dinner parties does not have bedrooms for your kids. The library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and built-in sliding ladder does not exist in your town. But, if you try sometimes, well, "you just might find, you get what you need." What is the one thing you really don't want to compromise on? The one thing you can have exactly how you want it? Maybe some glass shelves over the kitchen window can host a stunning arrangement of succulents. The right arrangement of furniture can make that living room feel open and airy and just perfect for mingling. A handyman can do wonders with budget bookshelves. Who are you? How do you live? Honor the life you have, the you you are, with a space that accommodates that life and that person.
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