As a millennial, when I think about the phrase "First Home" I don't think of "buying" my first home... I think of "renting".

You've wrapped up your post-secondary experience, in which you may have been living in residence on campus, student housing with room-mates just off campus or maybe even living with Mom & Dad while going to school. Not to mention you’ve got a hefty student loan debt hanging over you now. Meaning you’ll be on a tight budget for a bit, especially until you move up in your new job and put some money aside (in a TFSA (Tax-Free Savings Account) or Mutual Fund to save for the next stage of your life and retirement). So what's next!?

This can be a scary thought but also an exciting right of passage; you're leaving the nest to make a "home" all of your own. Now don't be fooled! You probably won't find your dream place right out of the box. I know I didn't! Just remember, life is messy, full of ups and downs, and life lessons. Housing (and finding great housing) is just that, an opportunity to learn and grow. Life is a journey, so don't expect to be living in the penthouse suite overnight, it may take some time.

As a young working professional in Toronto I have moved all over the city in search of my "home" instead of merely a "place to live". Here is my journey and the things I've taken away from my experiences... Be ready to laugh, cry and even wince at some of the mistakes I've made...

My First "Place"

Year: 2009  

Location: Vaughan, ON

Type of Unit: Basement Apartment

Rent: $700/month

Found via: Kijiji

What I learned: Basement apartments may be a reasonable option when you are looking for a place to live. They can be less expensive than high rise and low rise buildings making it easier on your small budget, and some even come with parking. But you need to be very thorough in your search and when you go to see the listing.

Find out who lives above you. Is it your landlord or other tenant(s)? Do they have kids? Pets? Has the ceiling of the basement apartment been sound proofed? All of these things can contribute to the level of noise you will experience in a basement apartment. In my first place my landlords lived above me, they were very loud (often late into the night) and they had a dog that would bark the entire time they were away. Needless to say, they had not soundproofed the ceiling, and I was left with the choices of merely putting up with it or moving out.

Do you have control of the heat to your own unit or is it controlled by the upper level? Remember, heat rises, so if you do not have control of your own thermostat, be prepared to be cold. I had to wear sweaters and flannel pyjamas all year round because of this little oversight.

Is there a sliding glass door, walk out backyard or windows in the basement large enough for you to fit through in case of an emergency? Not all basement apartments are up to code, especially in older homes where turning the basement into an apartment was a decision made merely to help the owners with the costs associated with owning their own home. At my first place, the entrance to the basement apartment was a door at the top of the stairs coming from the garage. I had a small ground-level basement window that I could have fit out of, if I climbed up on a stool, if I had to. But honestly, it really wouldn't have been adequate if a real emergency presented itself. Be safe, make sure that there are exits available to you in case you'd need them.

My Second "Place"

Year: 2010

Location: Wallace-Emerson neighbourhood, Downtown Toronto, ON

Type of Unit: One-bedroom, high rise apartment building

Rent: $700/month

Found via: Kijiji

What I learned: Location, location, location. If a listing you are checking out is substantially cheaper than most listings in the city, there's probably a reason. Downtown Toronto can be very expensive when it comes to renting, and so when I found a unit that was nearly half of what other places were asking, I jumped on it. Bad idea! The neighbourhood might be currently up and coming, but in 2010 it was rough! And as a single female, I even had police officer friends telling me I should move... Eeekk!

What does the general neighbourhood look like? Would you be afraid to run to the corner store after dark? I was so scared of going out after dark alone in this neighbourhood, that I taught my little 8lb dog to use a litter box so I didn't have to walk her past 6PM. And there was a "no standing" sign outside my building to discourage illegal activity outside the main doors! RED FLAG!

Inquire as to whether or not this building has or has had bed bugs and cockroaches. This is a question that I didn't even know I had to ask, but even nice neighbourhoods and buildings can have pest problems. And much to my dismay this building had problems with both. Of course I happily agreed to fumigation at the time, but my one neighbour was not so forthcoming and the roaches travelled back to my unit via the old heating system that ran from unit to unit. Now I'm all for being within budget, but this place was a nightmare. On a positive note, this place was so cheap that I paid off nearly half of my student loan debt in one year! Thinking about that makes me feel better about my decision to live amongst the roaches... I'm all about the silver linings. Are you writing this stuff down!?

My Third "Place"

Year: 2011

Location: Maple, ON

Type of Unit: One-bedroom, high rise condo building

Rent: $1400/month

Found via:

What I learned: Buildings with professional & courteous 24hr concierge and/or security are totally worth the extra cost! Does the building have onsite 24hr security and/or concierge services? Having confidence in the staff and security personnel of your building can make a world of difference about how you feel about your building and your personal security. Newer buildings often have concierge and/or security onsite, but not all of them are 24hrs. I found that when I lived in a gated community, where all visitors had to go through several check points with 24hr security prior to reaching my suite’s door, made me feel much safer as a single person living alone.

Does the building have onsite amenities accessible to their residents? Having access to amenities like a fitness room, yoga studio, saunas, party room and terrace can be a time and money saver when it is onsite and is included in your rent. Instead of having to pay for expensive gym memberships only to be inconveniently located away from your building, you can exercise only a few floors away from your unit. Or if you have an exciting event or celebration coming up you can sign out the party room to host a large group of friends, family and guests alike. Yes, these things are a luxury, but can be a great addition to your happiness residing in your building.

How close are you to places you frequently shop? If you are like me and are particular about where you shop, eat and who you give your business to, having the businesses and brands you are loyal to nearby can be a very important deciding factor! In a large metropolis like Toronto, you may have to run all over town to get all your errands done; East side, West side, down by the Waterfront or up by the 401! So when you find a place that has a majority of the places you frequent, it is a good indicator that you will probably be happy living in that neighbourhood. Time is money after all, so why spend more of it running around than is really necessary!?

My Fourth "Place"

Year: 2012

Location: The Junction neighbourhood, Downtown Toronto, ON

Type of Unit: One-bedroom, high rise condo building

Rent: $1500/month

Found via: Real Estate Agent

What I learned: Knowing the general types of individuals that are co-habiting a building can be a good thing to know in advance. What is the general demographic of the building? Are they older in age or younger like students? Or new families? This can give you an idea of what the sound levels will be like in a building. Buildings with older demographics tend to be quieter where as buildings with a lot of younger individuals and/or students can occasionally be louder and play host to regular parties. And buildings with new families with young children can be noisy at times as well. This is not meant to be discriminatory in any way, but if you are sensitive to noise and prefer to live in a quieter building, knowing the demographic of the building can help you avoid living somewhere you will not be happy. Many a nights I was kept up until 4AM by the thumping of heavy bass from the unit above me, when I had to be up by 6:30AM for work. Not cool!

Is it close to public transit? Bus stops? Subway station? If your main means of transportation is public transit than it is necessary to scope out your building’s vicinity to the nearest subway station(s) and/or bus stop(s). Especially with our cold Canadian winters, and the way the bone-chilling winds can whistle between buildings in this concrete jungle, knowing how far you have to walk in the snow to get to work should not be overlooked!

My current "Home"

Year: 2013-Present

Location: Oldtown neighbourhood Downtown Toronto, ON

Type of Unit: One-bedroom, high rise condo building

Rent: $1600/month (shared between my boyfriend & I)

Found via: My boyfriend

What I learned: "All good things come to those that wait." But also to those that apply themselves and never give up! I have learned that “Home" is a state of mind not a physical place, and only those that have experienced this feeling will understand it. However, achieving many to all of your housing preferences can make your “Home" even more special. It feels good to go down the checklist and check off all the things you’re looking for in a building or property you are considering making your “Home". It took many years for me to find my “home". But I now live in a safe neighbourhood that I love, with businesses I am loyal to like Starbucks, Royal Bank of Canada, St. Lawrence Market and Loblaws, as well as being within walking distance to other great areas Like Yonge & Dundas and the Distillery District. Our building has 24hr security and concierge, plenty of amenities, and we take great pride in our home where we can frequently host our friends for dinner parties and get togethers. We are close to a public park where we can take our dog for walks and within walking distance of multiple transit stops and subway stations. In addition, sharing the costs associated with our home allows us to focus more on our budget, planning for the next stage of our lives as well as retirement.

In closing, you will find your “Home"! Remember though, that it will take some time and you will make mistakes along the way. So figure out your budget and what your short-term, mid-term and long-term goals are financially and plan accordingly. You may have to make some sacrifices in the short term to benefit you in the long term. Don’t over extend yourself financially too early on or else it will make things challenging moving forward. But as I said before, life is a journey and growing up is filled with choices and mistakes. Your only responsibility is to learn from any mistakes you may make. I have learned a lot from the mistakes I’ve made during my search to find my “Home" but I have no regrets! And now I can whole-heartedly say that I am looking forward to us buying our first house as a couple in a few years and learning everything that goes along with that journey as well!

I'd love to hear from you. Tell me about your renting or buying experiences (good or bad) in the comments below!

I am excited to have partnered with Royal Bank of Canada for my #RBCFirstHome blog post as part of their First Home Campaign! I will be participating in the #RBCFirstHome Twitter Chat this coming Tuesday, October 27th, 2015 at 8:30pm EST. Did you know... That just for RSVP’ing to the Twitter Chat, you will be entered to win 1 of 3 $100 Visa Gift cards! During the Twitter Chat there will be additional giveaways as well, including five $100 gift cards! RBC experts (lawyer, realtor, designer, home builders, and home mortgage) will be on hand during the Twitter Chat to answer any of your home buying questions. Don't forget to click below & RSVP to be entered to win a $100 Visa Gift card! 

Until next time… Enjoy!


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