First-time homebuyer? Follow these steps.

 Aerial shot of a couple laying on the floor on pillows, laughing, surrounded by open moving boxes.

Homeownership has long been considered a significant goal for most Canadians. While increasing costs have made home ownership more difficult, many Canadians still see it as a way of creating stability and security in life, while also building equity that could help them in the future. If buying a first home is one of your goals, what steps should you take?

First, make sure the time is right for you in terms of your personal and financial situations. For example, are you fairly confident that your employment is stable and that your earnings won’t decline? If so, and you're ready and eager for homeownership, consider the following moves:

1. Save for a down payment

The more money you put down for a home, the lower your monthly payments, although there’s also a point at which overly large down payments can be financially unwise. In Canada, the new First Home Savings Account (FHSA) allows you to save up to $8,000 annually to maximum of $40,000 towards the purchase of a first home. Contributions to the FHSA are tax deductible, and investment returns and growth inside the plan are not taxed. Withdrawals from the FHSA will not be taxed when used to purchase a first home.

In addition to the FHSA, Canadians can also use the Home Buyers' Plan (HBP) to increase the amount available for a down payment. It allows you to withdraw up to $60,000 from your RRSP to buy or build a qualifying home for yourself or for a related person with a disability. The HBP allows you to take up to 15 years to pay back the withdrawn funds.

Another option to consider for saving for a down payment is the Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA). Canadians can save up to $7,000 annually in a TFSA, the funds grow tax-free, and withdrawals are not taxed. Keep in mind that the FHSA, HBP, and TFSA can all be used together to give you an opportunity to save a larger down payment.

2. Check your credit score

Higher credit score gives you a better chance for a lower interest rate. You find out your credit score by ordering a copy of your credit report from both Equifax Canada and Trans Union Canada.  Knowing your credit score prior to a major purchase may help lower your interest rates. If you need to improve your score, you may want to delay your home purchase.

3. Learn how much you qualify for – and how much you should spend

Once you think you’re ready to begin the home-purchasing process, you may want to contact a few lenders to determine the size of the mortgage for which you qualify. Be aware, though, that just because you can get a mortgage of a certain amount, does not necessarily mean that you should. You don’t want to become “house poor” – that is, you don’t want to spend so much on your house payments that you are cash strapped and can’t afford to save for other goals, such as post-secondary education for your children or a comfortable retirement. You may want to establish a budget for how much you can readily afford to pay for your mortgage each month – and try sticking to it before you buy the house. If you have extra savings, put it toward your down payment.

4. Prepare for unexpected costs

You can plan for your mortgage, utilities, taxes and insurance – but when you own a home, you’ll always encounter unexpected costs. You may need to get a new furnace, repair your roof or face any number of other maintenance issues. To help prepare for these costs, try to build an emergency fund containing three to six months’ worth of living expenses, with the money kept in a liquid, low-risk account. Without such a fund, you might be forced to dip into your long-term investments or take on added debt to pay for these unanticipated expenses.

Homeownership can be a rewarding experience – and the rewards will be even greater when you’ve “done the numbers” and prepared yourself financially.

How we can help

This is an exciting time in your life, and we're here to help. Now is a great time to call your local Edward Jones financial advisor and get started on a relationship you can build for the long term.