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First time home buying in Sault ‘a soul sucking experience,’ reader says

Individuals, couples getting outbid; many buyers are out of town investors
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Buying a home has become increasingly difficult for first time buyers in Sault Ste. Marie.

Individuals and couples are being outbid, many buyers being out of town investors renting homes out or flipping them. 

“My partner and I just got a house after nine tries and being outbid by offers that were $100,000 over the asking price,” said Jen Skuce.

The couple still had to pay $60,000 over the asking price for the house, Skuce said.

“Anyone with a budget under $350,000 looking for a house that isn’t a complete reno is going to be looking for a long time and be greatly disappointed. Even then, those houses are scooped so quickly by investors and house flippers who are buying them sight unseen with no inspections, they barely stand a chance. Inventory is low and people keep saying ‘oh, in the spring there will be more houses’ but it’s not really inventory that’s a problem.”

Skuce captured what many first time house buyers in the Sault are feeling.

“It’s a soul sucking experience and makes what is supposed to be a really fun and exciting time super stressful and emotional.”

Cindy Heise is currently renting a house in Desbarats. 

“My situation started in October. I couldn’t find any place to live - even to rent - that was affordable, because rent is sky high as well.”

Friends of Heise came through for her at the time, letting her live in their trailer for a month.

“In November I was lucky enough to find the house I’m now renting through word of mouth, through friends.”

Still wanting to purchase a home, Heise is finding it a challenge.

“I’ve been actively searching for houses since November, and every time I find something in my price range from Echo Bay to Thessalon that I’ve put a bid in for, I get outbid. It would be over the asking price, like $50,000 over the asking price. It was like ‘are you kidding me, how are these people doing it?’”

Heise said she believes a southern Ontario-based individual has been purchasing Desbarats houses, fixing them up and renting them out, or flipping them.

“Half of these houses are not even worth the amount these people are asking for. It’s so frustrating. I can’t get ahead. I asked my real estate agent about venturing into the east end of the Sault. There was a house that came up for $199,000 and she said ‘Cindy, that’s probably going to go well over $270,000 so it’s not even worth looking at.’”  

“What is one to do?” said Heise, who drives for 40 minutes daily to get to her place of employment in the Sault, followed by a 40 minute drive home.

The house she currently rents will be going up for sale soon, the owner hoping to have it sold by late May. Heise received her notice from the owner.

“I will put a bid in on it, but again I have a feeling a person from southern Ontario will come and drop $190,000 on it and it’s not even worth that.”

“I’m thinking ‘what do I do?’ Should I buy a trailer and live at Ojibway Park or Bells Point? That’s the only thing I can think of.”

That would suffice for the warmer months that are approaching, Heise said, but she realizes she must keep looking for a house to buy before next winter.

“My understanding is that we have people selling their houses down south and houses in Algoma are being bought by them and starting the bidding war that is going on up here. I know the price of everything is going up, but come on, for the housing market to jump to this extreme is crazy,” Heise said, adding she well remembers a time when a good house in this area could be purchased for $200,000.

“My real estate agent said there’s no end in sight for some time yet.”

Others pursuing their first home purchase are on the verge of giving up and leaving the Sault.

“We’re first time home buyers so we’re looking for a semi-detached or detached with a preference for a backyard because we have a dog. We have put in more than 10 offers within two months and every one was rejected. Everything is going over the asking price and people are preferring cash offers,” said Lovleen Sharma.

“The other point is that there are buyers who are investors from outside this city. They don’t consider people who are in the Sault who want to stay here and live here,” Sharma said.

Sharma and husband Harsh Goyal arrived in the Sault in 2020 from their native India and have made themselves known as enthusiastic newcomers to the community, embracing the city as their new hometown.

“The city wants families to come here for affordable living but that doesn’t make sense now. We might be looking to move from here if nothing comes good for us. What’s the point if house prices are skyrocketing higher? Nobody seems to be willing to consider that we want to live here and settle here. It’s not like we’re looking to invest. We want to live here. We chose Sault Ste. Marie over any other city in Ontario,” Sharma said.

“It’s been really frustrating,” said Tianna Martel.

“Me and my spouse have started looking for our first home. We currently rent. We’ve been approved for what would now be not enough. We’ve been approved for $225,000 which a while back would've been a decent sized, comfortable home. Now when we go to viewings or want to make an offer our realtor tells us there’s no point. If a house is $199,000 it’s going to skyrocket and go for way more than what it's worth. Even if we do find something that's maybe below our budget it might be something that’s not worth mortgaging because we would have to put more into it to make it acceptable.”

“There are a lot of people, I guess, who are purchasing homes who aren’t even from here just to rent them out. This is our home. This is where we want to build our lives and start a family, and people are just buying them to rent them out to people, and the buyers don’t even live here. They don’t know the city,” Martel said.

“It’s not fair to people that actually want to make a life here.”

Martel said a banker has suggested she and her spouse find a co-signer to increase the amount of the mortgage they could get approved for.

“We would still have to come up with that down payment. $225,000 for us right now is affordable but we can’t find anything in that price range because everybody keeps outbidding each other. Our real estate agent said ‘don’t rush into it, things will change at some point’ but we don’t know when that’s going to be. It’s discouraging.”

“With talk of the market going up we are frustrated and heartbroken,” said Sierra Joy.

She has been living with her boyfriend, three young children and two dogs in a small three bedroom house owned by her mother since July 2019. 

“We moved in with intentions of moving after our daughter was born in January 2020. Very quickly COVID hit and we put buying a home aside and kept our eye on the market. We eventually went to the bank to see about a mortgage. With a budget in mind we started our hunt. Very quickly we learned with such a small budget there was no way we would be able to get a home any time soon.”

In addition to living in a small home with a large family, Joy said “behind our home are two empty homes. These two homes have caused mayhem. People are using our property to enter the abandoned homes. There are rodent highways, needles and other paraphernalia littered around, city police are a constant thing for us. For a year we fought with the city for them to board up the homes. People are relentless and continue to break in, making our yard dangerous.”

“We desperately need to buy a home. Rent for a two bedroom is expensive and we need a three bedroom apartment or home. We are a five person crew in a three bedroom home. Realtors are not interested with us due to our small budget. With the market being high we can't afford to move."

“We need a new home so badly,” Joy said.

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Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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