Category: school

Five questions to ask yourself before you rent or buy

Rent or buy a home?I met with a new arrival in Vancouver this week and one of the things we discussed was the whole issue of whether it is better to rent or buy.

I strongly believe that there is no single answer to this question as so much is down to your personal circumstances. So instead, here’s some questions to ask yourself that will help you make this decision for yourself.

1. Can I get financing?

This is the first question for a reason. If the answer is NO, then there’s no need to even think about any of the other questions!

Financing is available when you first arrive in Canada, despite your not having a credit rating here, IF you have enough money to put down on the property. That is generally 35% or more. And that can be a large chunk of change.

If you are newly arrived and have a job already, then your financing may be available with a smaller down payment. You will need to have passed your probation in your job.

My advice is to contact a mortgage broker (like ours: Keith Baker) because then you will have access to a wide range of financial institutions. There’s no charge for this and you’ll get advice that’s specific to you.

2. Do I know where I want to live?

This is a pretty basic question and one that every immigrant should ask quite carefully. Let’s face it there’s no point in buying a lovely home in an area that you sooner or later find is not one that suits you.

If you’ve done really good research and been over here enough to know what area is right for you, then buying is worth considering.

If not, then you’re probably still in the research phase of your move – even if you’ve landed. Now’s the time to rent for a while and check out whether what you think is the right area is really so in practice.

3. How long am I going to be here?

Real estate is a long term investment especially when it is your family home. If you aren’t sure how long you will be in the area, then renting might be better for you. Buying and then selling within a short time can be ok, but only when the market is active and moving up. When it is slow or the prices are going down then you might lose out.

4. What about schools?

Getting your child into a specific school can be a factor. Most schools have catchment areas and your challenge might be in finding a rental property in the right area for the school you want. And once you’ve found one there’s a possibility that your lease will not be renewed at the end of the year and you’ll be looking for another suitable place.

Buying somewhere to be in the right catchment area is a familiar tactic all over the world. In Canada it happens too. You would need to be certain that you want the school and are prepared to live in the area for the time your child is in that school. If so then buying is for you.

5. How do I feel about renting?

So far, if you’ve been following along, you’ve been asking practical questions. This one is all about your own thinking and gut feeling about renting or buying.

Some people just object to renting at all. They’re the ones who see rent as “dead money” or talk about “paying someone else’s mortgage”. Depending on how strongly you agree with this, you might be buying even if some of the other practical factors suggest renting is better.

Another psychological factor that often plays is “wanting to get settled”. Immigrating is a stressful process and for most of us, we are in limbo whilst waiting for the visas to come and the move to happen. That leads to a feeling of being unsettled that is uncomfortable. Buying a home and finally unpacking all your belongings is very appealing.

On the other hand, you might be someone who is happy to have no mortgage and to be flexible enough to move around. Perhaps coming to Canada was your chance to be freer and you wanted to move around and explore the country. Renting is for you! (Or maybe an RV?)

What grade would you give the teachers

Teacher's strike
What effect will the teachers' strike have?

In a move that is proving unpopular with students and parents the BC Teachers Federation has voted to go on strike this coming Monday. The strike is for three days (the maximum current legislation allows).

The main issue is pay. Teachers’ pay is set by contracts with the Provincial government. The current contract has expired and the strike is part of a long series of moves in the bargaining.

How badly are BC Teachers paid?

From what I have been able to find BC teachers rank somewhere toward the bottom of pay scales across the country. For example a teacher an inexperienced teacher with a degree gets the following salary:

  1. $61,489 in Edmonton, AB
  2. $61,038 in Calgary, AB
  3. $51,378 in Toronto, ON (secondary school)
  4. $50,259 in Winnipeg, MB
  5. $48,626 in Victoria, BC
  6. $48,083 in Vancouver, BC
  7. $47,074 in Nova Scotia
  8. $40,067 in Quebec

If you were to look at the top of this pay scale (about 10-12 years teaching experience), BC continues to rank pretty low:

  1. $95,354 in Edmonton, AB
  2. $95,073 in Calgary, AB
  3. $89,614 in Toronto, ON
  4. $76,425 in Winnipeg, MB
  5. $74,353 in Vancouver, BC
  6. $74,353 in Victoria, BC
  7. $71,946 in Quebec
  8. $67,186 in Nova Scotia

Problem is that teachers walking out on the job leaves a lot of parents in a mess. Childcare arrangements need to be made. Older children, with their eyes on graduation, are worried about their grades and preparation for exams too.

The B.C. government is playing hardball. They’re talking about changing the law to prevent teachers from striking until August. They are also committed to a zero wage increase policy for government employees. The union is looking for a 15% increase over three years. Quite a divide.

I know a few teachers and a lot of them feel pretty strongly about this issue. On the other hand kids and parents (and the general public) seems to be largely against this.

What do you think?

Back to school via the shops

Student Union building at UVic
Welcome back to school

In my experience Canadians have a seasonal approach to life. This time of year is the back to school season. It is a wistful time of year to my mind. The summer is officially over. The kids are back to school. The weather is good, better than a lot of the official summer, but it begins to suggest winter. So we are looking back on the pleasures of the summer and looking forward to the winter too.

Back to school season, at least that driven by marketing men, is about shopping. For elementary school children there are lists of stationery supplies. A common sight in Staples is bewildered and overwhelmed parents checking off items on their list, while their children demand whatever they think they want.

Clothes also need to be bought. If you, like me, come from the UK then you are probably more used to school uniforms. Here the public schools do not have uniforms. Our kids loved the fact that they could wear what they wanted. They were very worried, however, that they’d look cool when the went to school for the first time in Canada. Dress codes are pretty relaxed and we didn’t see too much snobbery over designer labels and the like.

Oh, and I was talking about our daughters above. Our son didn’t care. Neither did any of the boys who became his friends.

Our kids are now at University, so back to school is a bit different. It includes the search for somewhere to live, and in one case, for furniture for the unfurnished place he rented with his five friends.

Two of our kids are at UVic – in Victoria. There at least, things are set up pretty well. So they found rentals quickly. Their parents were more stressed about it than they were!

There are no lists of stationery supplies, but lists of books instead. The campus bookshop is more crowded than the ferries – with new students and their parents. Both our kids were more interested in reconnecting with friends than getting their books.

Our house seems empty now. And that’s another reason for being wistful.


Choosing a local school


Yellow school bus
The familiar school bus

I have been dealing with school related questions over the last week in relation to a listing of ours. Not really surprising that parents are concerned about the schools when buying a home! In fact our listing is in the catchment area for one of the best high schools in BC and that helped us sell it within a week. Hence this mini-guide to some of the things to think about when buying (or renting). See also our guide to choosing a school.


For many people schooling is very important, and if that is true for you then you may well start your home search by checking out the schools. As my guide says this can involve looking at academic records (The Fraser Institute scores) and partly getting a sense of the school’s character.

For example, the seller of our listing is an ex-teacher, so is well placed to judge. She told us how impressed she was by the local elementary school because of the respect that the pupils gave to the teachers and parents. They were well behaved and did things like thank teachers for giving up their lunch break to supervise them.

If you know what school or schools you’d prefer then the next thing is to find out how the decide on which children to accept. Each school district can be somewhat different in its rules and procedures. So first of all check what school district your home is in. Most school districts have rules on catchment areas, though some still have open boundaries.

If, as is likely, there are requirements for you to reside in the catchment area, your challenge is to find a home in that area. A good realtor will be able to help you buy a home in specific areas. You can double check with the school board, and most have on-line school locator tools – just enter the address and it tells you the eligible schools.

Renting is harder as there are few rental agencies and little availability. You will most likely need to find a place and accept a place in the local school. It is rare for schools to be really bad. Most of our clients have been happy with their local schools.

The other option is to look at private schools. These too differ in quality, but there are no catchment area issues. You do have to pay the fees though!

A growing trend is for parents to look for schools offering the IB program (International Baccalaureate). The advantage of this is that the program is the same world-wide, so if you are likely to move countries again, your child’s education will not be unduly disrupted.

Remember to take into account the practical issues of getting to and from school. Some schools have school buses to get kids to and from school, which can help. Our kids enjoyed going on the bus as it is a great way to make friends in the neighbourhood and is an enjoyable part of their day. No school bus, then you could be car pooling, sending them on public transit or even letting them walk!


School reports

There is nothing like the school rankings to provoke debate. Now I am not a great fan of ranking schools on whatever basis. In the UK we saw the school league tables, and schools trying to better their ranking at the expense of an all-round education.

So, it is with some hesitation that I mention the ranking of Lower Mainland (ie metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley) school districts by their Fraser Institute scores.

Below is a list of the school districts and their rank within BC as a whole. Note that 1 is best.

1. West Vancouver
5. North Vancouver
6. Coquitlam
7. New Westminster
7. Richmond
13. Vancouver
14. Langley
14. Surrey
18. Burnaby
20. Chilliwack
20. Maple Ridge – Pitt Meadows
23. Howe Sound
27. Delta
28. Abbotsford
33. Mission

Note these are for public schools – not private or fee paying ones. Those often do the best of all.

It still seems to me that Canadian education is broader based and not so focused purely on passing exams and academic achievement. Visiting a school and seeing how the students behave will often give you a better feeling for how your child will do in the school than any school ranking system.

So by all means do your research, but then come out and visit the area and the schools you like.

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