Iqaluit – Thor Simonsen didn’t set out to write a book on how to buy a house in Nunavut.
Simonsen, working at the Government of Nunavut (GN), learned a colleague was interested in buying a house.
“She didn’t really know how to go about it,” he said. “So I started formulating a simple text document just outlining what I’d gone through a year or so before. It turned out to be a bit more complicated than I expected. It ended up being a whole book.”
As Simonsen is a graphic designer, the next step only made sense. He illustrated the text.
The completed book, available on Amazon, contains chapters on getting started, understanding the banking system, understanding the credit system, finding the right house, saving up money, closing the deal, and maintaining your house.
“The author created a fun book that shows home ownership as a very plausible alternative to renting a house or living with one’s parents,” said John Matthews, a real estate agent with Atiilu Real Estate and Property Management in Iqaluit. “No doubt, as more readers employ this book to assist with the purchase of their first house, they may offer suggestions to Thor for future editions.”
Simonsen describes his first home-buying experience as tumultuous.
“So I definitely did a lot of research after the fact. I consulted with real estate people, lawyers, businesses and other homeowners to make sure the information in there was sound and I wasn’t just making things up.”
Matthews called the book a godsend.
“I highly recommend it to anyone interested in purchasing a home,” he said. “There are ‘how to buy a home’ books and pamphlets in the business section of a bookstore and from most banks, but many readers find them quite boring and difficult to read. Thor’s easy to follow directions and graphics are actually fun to follow.”
One section of the book deals with mortgages, with math pointing to $1500 monthly payments on a $500,000 house, with a $50,000 downpayment. A quick trip to a mortgage calculator on an banking website points to higher payments.
“One of the critiques I did hear back is that some of the math wasn’t very specific, but that was very intentional. I’m not trying to teach math, I’m trying to explain the underlying principles of homeownership. It’s really only meant to explain how things work in general,” said Simonsen.
Matthews says Simonsen’s math “needs to be tightened, but prospective home owners can approach their banker for assistance with the numbers. Thor removes the mystique from purchasing a house by suggesting that most residents with a full-time job and a proven credit record can buy a house.”
Simonsen says there are opportunities here in Nunavut that are unique to the territory.
The Nunavut Housing Corporation (NHC) offers a variety of homeownership programs, such as the Nunavut Downpayment Assistance Program, the Interim Financing Program, the Tenant to Owner Program, and the Seniors and Persons with Disabilities Home Options Program.
According to its 2015-2016 annual report, the corporation spent $1,723,600 on the downpayment program that fiscal year.
There are also home-repair programs available through the NHC.
Ultimately, Simonsen says it doesn’t matter how much money a potential homeowner is making at their work.
“If you have the self-discipline to save up for a downpayment and you build up a good enough credit, it’s really within the range of anyone who’s gainfully employed,” he said.
Though Simonsen bought a house in Iqaluit, he says the basic steps are the same in communities.
“There’s some slight difference. The market is much bigger in Iqaluit. There are professional real estate agents here. Also, all the banks are located here. I haven’t obtained research on how they obtain financing.”
From Matthews’ perspective, the book is even more relevant for prospective homeowners in communities outside Iqaluit for those very reasons.
“There are very few homeowners and no realtors, bankers or lawyers in most small communities, making it very difficult for prospective purchasers to find answers to their many questions.” he said.
Simonsen hopes to use the book to create a workshop on the same topic.
“I want to increase the low rate of homeownership in Nunavut. It is currently the lowest in Canada. I believe this trend of external ownership, and thereby influence, can have negative repercussions on the local population,” he said.
The NHC has long stated it has that same goal and told Nunavut News/North it is meeting with Simonsen to discuss collaborating.
The most current figures, which date back to a 2010 Nunavut Housing Needs Survey, indicate homeowners make up 22 per cent of the population across the territory, or 1,880 of 8,550 occupied dwellings. According to those numbers, the range from community to community is wide, with Taloyoak at 20 homeowners, Gjoa Haven at 40, Pond Inlet at 60, Pangnirtung at 70, Baker Lake at 120, Arviat at 130, Rankin Inlet at 230, and Iqaluit at 540.