Real estate: Not your first home purchase? Here’s why you may still qualify for first-time buyer programs

Most home ownership affordability programs are geared to first-time buyers. But you may in fact qualify as a “first-time” buyer.

It’s not just first-time buyers who are concerned about skyrocketing home prices. While most homeowners have profited from the rise in property values, not everyone who owns a home walks away with more money than when they first bought.

Maybe your equity was halved due to divorce. Maybe you pulled out money from the equity in your home to pay off debts or finance other projects — and now need to move. Maybe your home lost value due to floods, damage due to unstable soil or some other disaster beyond your control. Or maybe you lost your job, and had to sell your home because you could no longer afford the mortgage payments.

Whatever the reason, you’ve probably discovered something frustrating: most programs designed to make home ownership more affordable are geared to first-time buyers. If you’ve bought property before, even if you are renting now because life took a bad turn, you don’t qualify for the same help as someone buying their first home.

But what you might not know is that you may in fact qualify as a “first-time” buyer, even if this is far from your first real estate rodeo. Read the fine print, and it turns out that many of the major government-funded home affordability initiatives include some exceptions to the “first-timer” rule.

CMHC First-Time Home Buyer Incentive

It says it right there in the title that this program, introduced last fall, is for first-time buyers only. What you may not know, however, is that CMHC’s definition of “first-timer” is not the same as yours and mine.

It turns out that the program makes an exception for people who are divorced or leaving a live-in partner. You also qualify if it’s been four years since you lived in a home that you or your current partner owned.

On the other hand, you could also be a first-time buyer who doesn’t qualify. If your total annual qualifying income is greater than $120,000 or if you’re buying with a partner who has owned property before, for example, you may be turned down for the program.

The program offers buyers an interest-free loan valued between five and 10 per cent of the purchase price, which must be repaid after 25 years or when the property is sold (whichever is first), which lowers the buyer’s monthly payment. Full details on how the program works and who does (and does not) qualify are available online at


Government of Canada Home Buyer’s Plan

This federal program allows first-time buyers to withdraw up to $35,000 from their RRSPs to build or buy a home without taking a tax hit. The program defines a first-time buyer as anyone who has not occupied a home they owned or that a current spouse or common-law partners owned within the previous four years.

In 2019, the definition was expanded to also include people who are divorced or leaving a common-law partnership. You may also qualify if you are a person with a disability or helping a related person with a disability purchase a home.

One key note about this program: you must repay the money you withdraw from your RRSPs within 15 years. For more on federal home affordability programs, visit

Montreal Home Ownership Program

The city of Montreal also has its own home ownership incentives, including some programs for families that do not require the buyer to be a first-timer. The family program aims to reduce urban sprawl by helping homeowners upgrade to family-sized units in the city so they don’t turn to buying a cheaper property off-island.

The program offers financial assistance of up to $6,250 for families, as well as a refund of the real estate transfer tax. It only applies, however, to properties that cost less than $360,000.

First-time buyers qualify under this program, as well as families who have bought property before but have at least one child under 18 and are purchasing a newly built three-bedroom property on the Island of Montreal. There are some other nuances to the program, so best to read up on it if you think you may qualify. Full details are online at

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