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7 things you didn't know about buying a Habitat for Humanity home

Posted by Lisa Hallet on Dec 11, 2018 2:25:00 PM


We’ve all heard of Habitat for Humanity. (I mean, if you hadn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this, would you?).

Here at Habitat, we know that there are lots of different ideas swirling around out there about how our home ownership program works and who it’s for.

We get lots of questions, everything from, “Was Habitat founded by Jimmy Carter?” (answer: no, but he has been one of our greatest ambassadors worldwide), to, “How do families get picked for the free homes?”

And that, my friends, is why we are writing this today!

Habitat for Humanity is one of the most well-known non-profits in the world. But the way it works in Guatemala, for example, is very different than the way it works here in Calgary, Pincher Creek, or Okotoks.

What’s common between every Habitat is that we’re working towards a world where everyone has a safe, affordable place to live.

How we go about achieving that, however, might not be what you think.

So we’re here to help you cut through the noise and understand a little bit more about how Habitat for Humanity works here in southern Alberta.

The response to this original blog has been so great that we've updated it to include answers to two more FAQs: "Can I sell my Habitat home?" and "Do I actually own my Habitat home?"

Keep reading for more.


1. Who gets Habitat for Humanity homes?

Great question! There are two parts to the answer.

First, people don’t “get” Habitat homes; they buy them.

A common myth about Habitat for Humanity is that we give away homes for free. In reality, families qualify for a no down payment, no interest mortgage, and then they buy their homes from us at fair market value.

So now that we know people don’t get Habitat homes for free, we can ask ourselves the better question of, “Who buys Habitat for Humanity homes?”

You can see the qualification criteria here, but maybe some examples will help.

Think about a bank teller, a transit operator, an administrative assistant, or an insurance agent - people who typically make between $40,000 and $60,000 per year.

It's enough to get by, but when these are parents who have kids, it's nearly impossible to get ahead financially and save for a down payment. Buying a home is simply out of reach.

As a result, families often live in rentals that are expensive, crowded or unsafe, presenting serious challenges for children, especially when they're forced to move frequently.

We know it doesn't have to be that way, and that's why we help families buy their first home by removing the down payment and customizing their mortgage payments to never be more than 25% of their income.

With that kind of financial stability, kids can put down roots and parents can start planning for the future.


Brandy works at a major financial institution in Olds. Despite her solid job and steady wage, she had great difficulty getting ahead financially. Habitat's affordable home ownership program was the perfect solution for her.


2. Are Habitat homes good quality?

Yes! Habitat homes are professionally designed and meet the specifications of each community they’re built in.

We work with quality contractors and trades for the regulated work – like electrical and plumbing – and volunteers to help with things like framing, dry-walling, painting, landscaping, and all that other fun stuff.

We also have professional construction supervisors at every single site. They lead the construction and guide the volunteers when they come out on site, along with Crew Leaders, like our dear friend, Brenda.

These Crew Leaders are a special group of dedicated volunteers who have built with us so many times they’ve become part of our construction family!

They receive special training to ensure they are prepared to lead groups of volunteers in building our homes and that our homes are quality and built to last.

Each home is built above minimum code, and is inspected and approved like all other new homes. 

Building quality, energy efficient homes is beneficial for homeowners, and it's also important for Habitat because we hold the mortgages and we want our homes to retain their value.


Habitat for Humanity homes in Bowness, Calgary.


3. Do we really need Habitat for Humanity in Calgary? Isn’t it only for third-world counties?

We certainly do! Housing is a global issue, and that means it affects us at home and abroad.

Calgary in particular has a more serious affordable housing challenge than almost any other major city in Canada. It's ranked 13th in affordability according to a study by the University of Calgary. Yes, it's even less affordable than Vancouver and Toronto.

Calgary has many housing providers, but Habitat for Humanity is one of the only affordable home ownership providers in the city. And that is what makes us different – it’s not a rental or subsidy, it’s purchase and ownership.

We bridge the gap between renting and buying a home the traditional way. And we provide a path into market home ownership for families because they earn equity over time.

Housing Continuum Simplified-1

Habitat for Humanity is the only affordable home ownership solution in the city,
bridging the gap between rental and ownership.


4. What are the other benefits, besides owning a home?

There are lots!

Plan and save

When you know exactly what your housing costs are every month, it makes it a whole lot easier to budget, save, and plan for the future.

Mortgage payments build equity

That means if you ever decide to sell your home back to Habitat for Humanity and move on (which lots of families do when they’ve built up equity), you can take that equity and go buy a house on the market through a home builder.

No more landlords

When you’re a homeowner, you won’t ever have to wait a week for them to fix your leaking kitchen sink. And, you won’t live in constant fear of annual rent increases. 

When you’re a homeowner, you are in control, with all the benefits and responsibilities that come along with that.

Personalize your space

Maybe the best of all is that owning your own home means you can personalize to your own taste – paint, wallpaper – your imagination is your only limit!

Being a homeowner gives you control over the space you live in and helps you feel more comfortable in your own home.


Kristen and Anthony bought their Habitat home in Airdrie in 2016. One of the highlights for them has been personalizing their space now that own their home.


5. Do I actually own my Habitat home?

Yes, when you buy a home from Habitat for Humanity, you own the home and make your mortgage payments to Habitat.

If you stay in the home until it's paid off, we discharge the mortgage from your title and the home is fully yours!

6. Can I sell my Habitat home?

Yes, you can. If you decide to sell, Habitat has the first option to buy the home back at Fair Market Value (FMV). The FMV is established by an independent appraisal.

When you sell, 5% of the FMV is deducted in lieu of real estate commissions to cover legal fees and other program costs associated with the sale. 

You will share in the equity and any increase or decrease in the Fair Market Value according to the number of years you have owned the home.

Once the sale is complete, we are able to refurbish the home us and then sell it to a new Habitat homeowner. It's a wonderful cycle.

7. How do I buy a home?

If all that sounds great and you think buying a home through Habitat would be right for you, the next step is to take a look at the qualification criteria and then take the Eligibility Quiz.

Topics: Insider, Home Ownership, Silver Springs

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