How The Bachelor Prepared Me For Buying A House

Let me start off by saying something that won’t surprise you at all: I am a lifelong fan of The Bachelor. Judge me if you will, but there’s something about the simplified, fairy tale-esque love stories and over-exaggerated one-dimensional characters that appeals to my childlike brain and keeps me tuning in every season.

Throughout my bachelor fandom I have also learned a lot of important life lessons: Like first impressions are EVERYTHING (especially when you burst out of a giant cupcake);

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a career is what you make it;

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live your truth, girl

and, most importantly, make sure to always sleep with a full face of makeup on in case your date decides to surprise you with a helicopter ride at 5 a.m.

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But I never expected that the Bachelor could ever teach me anything about real estate.

Despite warnings about the crazy market, my husband and I began looking for a house in Toronto in February of last year. After months of frenzied open houses, we finally found the perfect place: a small, detached home in Toronto’s east end that was dated, but liveable- the perfect place to add value. Having been warned that the listing price was “more of a loose guideline” than an actual cost, we thought we would secure it by offering over asking- a number that already hurt.

We submitted our offer and held our breath. Almost immediately, our agents came back to us. Rejection. With 8 other bidders, the house ultimately sold for nearly 30% over asking.

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We were disappointed, but told ourselves that in this market, no one gets it on the first try.

A month later, we struck again. This time it was a charming, semi-detached in prime Greektown. Just one little hiccup: no parking.

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That’s a thing??

We accepted it as yet another compromise, and this time, got more aggressive in our bidding. Strike two: 7 bidders, not even a trip to the second round.

The third house was by far the most devastating. This time, it was in the Annex. No parking, but a lush, beautiful backyard, and a glassed-in front porch that just screamed out for enjoying a nice glass of wine (or three).

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I knew immediately we had to have it.

A friend recommended writing a letter to attach with our offer to make ourselves stand out from the pile. I initially dismissed it as a bit hokey, but in the end we decided, what did we have to lose?

I pulled out my laptop and got to work. My goal was obviously to make this letter as heart-wrenching as humanly possible. The more tears it evoked, the better. I pulled out every stop imaginable. I talked about how the open concept kitchen brought me back to my East Coast roots and having Ceilidhs (kitchen parties, which for the record I NEVER had). I rhapsodized about watching my yet-unborn children frolicking among the hydrangeas as my husband and I gazed into each other’s eyes, marveling at the beautiful life we were blessed with.

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If this letter didn’t get us the house, NOTHING would.

It just so happened that offers for the house fell on the same evening we were scheduled to fly to France on vacation, so we deputized my father-in-law to do the bidding. I pressed the letter against his chest and asked him to guard it with his life. We gave him our max number and said goodbye, not knowing if we’d  get the house until we landed the next morning.

I didn’t sleep a wink that entire flight- visions of enclosed porches and galley kitchens dancing in my head. As soon as we landed we turned on our phones and checked our voicemails.

Although the buyers LOVED our letter (obviously), we were edged out by another bidder and narrowly missed out on the house of our dreams.

This one stung like no other before. Through the letter writing process, I had allowed myself to become emotionally invested in this house. I had totally let my guard down. I had fallen in love.

And that’s when it hit me.

This is EXACTLY what it must be like to be on the Bachelor!!

I suddenly had a new-found respect for the women (and men) who were burned for “keeping their guards up” and “not being open to the process”. While they ultimately missed out on a chance at love, at least they weren’t the ones crying in the back of a limo, embarrassing themselves on national TV.

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While my recovery was aided by the fact that I was strolling the streets of Paris eating copious amounts of unpasteurized cheese, it still took me a long time to get over that heartbreak. We didn’t bid on another house for nearly four months.

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I’d never have another shot at love. Er. I mean, a house.

There were of course, a couple of flings. We tried out some houses in completely different neighborhoods. Some with styles we hadn’t considered before. But these brief flirtations ultimately also ended in misery.

And then finally one day, nearly 10 months and 7 bidding wars after we began looking, our realtors sent us a listing they thought looked interesting. It was a fixer-upper, but in a good neighbourhood. I wasn’t enthralled by the photos, and even less so when I saw the house itself. It was an estate sale, and most of the house hadn’t been updated in decades. The front of the house had an unsightly facade, and the basement, which was a separate apartment, was downright murder-y.

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Our agents assured us that it was just a bit of an “ugly duckling”; with a bit of work, it could be a great house and a great investment.

I had serious reservations, but agreed to think it over. Clearly, the “type” we had been going for- the shiny, good-looking, charming houses- wasn’t working. Maybe we needed a shift in perspective?

So we went to look at it again, channeling our best Property Brothers to imagine what it COULD BE.

On a second look, we discovered that with some new floors, a fresh coat of paint and some new furniture, maybe this could be something.  To be sure, it wasn’t the house of our dreams, but the bones were good, the foundation was there, and it had the potential to last. We just needed to take the chance.

And then I realized that much like skydiving, rappelling down a building, or conquering your crippling fear of sharks, buying a house, too, is also lot like falling in love.

(Come on. Don’t you watch the Bachelor?? There is ALWAYS a love metaphor.)

On the day of offers, we decided to go for it. There was only one other bidder (which we tried not to take as a bad sign), and after two rounds of bidding, we FINALLY became homeowners.

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Alas, much like with the Bachelor, the final rose has proven to be only the beginning of our “journey.” With countless renovations and issues on the horizon, I can only hope our love story ends up more “Trista and Ryan” than “Lauren and Ben”

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Question of the day: What was it like when you bought your first home?

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Tour de Open Houses

Newly married and quickly outgrowing our single closet 500 square foot condo, my husband and I recently began looking for a house in Toronto.

Friends and family gently warned us that the real estate market in Toronto was “tough”, and that we may want to adjust our expectations. We listened politely, but remained firmly ensconced in our naïve, hopeful bubble: we had our expectations in check, thank you very much– a semi-detached was just fine. Plus, we had what we thought was a healthy budget.

We set up an initial meeting with a real estate agent, and over beers, peered down at a giant, dry erase map of downtown. She handed us a marker and suggested we circle the areas we were interested in. I drew careful circles around our dream list of preferred neighborhoods, reserving a heart for our favorite neighbourhood of all.

“So, the magic question”, she asked,”what is your budget?”

I relayed our amount confidently.

“Ok, so that rules out here” she said, proceeding to break my (literal and figurative) heart with the back of her hand. “You might be able to get a semi here,” “here, it’s not likely but we’ll give it a shot”.

“Don’t worry,” she reassured us, correctly reading the terror on my face, “we’ll find you something”. We left with a stack of pamphlets on home inspections, termites and standard terms and conditions, already convinced we couldn’t afford to live in Drake’s compost bin.

The next morning, we began receiving daily listings of houses in our selected areas. At first it was exciting; I would roll over in bed, pick up my phone and scour the listings like a little kid on Christmas morning. But quickly my enthusiasm began to fade.

“They want how much for this dilapidated shoe box?” I’d ask my husband, incredulously, “I think I see crime scene tape! Is that blood??”

Still, we soldiered on, and began what I call our weekly “Tour de Open Houses”

If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that visiting open houses is basically an endurance sport. Each weekend morning began with making a list of 6-7 homes we wanted to check out. Some were on opposite ends of the city, and since we don’t have a car, to make them all within the 2-4pm open house window, we plotted our mission like a high stakes jewel heist.

Our initial strategy was to take the subway to the farthest destination, then physically run to the next house on the list. We soon realized that a) we are in horrible shape; and b) we were wasting precious time lacing up sneakers. Also, some of the agents didn’t take too kindly to us sweating all over their beautifully staged furniture.

So despite the frigid February weather, we switched to flip-flops (what’s a little frostbite if you find your dream home?) and Ubering between houses.  At one point we had our Uber driver wait outside each house in his cherry red Mazda 3 like a getaway car.

We had a checklist of must-haves (3 bedrooms, eat-in kitchen, parking, finished basement) and approached each house like a sting operation, scouring the rooms with maximum speed and efficiency.  At one point, my husband wanted to take a closer look at the shed in the backyard and I was like:

Of course, there were plenty of diversion tactics designed to lead us off course. Like when the agent at one open house was literally baking cookies. As soon as we walked in we were assaulted by the delicious smell. “Don’t fall for it- It’s a trick!” I hissed at my husband, who had already begun walking, zombie like, towards the plate of cookies on the counter. I grabbed his arm and pulled him back to me. “Can’t you see the smell is masking a tiny kitchen and already lifting floorboards?!”

I successfully sidestepped the wine and cheese at the next house (which for me was a MAJOR accomplishment), but ultimately succumbed to the fresh cannolis at the next (you guys, cannolis! From the bakery just down the street!).  We actually considered putting an offer on that place, until the fog of sugar and fat lifted and I realized it was directly across from a derelict gas station that appeared to be an illicit drug front operation.

Interpreting the adjectives realtors use is also like deciphering code.

  • “Cozy” = shoebox.
  • “Renovator’s Dream” = asbestos paradise.
  • “Recently updated” = cheap flip job where the doorknobs fall off in your hands.

I even saw one house described as “Artisinal”, which I thought was a term reserved for hipster restaurants and small-batch coffee producers.

We also learned to look past the cheesy staging furniture and decor, sidestepping the “Keep Calm and Carry On” pillows that assaulted our eyes at every turn. And we quickly got wise to the tricks designed to make the rooms look bigger- like the doll-sized furniture, and stripping all signs of life and clutter bare, absent a few, classic novels,  discarded casually on bedside tables as if to imply “You, too would read Tolstoy if you lived here”.

So, after nearly 6 months and almost 100 homes visited, where does all this hard-earned intel leave us?

Nowhere.

Although we have yet to achieve the pinnacle of home ownership, and are still engaging in a shoe turf war, at least we’ve narrowed down what we are looking for so much that we skip open houses and go directly to the source with our agent. Which, on the bright side, means I can now spend my Saturdays doing what’s really important: watching everything I PVR’d from the week and eating bottomless bowls of cereal.

Question of the Day: Have you bought a house? How was the process?

 

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