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?
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?