Buying Our First House

…in Toronto no less. The FULL story.

Around the fall of 2011, we decided we’d start looking for a home (condo or house). We were interested in Mimico/Long Branch/New Toronto but were unsure about the location and the price of houses at that time. Since I had worked in a real estate office, I had connections to agents. We met with a guy I had selected from the office and chatted about our wants/needs and price point. Long story short, we never heard from that guy again.

We figured it was fate and decided to instead rent for several years but move closer to the west end. That’s when we met Jonathan. Jonathan Amantea was our landlord at Perth Ave and also our downstairs neighbour. He was our age but had been a Sales Representative for several years. What drew us to him, despite not knowing him for very long, was his obvious attention to every detail and his respect for and interest in environmental issues.

In the summertime, Jonathan cultivates an incredible urban garden. He prepares a drought-resistant base (with poop, newspapers, and hay) and uses his 4-barrel system to water with only rain water. It was during one of his summer vacations, when I was tending to the garden, that I realized I really wanted a backyard of my own.

We knew we could likely move to a new apartment that had a backyard all our own, but the idea of a house started the discussions….Meanwhile, what was previous unaffordable in Mimico just a few months earlier was beginning to become accessible, so we approached Jonathan and asked him to be our agent.

There were four houses in total:

1. The “Starter” Home: Struthers, Mimico

The first home we liked was on Struthers (across the street from 147 in fact!). It was a bungalow with a decent master bedroom but a tiny second bedroom. The main 4-piece bathroom was in the basement but it was a luxurious space, with heated floors, a massaging/rain shower, and a jacuzzi tub. The backyard was amazing with a covered deck, massive mature trees, and a backyard “studio” that we could convert to a climbing gym. There was a parking pad for one car, with no possibility of extending the pad, and no legit street parking.

We saw the home on a Thursday evening, did the home inspection the following morning, then registered an offer that night. The selling agent was holding back offers until the following Tuesday, so we had a painful 4 days to wait. By Tuesday night, 7 other offers were registered. We figured no matter what happened, we’d benefit from the experience by knowing where we sit competitively. We knew our max price for that home based on its downfalls and flaws.

As it happened, we made it through two rounds of bids. After the third round, we had won. But, as the husband (the selling agents were a husband/wife team) was speaking to us about a clause for a potential early closing date, the wife grabbed him away without a word to us and disappeared. As it happens, the last group to be sent away had called the wife back and dropped more money on the table. After we sat around for a decent 10 minutes wondering what had just happened (and thinking we had won our house!), we learned it was again open to a fourth round of bids. Not impressed — and already a few hundred dollars over our max — we dropped another $500 and said we’d be waiting outside.

Twenty minutes later we were told we lost. Turns out, we had lost by $4k. Turns out, we’re also very happy we didn’t win that house.

2. The Perfect Location: Fifth Street, New Toronto

The next house was a semi-detached south of Lakeshore on Fifth Street. It had amazing charm with the original front wood door with glass pane and skeleton key (because there was a mud room addition with a proper door). The basement was mostly finished and there was a second floor with 3 bedrooms. The bedrooms were small but the master was big enough for a king sized bed. The upstairs bathroom was ugly and needed updating and the layout didn’t leave much in terms of options for a reno. Also, the kitchen was a real mess, with a long, skinny layout and a flat roof in desperate need for repair. But the location was a short 4 minute walk to the lakeshore (beautiful views and a little green space for dog walking).

This time we decided to bypass the bidding nonsense and offer our max price immediately. We were up against 2 other offers (one was out to lunch though). We went in about $30k over asking. The other couple went in $60k over asking.

End of story.

3. The Giant Split/Sunken Home, aka The “Homemade House”, Long Branch

This house both Jonathan and I missed (which is saying a lot!). Richard pointed it out and we added it to the list of visits one evening. By then, the evenings were getting very dark very early, making for difficult showings by the time Richard was off work. This house was a Power of Sale which meant it was being sold by the bank. As such, we believed we could put our offer in with conditions and worry about the home inspection later.

There was plenty of work to do in this house but it was absolutely livable for several years and the work needed in the main living spaces was mostly cosmetic and preference-based, while the major work was needed in the spaces we could live without for several years. With massive square footage despite it’s small appearance (5 bedrooms, 2 living rooms, 2 full baths, and the possibility of a rental unit), it was a house we could really grow into. Or so we thought…

We had yet to meet Jonathan’s main home inspection guy, Alex Welsh, because of his busy schedule. We still thank the stars that he was available for the inspection on this home.

So, we had won the bid, being against two other offers and each only $10k apart (another 2 other offers waiting in the wings had not registered in time). It was time for the inspection. Since the house was vacant, I could bring my camera and tape measure and spend the entire time imagining our new life in this new home while Alex did his thing.

From the get-go, Alex was uncovering major issues. The most notable was that the house was sitting a few feet too low (so the venting was buried and the back door opened directly at grade). What was claimed to be a one-time flood in the lower basement due to a sub-pump failure was in fact likely years of water damage. There were also issues with shoddy electrical work and plumbing. So this house sat in the bottom of a shallow bowl and was also set too low in the ground. Not a good combination for keeping a house dry!

After speaking with Dario, the expert, we decided not to ask for a price reduction (that the bank would likely deny), but to submit a mutual release and walk from this nightmare house.

What we learned: We adore Alex Welsh. And we gave mad props to our agent, Jonathan for using an inspector who would give us the truth and not be a ‘yes man’. Though Jonathan had already gained our trust through the process to date, this experience had brought it to a new level.

4. The Winner, 147 Royal York Road, Mimico

Perhaps it was meant to be, because as we left our first showing of that first house, on Struthers, we saw the cute little yellow brick home and commented how adorable it was. We searched high and low online to find the listing and when we finally did, we sadly sighed that it was, of course, out of our price range.

A few months later, it came up in our listing search, as the price had been reduced. Before the showings that night, Richard and I decided that no matter what, we’d sleep on any decision. Poker faces. That was our plan.

I might be forgetting the order, but I think we saw the backyard first (covered, screened patio, sauna, deck, and garage gym) then went inside. Standing in the kitchen Richard said, “Let’s move on this”. I was thrown. POKER FACE? Was he serious?

He was serious, and we did move. Jonathan called the agent and arranged an offer to be submitted later that night. We ran home (thankfully we both live at the same location and Jonathan has a home office), where we drafted the offer, grabbed some tea (and Richard scarfed down some dinner), and grabbed Charlie.

We were back in Mimico to submit the offer and we GOT THE HOUSE!

Despite there being a home inspection provided by the seller, we just needed Alex’s opinion so we conducted our own. Before even entering the house, Alex’s comments to me were, “well this is the complete opposite of the last one!” Indeed, the home is set atop a little hill meant just for us, with all water draining away. The rest of the home inspection went well and we were set with a closing date less than a month later (another plus of having an agent who is also your landlord: he’s very lenient with breaking our tenancy early and with little notice!).


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