What It’s Like To House Hunt In Toronto

It’s December 2013: Newly engaged, armed with a realistic set of demands, good down payment, a real estate agent and help from our families.  We’re about to dip our toe into the Toronto real estate market. Bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, full of optimism, we’re convinced that we’ll buoyantly announce an impending house closing at Christmas.

It’s now January 2017. Nearly 2-years married, budget doubled, morale destroyed. Hundreds of houses seen, multiple offers signed, delivered and returned. Heartfelt letters written to sellers who couldn’t care less that we don’t plan to flip or knock down their house. That we’d like to fill it with laughing, playing children. That we’d like to care for it like they did.

The market is on fire. Federal, provincial and municipal political leaders make grandiose statements about helping the middle class and maintaining affordability, yet refuse to help cool the market. Banks warn about household debt levels, yet the overnight lending rates remain the same. The real estate board crows about how prices will only go up, fueling demand for the market that keeps its own jobs so very lucrative. We’re still looking, playing the part of wannabe buyers living a life of occasional tailspins, a continual game of what-if.

This is what it’s like to house hunt in Toronto in 2017.

Woodbridge house

Seasoned house hunters taking in patterned tile + blue bathtubs in Woodbridge

It’s all-consuming

You’ll feel like a broken record. By this point, everyone knows about our (fruitless) – house hunt. We’ve whined, I’ve tweeted, we’ve commiserated. We’ve become incredibly well-read in all things real estate. We debate non-stop. We speculate. We ruminate. We spend our evenings debating our options, wondering if we’re at a peak or wondering if we’ve completely missed the boat.

When you’re house hunting in a market like this one, it’s always in the back of your mind. People are afraid to ask, yet also curious to ask. You develop a secret tribe of fellow house-hunters/market-watchers: the friend with $150k socked away for an eventual down payment, the Twitter bud with the exact same budget and level of incredulity at the market, the pregnant co-worker who keeps getting outbid. You’ll quickly realize that no one else understands unless they’re in the market themselves.

Everyone has an opinion on your situation

Especially those who were lucky enough to buy before things got entirely out of control. Reduce your expectations, they’ll say. It’s just a starter home (at $1.3m plus the cost of extensive renovations). Get a condo / semi / townhouse / detached home in Timbuktu. You listen, you nod, you smile. You explain that you don’t really agree and have they seen what things are going for these days? Couple these opinions with the media’s constant droning about how millennials are so entitled (with our precarious work situations, impossible housing market and rock-bottom interest rates just begging for a spike) and you’ve got the perfect storm for an opinion hangover.

Glenaden House

Sunnylea – the house we lost on my dad’s birthday. 

You’re haunted by the ones that got away

Armour. Christine. Glenaden. Firglen. Kiloran.  These are the street names that haunt us. Each of these homes slipped away for one reason or another: the house we should have bid on last January, looked at again when it came back on the market (destroyed) the following January and ultimately let go of. The – nearly perfect – house we saw that listed a bit over budget but went for under because of the seller’s conditions. The house we bid on this summer, only to be outbid by 200k. The beautiful-on-the-outside home my husband still talks about. The house we bid on this winter, that managed to get 13 bids *in Woodbridge*. That we lost.

Hunting in this market feels like you’re always chasing the one that got away. We constantly wonder “what if” – what if we had upped our budget, been a little less picky, been a little faster. It’s hard to let it go: I sometimes find myself ruminating on the house tours in my “RIP Houses” bookmarks folder.

Your wants & needs are reduced to nothing

I joke that at this point we’d be happy with four walls and a driveway. Of course, that’s in jest, but our original search for a 3 or 4-bedroom family home close to our families and near transit seems like a distant past. Now, our search parameters include condos, townhouses, semis, detached in pockets everywhere from Bloor West Village to Woodbridge. You understand the demoralizing reality when friends bid on 18-ft lots with million dollar offers and yet still lose. The market is soaring and the only ones making out ahead are the flippers, the speculators and the boomers who are cashing in on their way to the retirement home.

Armour House

234 Armour Blvd. – the first one that got away

You become superstitious

After so many misses, I catch myself performing some internalized rituals. I wait for the feeling. I look for a sign that this is the house – that kitchen with the sweetly scalloped wood detailing, the shared interests gleaned from Googling the sellers, the ray of sunshine in the would-be-someday nursery. On offer day, we operate under a veil of secrecy. We add our anniversary date to the end of our offer – 060,615 – for good luck and on the off chance we’ll win the war by a few bucks. We try not to get excited. We don’t tell people what’s going on. We’ve yet to hide a lucky penny under the door mat, but maybe we should – the superstitions and sign-searching have yet to work.

You wonder if it’s all your fault. 

This is potentially the toughest part of the whole ordeal. We’ve been house hunting for years. I’ve had three jobs, we’ve gotten engaged and then married. We have a cat and are considering children. Suffice to say that our situation, our budget and what we’re willing to purchase has vastly changed over the past 4 years. But it’s impossible to push the thoughts from your head that continually nag, is this all your fault? What if we had just bought something and flipped it like everyone else? What if we had ‘settled’ as it seemed, three years ago. We’d certainly be in for a big payday now. What if we’d been more willing to up our budget at the start?

It’s a neverending loop of questions with no answer. And it’s hard not to internalize the results.

Bathurst Manor House

A red vinyl bar adds to the ambience in Bathurst Manor

You wish for a housing market crash

Hear me out on this one. A housing crash would bring with it a raft of other problems: job loss, home loss for some friends, overall crisis. But, for us and for other would-be home buyers sitting on down payments, it could also bring the opportunity to scoop up a home at a more reasonable price. Statistics show that even a moderate increase in interest rates would cause problems for existing homeowners. One study showed 1/4 of Canadian homeowners have less than $1,000 in the bank.   Many homeowners may not have enough saved up or enough equity in their homes to weather the storm. The thought of a correction is terrifying and tantalizing at the same time. [NOTE – because people seem unclear – I’m not wishing financial ruin on anyone. These stats simply highlight that many Torontonians are stretched too thin by this crazy market. In my opinion, a correction of some sort is inevitable.]

What now?

It feels like we’re back to square one. With inventory at an all-time low, interest rates still at rock-bottom and TREB insisting prices will continue to increase, it’s hard to see the light at the end of this tunnel. I’m at the point where I don’t believe we’ll get anything – even with our healthy down payment, salaries and support. And yet, we’re still looking.

As prices increase, it gets harder to justify what we’re seeing in our price range. Is it really worth it to bid on a house without parking or a backyard and only one bathroom that will ultimately go for $1.5m? Can we really bank on the market endlessly appreciating like people say it will?  Probably not. But if we don’t bite the bullet, will we ever get anything?

Our current strategy is to keep up with the areas we’re comfortable in and to focus on getting a house we’d be OK with getting stuck with. We’re not going to overextend ourselves, knowing a mat leave is probably in our (currently distant, but still impending) future and also acknowledging that neither of us is confident in the current market. And yes, we’re looking at fixer-uppers outside of prime areas (for those of you with all the opinions about what else we should give up to get a property). We’re resigned, we’re less hopeful, but we’re still looking.

One thing’s for certain: it’s no picnic to house hunt in Toronto and the surrounding areas. If you’re doing the same, welcome to the tribe of the weary and downtrodden.

If you’re house hunting in the city, I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments. As always, you can follow along on our adventures using #GTAHouseHunt on Twitter. 

 

 

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  • natalieivory

    Oh my goodness, I had no idea the house market in Toronto was in such a state! I’m so sorry to hear what you’ve been through, that sounds so trying. I have my fingers crossed for you that you’ll find something this year. Definitely keep us updated on how it’s going!

  • spiffykerms

    I haven’t announced it anywhere – but we too are in the market now, and have been for quite some time. It’s starting to become draining. We might just halt it all together until the Fall (again), due to us not being able to be so competitive with these investors, or people slapping down the cash. You’re right! It’s insane to see things being bid at 200k over asking. I can’t believe my eyes some days. AND YES, to everyone has an opinion on what we should be doing – I’m tired of biting my tongue at them lol..

    I wish you guys the best of luck.

  • jackmise

    Ugh, what a nightmare! And I’m not even living it firsthand. I still live at home because I honestly can’t imagine how I will EVER be able to own a home. It’s actually so ridiculous! I just DON’T GET IT. How far from the city are you willing to look?

    Jackie
    <a href=”http://somethingaboutthat.com” rel=”nofollow”>Something About That</a>

  • natalieivory It’s definitely wild! We’re at the incredulous point – not even upset anymore, just bitter and tired. Thanks for the good vibes 🙂 fingers crossed something happens this year.

  • spiffykerms Ugh, I do NOT envy you. The market over there is worse than here! It’s hard to be competitive when it seems like the sky is the limit for some people. Lisa from This Beautiful Day commented on my Facebook post about someone in Portland who had a “+10k to infinity” clause on their offer. As in, keep going 10k over the highest bidder until someone backs down. 

    Good luck to you guys…keep me posted on how it’s going.

  • jackmise Living at home is probably step #1! But seriously – both Mike and I lived at home until we got married. So we’ve only been paying for housing for 2 years now, which is definitely helpful in putting away a large enough down payment to compete.

    So far we’ve gone as far as Vaughan – I think based on where my work currently is and where future opportunities could be, that’s probably our limit.

  • Oh, good lord. I’ve been following your GTA House Hunt on Twitter, and I gotta say – every single tweet is somehow more horrifying than the last. 

    I knew that the market in the GTA was crazy, but you’re totally right: I don’t think it’s something you can fully comprehend until you’re actually living it. One bedroom condos in Toronto are more expensive than five-bedroom houses here in Edmonton, which thoroughly quashes my dreams of ever actually moving out east. 

    Sending you hugs for the duration of your never-ending real estate torture sesh <3

  • It is absolutely insane in this market, though why not just consider renting? The rental market has also gotten tight over the last year or two, but the price:rent is still insanely in favour of renting, and while there are never very many 3-bedroom houses near transit available for rent, with the buying market so crazy now it’s actually easier to find a rental. 

    Here’s a rent-vs-buy calculator to plug your numbers into: http://www.holypotato.net/?p=1073

  • natalieivory

    LABP I accidentally signed up to receive notice every time someone commented, and I’m happy that I did because it meant I could see your comment. I hope you’ve made the same mistake so that you can see this reply.

    First of all, I’m going to start off by saying that Stephanie is one of the sweetest and most sincere people I know. I’m assuming you don’t know her personally, or you would not have attacked her in the way you did. 

    The general rule of blogging is that if you get mean/hateful comments, you should either ignore them completely, or reply with kindness, no matter how false or forced it may be. I’m afraid that I’m unable to do that here, as your comment has kept me up and I don’t feel like I can just let it slide by.

    You took exception to one particular paragraph in this post, where Stephanie mentions wishing for a market crash. I’m just going to say it plain and simple: I don’t believe she is actually wishing for a market crash. As you yourself mentioned, it was not a serious thought and I think instead she’s trying to explain the point of desperation she has reached in her house hunting experience. 

    As I said, Stephanie is a great person. I doubt she’s really implying that she wants such devastation to happen. We’ve all had some not great thoughts cross our minds when we’re in a desperate place. Stephanie decided to share hers on her personal blog. You can’t fault her for that. But it’s not like she’s marching down the streets with a sign in hand, yelling about the joys of a market crash.

    I feel bad for you that you have such hate and bitterness in your heart to say the things that you have.

    To end this, I really think you owe Stephanie an apology. You’ve said some really horrible things that she did not deserve.

  • Rae // theNotice Right? The situation here is bananas. It’s interesting, though, and we’re learning a ton. I do think we’ll reach a breaking point, though. 

    Thanks for the good vibes <3

  • HolyPotato We do rent! That’s our current plan and what we’ve continued to do. What started off as us thinking we’d spend a year here – while we purchased something and reno’d it in time for our year to come up – has become a longer-term plan. We’d be less antsy if our landlord hadn’t already tried to nudge us out last year to sell!

  • LABP Hi there, thanks for stopping in.

    To clarify – no one wants the financial ruin and social disaster that comes with an outright market crash. I’m simply highlighting that if you watch things balloon out of control like they have here, your natural desire is for them to come back down. It’s, as I said, ‘terrifying and tantalizing’. 

    Sharing that many homeowners don’t have even $1,000 in the bank is meant to highlight that people are stretched too thin in this current market and it’s dangerous. We’ve allowed the debt to income ratio to get too high. Some people are carrying mortgages much heftier than they could support in the event of a rate increase. Which, again, is inevitable in my POV. 

    Do I think the market will pop soon? Yes. I’m sure I’m not alone in that – it’s been forecasted by people much smarter than me for years now.

  • caseyinto

    I own a condo, which is great because their market is also going a bit bonkers. My fiance and I have poked our noses into houses, quite happy to look outside of the city, and we cant afford anything without taking on a buttload of debt! Not to mention if we lived outside the city we’d need a 2nd car, which is another added expense.

    It’s insanity!

  • caseyinto The condo market is also so tight right now. I think ultimately whatever you purchase needs to be something you can live with – and afford if things go south. The amount of debt needed to purchase in Toronto and the GTA right now is really scary. This isn’t our parents’ generation where people might have 50k down and a mortgage of a couple hundred grand. I’m not sure how people will ever pay off a mortgage of $600,000 +++

  • robcaranci71

    LABP I’m very sorry that I have to even ask this but how high is your debt
    that you only pulled that from the entire post? Its unfortunate that you
    made a personal attack (and a disgusting one at that) on someone because of your situation. I don’t
    think anyone with half a brain could take a personal feeling like
    Stephanie’s (Which many of us agree we feel the same way at times) and make it
    out to be the entire point of the article. Its an absolute shame and
    maybe if you are in over your head in debt should look in the mirror.
    Personal Financial responsibility or in your case the lack there of is
    the reason you are so upset. You obviously were not around for the crash
    of the early 90’s but let me tell you that you might want to read up on
    it. Many things are mirroring that sad time, People with less than
    appropriate incomes were placing 3 Down payments on any house they could
    find because the market would never go down, it did and they all lost
    their shirts. Housing market is a cycle, If you are that strongly
    offended by that section in the post it is because you know you’re in
    over your head in debt and want to place the blame on anyone but
    yourself.

  • LABP Oh for God’s sakes… calm down, would you?

    I’ve known Stephanie for a number of years and she’s one the nicest people I know.

    Take your outrage elsewhere.

  • robcaranci71 LABP Hi Rob, not sure personal attacks are the way to go here. 

    I do agree – we forget housing is a cycle. Especially when we are in the middle of it all. I’m also concerned that it’s so easy to pop a few down payments down and find a renter. In fact, I’ve read some pieces about how it’s a viable investing opportunity provided you find a renter. 

    Again… not in the practice of counting other people’s money. But thanks for your comment.

  • jkozuch LABP My pet rock and I thank you for your kind comments, Justin.

  • danny devito

    This graph is an excellent example of the state of real estate in the GTA.

    http://www.greaterfool.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/TORONTO-BOOM-BUST.jpg?x64811

    Actually, greaterfool.ca in general is on point for real estate analyses.

  • caseyinto

    stephaniefusco exactly! to buy a house (or even a townhouse) we would need to double or triple our current mortgage. We are really focused on retirement savings and I dont know how we would save anything if we had so much debt

  • danny devito Thanks for this link! I haven’t read this site before, but already loving what I see.

  • Boopityboop

    LABP Housing market correction is incoming. Sorry that you’re clearly projecting your fear and anger for when this comes. But don’t lash out at people who can’t find decent homes in the current market. Especially because if you’re a current homeowner–and it sounds like you are–you’re not going to get much sympathy for yelling that the market should remain exactly as is. Because the market has gone bananas. It’s crazy unaffordable, with limited supply, and prices that are very out of whack with incomes in the area. It’s selfish for you to read a couple of lines on this blog and to claim that Stephanie is a repulsive human for hoping that the market corrects and normalizes. 
    Also guess what? It is perfectly okay for misfortune to occur to people who bought into
    this crazy market carrying debt they can’t afford to pay off, and who
    didn’t even bother to plan for a small increase in interest rates (which
    is coming). Sorrynotsorry. You’re the “self-entitled, obnoxious brat” for hoping that the market continues its unhealthy climb, allowing for speculators, flippers, and real estate agents to continue reaping profits, instead of hoping for the much-needed market correction that will restore some affordability to house prices and rents for everyone who needs housing in Toronto.

    We’re at the top of a parabola, and we’re about to start coming down, so maybe take your misplaced outrage and start planning for the inevitable future….

  • DanDuran1

    stephaniefusco caseyinto ” how people will ever pay off a mortgage of $600,000 +++ ” well, you have to trust ‘the system” i.e. the ever eroding value of money.  20 yrs ago when I took a 200k mortgage, friends who played it safe, thought I was crazy. A good wage at the time was 50k (teacher, senior IT professional, engineer).. now it’s double that, but with the lower interest rates you can take 600kfor about the same % of monthly pay and with a good downpayment can buy a town home. Sure, 20 yrs ago someboby (like me) with similar social position could afford a detached, but you can count on this: in central areas of big cities, what you can get for similar expense (adjusted for inflation)  will be less and less because of demographic pressures.