Real estate is emotional. Why? Because a home is more than walls and a roof, it is a container for our lives, our families, our communities. As part of an occasional series, we’ve asked local writers to share their real estate and housing stories.
It was the spring of 2021 and homes in our East York area were selling so fast it was like the city was having a huge property flash sale. Only instead of discounts and promotions, houses were gobbled up by the hundreds of thousands for asking in record time.
We were hoping ours would be one of them.
We purchased our two-story barn-style detached house with a generous backyard in 2007. It was small but perfectly suited our small family of three (and a dog), that is, until COVID-19 hit. In the early days of the pandemic, with no family in town, I felt isolated. And with all of us working and learning from home, our cozy space now felt cramped. At that time, the return of the world to normal seemed like a pipe dream and I thought that if this was my new reality, I wanted to be closer to my parents and siblings.
The moment seemed right. We could take advantage of the crazy real estate market and move to my hometown of Winnipeg where we could buy a house with the proceeds from the sale of our Toronto home and be mortgage free.
It seemed like a no-brainer. Family (check), financial security (check, check).
We had spent the winter and early spring renovating our house. — complete with new bathroom, kitchen, upstairs and a fresh coat of paint. We listed the house for $999,900 on April 21, 2021, hoping to generate interest and perhaps spur a bidding war or bully bid, a trend our realtor was seeing in the market.
We thought it would be an easy sell: with the pandemic raging, there were plenty of people looking to escape their inner-city skyboxes for more space in the city. We knew who our buyer would be: a young couple, a single professional, or an empty nester.
As soon as the for sale sign was put up, potential buyers started pouring in, but it wasn’t the stampede we expected. Although my house was small and cute, there were obvious issues beyond our control, namely its size and shared parking.
When sale night came, we had no deals. We relisted the property for $1,125,000, thinking buyers were fed up with bidding wars and a higher price would make us more transparent about our expectations. Almost two weeks later, my husband and I had “the talk.” He wanted to take it off the market and stay. I convinced him to keep it for just one more weekend.
The next day, we finally had an offer for $1,040,000, much lower than our list price. After some negotiations, we ended up selling for $1,075,000, which still made us a huge profit since we had bought the property for $375,000. After renovations, remaining mortgage, realtor, and attorney fees, we walked away with about $650,000. That meant we could comfortably buy a house in Winnipeg for $500,000 and have a financial cushion for future renovations and savings.
Now this is where the story takes a turn.
I boarded the plane to Winnipeg on May 27 to find our dream home in Prairies, envisioning a large backyard with a pool, perfect for all those family barbecues. I moved in with my mom and spent a few weeks searching and found that the market was plagued with many of the same problems as in Toronto: record low interest rates, low inventory, and high competition.
The difference was price—homes ranged from smaller $300,000 bungalows to more modern $600,000 homes—and space. I remember walking into one that kept going. I could see the real estate agent’s eyes light up after he showed me room after room, thinking that the sprawl would surely surprise me. We went out to the backyard, and it was huge, with an above ground pool and hot tub. This was what he thought he wanted: a private space to entertain, play and relax. But when I looked out into the big space, all I could see was… work. Besides, what would we do with all this space? We were a family of three and my son would eventually move out. None of it felt right.
I started to think, maybe the saying is true. Maybe you really can’t go home. That’s when I called my husband and said something to him that I was sure would make him lose his mind. “Hey, what if we stay in Toronto?”
After a minor stroke, he agreed to start looking in Toronto.
Staying meant reevaluating our budget and our priorities. It would mean not only saying goodbye to our mortgage-free dreams, but also taking on an even bigger mortgage than we owed on the house we just sold.
We decided on a budget of $1.2 million and went to buy a house that met our needs: it had to be relatively close to our east side, have parking, and be bigger than the house we had before.
After weeks of searching, my husband found a row house (anything detached was now out of reach) in the pocket of Coxwell-Greenwood, just southwest of where we had sold our house. It was two minutes from our son’s high school and steps from restaurants, cafes, and shops on Danforth.
The house was old and dated, but had good structure and potential, including a separate basement entrance, perfect for future rental income.
It had been on the market for a week and had a failed bid night when sellers rejected bids that were submitted. It was listed for $1,129,000 and we offered $1,180,000, but they responded with a number outside of our range, $1,235,000, so we backed out.
Three weeks later, after losing out in a handful of bidding wars in Toronto, the townhouse was still on the market and sellers were eager. We decided to submit a second, lower offer, and ultimately settled on a purchase price of $1,175,000, $5,000 less than our original offer three weeks earlier.
While I had seen the house via FaceTime calls from Winnipeg, I hadn’t actually entered our new home until two weeks after we gained possession. It was only a five-minute drive from our old place, but it felt like a world away: the neighborhood had no space between houses, and the house was much darker than my open, airy barn.
Still, the kitchen was big and beautiful, the front porch overlooked a tree-lined street that smelled of fresh flowers, and we now had a bonus bedroom (perfect for visiting family and friends). I still felt at peace letting go of my old home. It was time to move on, just a few blocks west instead of a province.
So what did this experience teach me? Sometimes the grass isn’t always greener. I had visions of a big house with a big yard and a pool, but when I was faced with that reality, it wasn’t really me.
The truth is that it is important to love where you live. At least it is for me. Could I have been happy in Winnipeg? Of course. I could best describe it as a sleepy safe option and truth be told, I wasn’t ready to slow down. I knew that if we moved to Winnipeg, I would always wonder what it would have been like if we had stayed in Toronto.
While no one can tell what the future will bring, as I sit on my front porch with my dog, Stanley, gently snoring by my side, because I am now happy exactly where I am.
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