So We Bought a House
We have picked up new activities in the past year as we learned to pass the time differently, including baking bread, watercolours, working from home, supporting learning from home, and like many, doing some house shopping. Yep.
Actually, one of us has wanted to move for quite some time now, but I was fairly resistant to the idea: I liked the size of our house and where it was; no backyard neighbour with a nice view into the woods, easy access to trails, and many conveniences were within walking or biking distance, supporting a one-car household — including bus stop, school, work, park, community centre, dentist, Starbucks, McDs, ice cream, pizza, church and PCRC, friends’ houses, and the grocery store. Also, I didn’t want to uproot my kids before the oldest started in French Immersion or in the middle of the school year. But, this past year, our kids were home (and have been for over a year now – how do working parents manage to homeschool their children effectively, get work done, and not burn out?), and after prayerfully considering it, I felt at peace to at least look. I reasoned that if were to move, this was the best year. In my mind, though, I was fully expecting to buy a place nearby and a house that someone had outgrown (like ours when we first bought).
Initially, we used the property assessment tool to check when it was sold last, square footage, and the house’s assessed value. j.w did a pretty nifty spreadsheet to start tracking the sold value against the assessed value, and it was pretty consistently in the 1.5x range. Looking at houses during the pandemic was a bit strange, as we had to see it one at a time and do a switcheroo with the kids waiting in the vehicle, but our realtor, Seth Sieunarine, and his business partner were great about it. The only house we made an offer on based on our (loose) budget and criteria, we were outbid by $25k (exactly at the price that Seth guessed) with 6 bids total, and that was before the formal offer dates. If I thought we were buying at a bad time, fast forward 3 months. It’s even more unbelievable now: houses going consistently over asking by far more than expected (e.g. a townhouse listed at a fairly reasonable $500k goes for $800k with 53 bids) with more and more buyers from the GTA; an average price for a detached home has jumped from 800k to 900k in a matter of one month. The listings that Seth sent over were either too far south, and/or they were new builds or in dense areas, which I was less interested in; I didn’t want to move from a neighbourhood where I could reach out and touch my neighbour from our windows to an area where it’s just row and row of houses with nothing much around them other than sidewalk trails.
And then, there was this one bizarre experience.
Seth sent over some plans for a new build that had just opened. Seeing that it was already in a fairly mature community, we made an appointment to check it out and talk to the builder/sellers at the sales centre. When it was our turn to walk in, I got this weird impression that the guy thought Seth was a purchaser too, maybe because it was just Seth and I since j.w was waiting in the car with the kids. Seth ended up telling him he was the realtor (a little part of me wonders maybe it’s because we weren’t white, or we look young?). Then the person just took us downstairs to the basement and said, “Oh, all of our lots with the model you’re interested in are sold out. Would you like to be added to the waiting list?” And then he didn’t even offer to let me tour the model home that we were currently in, you know, to see build quality and possibilities. Seth had to specifically ask when I went out to switch. What? We made a trip out for that – what was the point? They could’ve just called and told us (…unless we didn’t look like the buying demographic they were hoping for and demand was so high). Then weeks later, when we finally bought a place, they called us personally (instead of through our realtor) and said, “we have lots available!”
Buying a Home is Stressful
So we ended up buying a new build thanks to Seth (what? surprised me! but the layout was the best that I had “seen” up until that point, and it met my desire to have no backyard neighbours, close to trails, a quieter street (hopefully) and walking distance to some things)! The timing worked out well as we had the Christmas holidays to think over our purchase decision, look into some potential concerns, and figure out how to get the funds for the deposit on time.
Here’s what I’ve learned from this:
- It further confirmed that I don’t enjoy working with super aggressive or pushy people (not our realtor, thankfully), even if they’re looking out for us or working on our behalf. We appreciate insights or considerations that we may not have had thought about, recommendations on what makes sense, but when constant comments end up causing me to second-and-third guess our decisions, it feeds into my insecurities and makes me feel like we’re making a terrible life choice because it wasn’t what they would’ve done or we’re not following their advice. Aggressive confidence could be very useful though when it comes to negotiating and sales, and works well for some lawyers and realtors (maybe that’s why I’m so poor at negotiations and thinking on my feet!)!
- I tend to dive DEEP and ask a ton of questions when doing the research. Still, I’ve found that we tend to take people’s words at face value, so I didn’t really want to spend time questioning if there were actually real people that existed on the waitlist and how many, why other lots had less of a premium, or if other lots were available with the same model, etc. especially if we were mostly fine with the one presented. My father also tends to give people the benefit of the doubt to most people and in most situations; a good character trait almost to a fault, as he ends up being taken advantage of sometimes. Still, our realtor was patient and tried to find an answer to almost everything we threw at him (including trying to find out intel about the area and checking it out himself).
- You can only do up to 100 property assessment lookups in a calendar year
- You can only send up to $3k in an email transfer per day and up to $10k a week.
- It takes a few days to get money from one bank to another (through account transfers)
- Pay attention to the fine print. Things like noise or your house size may be smaller than initially advertised.
- The difference between a concrete plant and a cement plant. Thankful for our friends, the Millers, to accompany us and do some investigative research around that.
- What it means when a piece of land is zoned for high, medium, or low-rise buildings, in terms of how tall and massive it might be
- Not all new builds have a design centre or a consultant that come with them.
- The sheer number of grey hues and values of paint out there – and that each one has a different undertone (more warm, more cool, more griege, more green/blue, more taupe), and imagining what it might look like in a south-facing or darker vs. brighter space. Griege. I didn’t even know that portmanteau existed.
- If I thought picking one single shade of paint was a challenge, the exterior selection process was worse! (not to mention the person we made an appointment with didn’t even show up until we were leaving). At least someone helped me write down a list of addresses with houses that had choices that initially stood out; it felt like a scavenger hunt driving around KW.
- Seems that the same product of exterior siding can be under multiple brands. If I couldn’t find one under a company name, I just needed to look under a different name to find photo samples of the same thing online.
- I know that lighting makes a difference, but it sure changed how everything looked, interior and exterior. I couldn’t rely on photos – it just didn’t seem to capture the colours/tones accurately. The most evident was how exterior building materials like brick and stone look COMPLETELY different under indoor light in a small rectangle on the wall and against the other samples, even outside, than when on an actual house elsewhere in the city.
- Buying a house isn’t as stressful when I’m not going to live in it, but buying a home is definitely more stressful; it’s exponentially more when you have no visual reference point and pandemic restrictions means that you aren’t allowed to bring friends or a third opinion to the building vendors: no 3D rendering, no model home, no photos, tiny samples of material, and builder vendors are scattered so it’s hard to compare and see the big picture.
Thankfully, the cabinetry person, Rob DiMatteo was super patient with me, and even offered to show me the house next door that he was working on, so I could see what it looked like, and it made such a difference; April, the flooring person lent me samples which also helped with confirming choices with Rob. And, super thankful for Seth, that he was able to provide an extra opinion over instant messaging throughout the week (as he has more experience with interior design choices and knowing what complements well). You’d think that as a “creative designer”, I’d be in my zone, but it was definitely a greater challenge than pushing pixels on a screen (the knowledge of warm vs cool tones helped a bit, I suppose). It certainly caused me more anxiety than feeling like it was the fun part of this process!
Now, we wait…(until the next part of the process: buying appliances).