Often described as the Annex of tomorrow, Dufferin Grove is perhaps the most community-driven neighborhood in Toronto.  The heart of the nabe is Dufferin Grove Park, a leafy 14-acre oasis featuring a communal outdoor oven where Terroni-quality pizzas are lovingly prepared for neighborhood potluck suppers while Gen Y-ers update their Facebook status from grassy knolls, connected to the net via park-wide Wi-Fi.

The famous wood oven at Duffy Grove Park. I'll have a margherita pizza with extra basil please.

The park also features a year-round farmers’ market, live music in the summer and puppets on ice in the winter, open campfires, an off leash dog zone and wait for it… an upcoming composting bio-toilet!  It’s like an all-inclusive resort over there.  I know where I’m headed for my next vacation!  The best part is that all of these resources are available due to the initiative and organization of a very hard-working neighborhood collective, the Friends of Dufferin Grove Park.

Vendors flog their wares at the immensely popular farmer's market. Photo by Funkaoshi.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire... Photo by Friends of Dufferin Grove Park.

Located just a hop, skip and a jump from this little slice of heaven is my House Crush of the week.  Listed at $789,000, this detached three bedroom, two bathroom house was completely renovated in 2004 with a three storey addition.

While many houses are described as “rare opportunities” by listing agents, this one actually is.  The location within the ‘hood is superb – one block south of the park and one block north of College Street.  You’re close enough to enjoy all the revelry of Little Italy without having to deal with drunken suburbanites making out on your lawn.  Being near the West End Y is another great perk… who doesn’t like shooting hoops with the lead singer of Sloan?  While many neighborhoods have experienced a downturn in bidding wars over the past few weeks, the lack of substantial renovated homes in prime Dufferin Grove resulted in a $91,500 premium for this casa, with a final selling price of $880,500 (112% of list).

Time to go inside!

The lovely open staircase brings a little grandeur to the space. I can totally visualize big entrances on the first day of school and prom night. Or it could be a perfect setting for an impromptu family concert performance a la the Cosby Show!

To re-visit this magical TV moment, click here.  A definite contender for my favourite Cosby episode, second only to the one where Denise sews a lacklustre imitation of a Gordon Gartrelle shirt for Theo or the one where everyone conspires against Theo to transform the family home into the “Real World Apartments”.  Genius!

The dining space is much larger than the living space and I'd consider reversing the two rooms if I lived here. I know - controversy!

See what I mean? This cosy living space, currently being used as a home office, would make for a wonderful dining space, especially with the French doors leading to the front porch. Cue Alabama accent - "Why I do believe tiz a mighty wonnerful evening for a pitcher o' lemonade". Can't you just see yourself throwing those doors open during a dinner party on a hot summer's eve?

Not the most exciting kitchen of all time but a light, airy space perfect for family gatherings. I can visualize some good home cookin' happening in here while the kids noodle their math homework, or whatever the kids of the future study, at a nice rustic table.

A large, sunny room with a partial en-suite (meaning there are two doors, great for evading your assailant during sibling arguments). Gotcha - oh no you don't!

Which child do you love more? Think you love them both the same? Impossible when someone gets to occupy this perfect bedroom! The new owners may want to consider making this their master as the original charm of the stained glass window and fireplace make for a wonderfully cosy nest.

"Now honey, if we get separated in the bathroom just find a policeman and ask for help or meet Mommy next the bathtub". Maybe I'm too accustomed to the small bathrooms of old houses but I found this one huge! Great for families though.

Kick back, slip into your Lululemons and relax.

Here's where things get a little trippy. This is not the basement bathroom you'd expect but why not go for some colourful tiles in a completely unexpected palette? At first I didn't know what to make of this scheme as it's so the opposite of the crisp white bathrooms we're used to seeing but... that rainbow shower really grows on you over time. I'd love to take a shower in there and see the tiles through squinted eyes and the streams of water. Remind me to bring a bathing suit to open houses in the future.

The Deets:

College/Dufferin, Detached, 2-Storey, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms

List: $789,00

Sold: $880,500 (112% of list, May 2010)

Taxes: $3,667 (a steal for a detached home on this lot size!)

Lot: 22 x 13o Feet

Parking: 2 spaces

Remarks For Clients: **Stunning Detached 3+1 Bdrm Home In Prime Dufferin Grove. Gut Reno’d & Expanded In ’04 (Incl A 3 Level Addition)W/ Top Quality Materials & Workmanship. Spacious Eat-In Kit, Elegant Mstr Bdrm W/ Walk-In Closet & Luxurious ‘Spa’ Bthrm, Gorgeous, Full Height Family/Media Rm In Bsmt, Beautifully Crafted Built-Ins, Panelling, & Custom Millwork Throughout**Steps To The Park & Restaurants/Shops On College**An Inspiring, Unique Home Not To Be Missed!

For this week’s House Crush, I travelled to one of my favourite neighborhoods, Roncesvalles Village.  This week’s Crush is a stylishly renovated abode in the sought-after Fern Avenue PS school district.

Listed at a very reasonable $679,000, this 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom detached red brick home has been featured in Design Lines Magazine and on HGTV.  A star is born!  In addition to a stunning interior, the house features 3 car parking, a large lot for the area (20×118), and third floor attic space begging to be renovated into a master retreat.

The major downside is being the first house in from Roncesvalles Avenue but this is reflected in the list price. Given the quality of the house and the location within the Village, I don’t think it’s a huge compromise.

I’m going to take you on the full monty tour now as I heart the decor choices.  I know what you’re thinking, the tulip table and Nelson bubble lamp don’t come with the place.  Yes, this house is beautifully presented but many of the design features like the snowy white Caesarstone kitchen counters, stained glass windows, light hardwood floors downstairs and painstakingly painted floorboards upstairs do stay when the cool stuff gets packed up.  Let’s take a peek!

Is it just me or is this the exact same vintage teak sofa that Catherine Keener buys in Please Give? Everything is eerily coming full circle for me this week! I love how the owners have restored the fireplace... so fresh and charming.

This really should have been staged as a formal dining space but a Nelson bubble lamp makes me forgive pretty much anything. You're getting verrry sleepy... focus on the bubble lamp and count to ten backwards...

The kitchen is small but it has an eat-in area and is open to the rest of the living space. Classic white subway tiles, soon you will be mine. All mine.

White painted floorboards bring a light, airy charm to the master bedroom. Design brownie points for the books organized by colour. I'm teaching my 2 year old her colours now... soon all my books will be colour coded too! No, you can't have dinner until YOU'RE DONE.

What a fun, light-hearted kids bedroom in a totally unexpected colour scheme. I especially love the art. Hey, I recognize you, graphic black and white kilim from Ikea... why are you no longer available?

Why is this punchy kelly green only reserved for St. Patty's Day parties? Such a lovely colour for a nursery, especially with all the white.

As I mentioned in Seize the May, the market is softening in many pockets of the city.  Fresh on the heels of Housefly’s post, the Globe and Mail reported on the same trend in today’s Real Estate section (A Sharp Shift in the Market).  In stark contrast to my Roncy House Crush that sold six weeks ago for $131,500 over asking, this week’s house sold for $720,000, or $41,000 over asking (106% of list).  A great buy me-thinks!

The Deets:

Roncesvalles/Fern, Detached, 2-Storey, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms

List:  $679,000

Sold:  $720,000 (106% of list, May 2010)

Taxes: $3,028

Lot: 20 x 118 Feet

Parking: 3 spaces

Remarks For Clients: Prime Roncesvalles Village 3 Bdrm Detached! Hip Reno W/Scandinavian Flare & Original Features Of Century Home *Coved Ceilings,French Doors,Stained Glass *Quartz Counters In Kitchen,Fisher And Paykel & Bosch Apps *Main Flr Laundry *Family-Friendly Mud Room *2 Updated Baths, Totally Rewired,New Boiler(09) *Fullsize 3rd Flr.Unfinished Attic Space *3 Car Parking *Steps To Everything Roncey Has To Offer! Featured In Design Lines Magazine & On Hgtv.

For more pictures, check out the virtual tour.

Film, newspapers, and now radio!  Housefly is hitting you with every medium this week.  CBC’s Metro Morning aired two interesting interviews about the Toronto real estate market earlier this week that you might enjoy.

Radio gaga, what's new? Photo by Mark Sebastian.

The first interview follows house hunters desperately trying to land a house with a modest budget.  Their target neighborhood is west of Dufferin and north of Bloor, and their budget is low but unspecified.  There’s a lot of talk around “that number”, but they don’t reveal it for some reason which limits the conversation a little.

The second interview is with Toronto realtor John Pasalis, who is often featured in the Globe and Mail.  He always has interesting insight into the market but I’m not totally sold on his advice to focus on house over location.

I actually wrote to him during one of his live Q&A sessions at the Globe & Mail last year and told him about how we were having trouble finding a house in the Beach or Riverdale and what would he recommend?  Like he mentions in the CBC interview, his advice to clients is always to move their search area to a different neighborhood.  He advised us to check out hoods like Pape/Cosburn (huh? where?).  While this may seem like helpful advice given the size of our city and quality of many neighborhoods, I think it is a classic sales tactic. Rather than wait for a house in the neighborhood the client really wants, you can take them to another part of town and make a sale now.  Or if the client can’t afford a house in their chosen neighborhood, sell them on a different part of town so they don’t make the decision to not buy a house at this time.  I think Pasalis is very smart and insightful but at the end of the day, he’s a salesperson so that skews his advice.

Let’s put Marshall McLuhan to the test today and see if you find the radio show more impactful than TV or the net!

Have you ever bought something only to feel the red-faced burn of regret as soon as you walk out of the store?  Have you even tried to rush back in to fight the “No Returns” policy, waving your receipt, begging the Mean Girl behind the counter to make an exception?  Ebay has built an international empire on the buyer’s remorse (and possibly shoplifting habits) of our great species so I’m guessing the answer to the above is Yes!

Big Decisions – meet your twin separated at birth – Regrets.  One of my favourite Canadian TV series, the delightful Being Erica on CBC, is all about a woman who travels back in time to re-live regrets from her past.  Erica is a renter so unfortunately we haven’t seen a show about home buyer’s remorse yet but wouldn’t that be a fun episode?

Erica through the years! Didn't you love the episode where Erica goes back in time to summer camp and performs an air band of "Pump up the Jam"? Remember air bands?! Our high school teachers did a really risque version of Meatloaf's "I Would Do Anything for Love (but I just won't do that)" with a real motorcycle in the cafeteria! If only cell phone cameras existed then!

Buying a house is the biggest purchase you’ll ever make and unless you’re working with an unlimited budget, there will always be some compromise.  However, settling for a house that lacks some of your desired features, a fact of life for Toronto buyers, often causes some post-purchase doubts.

Due to the incredibly fast-paced nature of our market, decisions have to be made very quickly and there often isn’t much time to ponder your choice.  It’s only natural to experience some doubts once the euphoria of winning the bidding war has worn off.  The questions often start creeping in the next morning.  What if a better house comes on the market next week?  Should I have waited?  Did I pay too much?  What if my I lose my job and can’t afford my mortgage? Will I be happy living a 15 minute walk from the subway line rather than being able to shuffle over in my flip flops?  Can I exist in a home with only one toilet?  Will this lead to the end of romance in my relationship?  And so on.

Buyer’s remorse is caused by the psychological condition of cognitive dissonance, which is stress resulting from two contradictory ideas being held in the brain at the same time.  The desire to have purchasing power and infinite possibilities conflicts with the reality of a sudden loss of power and no other possibilities.

Let me explain.  When you buy a house there is a very swift change in psychological state from a positive pre-buy state of mind to a negative post-purchase state of mind.  Before you buy a house, the world is your oyster – you have many potential houses to choose from which brings a sense of power and agency.  You can go to an open house and reject a place just because it smells like Heinz baked beans. You’ve got a healthy budget to burn through and your purchasing power provides a level of control over your real estate agent, the marketplace and the sellers.  It’s all about YOU.  Even in a hot seller’s market like ours, it’s sellers not buyers who are most vulnerable.  After all, buyers can always walk away and move on to another property.

Once you do decide to make an offer (and in our market they’re usually unconditional), you’ll probably feel an overwhelming rush of excitement.  However, you’ll very quickly be hit with the sad reality that all your options have disappeared.  Not only do you have to live with your decision, you’re living IN your decision.  Goodbye power, goodbye choices.

Is it possible to have buyer's remorse on someone else's behalf? If so, I'm really regretting Heidi's plastic surgery right about now. Don't get me started on Spencer's $500,000 crystal collection.

With all these conflicting emotions swirling around, there are a few things that can take you further down the path of buyer’s remorse.  Continuing to surf MLS is dangerous.  Be strong!  Sometimes if you keep looking at houses, it can make you feel like you bet on the wrong horse. “Oh, if I knew THAT house was coming onto the market I never would have bought the one I did!”

Discussing your purchase with parents and involving them in the process can also be very dangerous.  Proceed with caution here.  Usually parents are out of touch with current Toronto prices, especially when they live in the suburbs or another part of the country.  My friend’s parents live in the Prairies and they were completely floored that she spent over 600k on a rowhouse in Trinity Bellwoods and couldn’t get over the fact that it is… attached (???)…on BOTH sides???

Back off, Mom and Dad.

Friends can be equally problematic if they have been out of the market for a long time.  The last thing you want to hear is their comments about how they bought a similar house for 200k less only a few years ago and people getting into the market today are “crazy”.

Don't call me, I'll call you.

Buyer’s remorse tends to ramp up from a normal level to something more serious when the house you end up buying is very different from the house you set out to buy.  This is where true panic and overwhelming anxiety can set in.   When we bought House Rebound, the feeling of remorse was so extreme that I felt physically ill.  It was way over budget, located in a neighbourhood we didn’t know at all and was far away from my family, and it was a major renovation project when we set out to find a house that didn’t require any work.  I really loved the architectural features of the house and I still think it would have been a great investment.  It was just completely wrong for us.  During the bidding process I was at home with our baby and my husband was with our real estate agent at the house.  I pleaded with him to pull out but he was in the thick of the negotiations when his cell ran out of batteries.  Nooooo!  When I found out later in the night that we had bought the house, my heart sank.

In the light of day, I felt confused about whether I was just having run of the mill regrets or I’d just made the biggest mistake of my life.  My fears were confirmed the next day when we got a far worse home inspection report than we were anticipating.  I feel so lucky that we had an inspection clause and could actually get out of the sale.

Unfortunately, like the flu, there isn’t much you can do to stop serious buyer’s remorse once it’s started.  You basically have to get out of the deal if at all possible.  With the common cold version, it usually dies down with time and is more related to the stress of the buying process rather than the actual house.

The best way to prevent buyer’s remorse is to stop it before it happens.  Create a list of must haves and nice to haves and try to stick to your must haves.  If your house meets most of your major criteria, like general location and number of bedrooms, you won’t find yourself facing a crippling case of buyer’s remorse.  My House Rebound nightmare would never have happened if had I slowed down and remembered what I was really looking for in a house.  Take your time and do your research.

Have you experienced buyer’s remorse?  If so, what advice would you share?

Yesterday, the front page of the Globe and Mail warned that Canada’s real estate market is approaching bubble territory.  One thing I noticed in the photo accompanying the article is the French “For Sale” signs, indicating that Montreal is also experiencing a red hot market.

While the article is certainly convincing, I find generalizations of the Canadian real estate market difficult to swallow.  Real estate is always influenced by national factors like cheap credit, loose government policy around lending, and the economy in general.  But regional differences in real estate markets make it impossible to trumpet predictions that will affect every city and hamlet alike.

My parents tried unsuccessfully to sell their five year old home in Oshawa in Spring 2008, while bidding wars were commonplace downtown.  Every time I drive through their area I see more “For Sale” than “Sold” signs.  Montreal had been experiencing a much worse market downturn than Toronto and has started to recover on a completely different schedule.  The bidding war trend we’re seeing in Toronto, even for condos, isn’t playing out the same way in Vancouver.  A friend of mine just sold an authentic loft in a very happening neighborhood in Vancouver for below asking, and this property likely would have seen multiples in the 416 area code.

I may sound like I work for CBC radio here, but I would love to see more regional representation in these articles.  Of course the national picture is important, but how does that translate to urban cities, suburban towns and rural areas of the country?  With the US bubble, it seemed like it impacted everyone from rural Maryland (thank you Real Estate Intevention) to LA (thank you Million Dollar Listing).  Are there multiple offers happening in Fredericton right now? Even a few examples to give us a flavour of how the  theoretical Bubble is impacting other parts of the country would help paint a more convincing picture.

What are housing prices like on Baffin Island these days?

For more on Toronto’s housing bubble please see:

Housing bubbles 2.0 and more

To bubble or not to bubble?

For the BEST rendition I’ve heard of Oh Canada in a looong time, check out:

Classified at the 2010 Juno Awards

For this week’s House Crush, I travelled to the wilds of Bloor West Village.

Cute as a button. The Reese Witherspoon of houses.

This detached charmer is located on Ellis Park Avenue, one of the most beautiful streets in the area.  The houses on this street back on to High Park, and it’s a quick jaunt to Grenadier Pond, a favourite ice skating spot in winter.

Pondering life's big questions at Grenadier Pond. Photo by Mute

This house has original charm in spades and the layout is pretty typical of three bedroom Bloor West Village homes.  What makes this casa extra appealing for families is the removal of the wall separating the dining room from kitchen, and renovated kitchen with high-end neutral finishes.

The 150 ft deep lot is more than generous and provides enough room for family frolick and a detached 2 car garage.  You could also do a mean workout on that DIY StairMaster in the back yard.

The only downside is that the living room is rather skinny at 12 ft wide.  However, this is pretty standard for old houses and since there is a foyer and hallway, it feels fairly spacious.

The final selling price of this house has not been released yet but I do know there were seven registered offers as of 2pm on bidding war day.  I’m sure a few other peeps crawled out of the woodwork at the last minute too.  Apparently it went “well over asking”.

Update:  The house sold for $860,000, $111,000 over asking.

The deets:

Bloor/Runnymede, Detached, 2-Storey, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms

List:  $749,000

Sold:  $860,000 (115% of list, April 2010)

Taxes: $ 4,286.73

Lot: 31.4 x 151 Feet

Parking: Detached double garage

Remarks For Clients: Absolutely Stunning Renovated Home On Desirable Ellis Park & W/I Walking Distance Of Schools, Parks & Subway. Gorgeous Curb Appeal. Beautiful Modern Renovations + Original Charm & Detailing. Spectacular High-End Downsview Kitchen W/ Granite, Heated Floors & Breakfast Bar. Mudroom Addition Leads To Stunning Tiered Yard. 3 Beautiful Bedrooms Including Large S-Facing Master. 2 Gorgeous Reno’d Baths & Professionally Finished Ll. Detached Garage W/ 2 Car Parking.

In keeping with the spirit of all things West, my house crush of the week is a divine semi-detached on Galley Avenue, a prime street in Roncesvalles Village. 

This pile of bricks listed for $668,500 last week, quite a pretty penny for a mid-sized semi-detached east of Roncy Ave.  If you’d like to experience the Open House from the comfort of your own desk, take a spin through the agent’s photos…she captured everything from the front door key hole to cat’s-eye-view shots of the floors.  Very detailed but you know me, I’m a fan of the OTT approach. 

Located in the catchment area of top-notch elementary school Fern Avenue Jr, this house is a good mix of modern renovation and original character.  The kitchen and bathrooms are updated in whites, beiges, and robin’s egg blues and feel neutral without being boring.  The renovation seems to be decent quality and doesn’t reek of Home Depot.  The kitchen cabinetry doesn’t look custom and the counters aren’t stone, but overall the space is well-organized.   The original fireplace, stair banister, moldings and exposed brick are lovely touches and give the house a general vibe of warmth and charm.  The two decks provide good outdoor space but the yard is a bit of a mud pit.  Gardens don’t exactly look great this time of year but this patch of grass looks more troubled than most. 

This house would be a great buy for a young family as there is very little work to be done.  Sure, you aren’t going to be customizing the place to your own specifications, but the renovation choices are neutral and the best part is you won’t have to spend your weekends at Olympia Tile arguing with your spouse.  There are three bedrooms plus a second floor family room as well as three bathrooms and one parking spot.  The lot size of 18 x 128 ft is great for this area and there’s actually room for kids to play in the back yard. 

I have a few friends trying to buy in Roncy right now and the inventory has been much lower than many other prime neighborhoods.  Very little comes on to the market in this size and price range so I wasn’t surprised to hear that the house received seven offers last night.   The house ended up selling for….drumroll, please… $131,500 over asking.  Is it just me or is $130,000 the new $100,000?  It feels like $100,000 over just doesn’t swing it these days. 

The deets:

Roncesvalles/Galley, Semi-Detached, 3-Storey, 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms

List:  $668,500

Sold:  $800,000 (120% of list, Mar 2010)

Taxes:  $ 3,476.68

Lot:  18 x 128 Feet

Parking:  1 spot

Remarks For Clients:  Contemporary Living In The Heart Of Roncesvalles! Located On One Of The Most Sought After Streets, This End Of The Row Semi-Detached Home Features High Quality Contemporary Renovations Throughout. Features Include: 3rd Floor Master Suite With Walkout To South Facing Deck; Open Concept Family Room With Exposed Brick Wall; Hardwood Floors And Pot Lights Throughout; 3 Full Bathrooms; Open Concept Living And Dining Room With Wood Burning Fire Place.

Not much feels worse than the morning after losing a bidding war.  The emotional investment required to make an offer on a house is draining.  If you’re like me, you need to imagine and even rehearse your life in a house before you can commit to signing your life away.

My investigation process is, um, rather thorough.  I like to conduct a trial commute from my office to the house, time walking distances to amenities like coffee shops and parks, phone local schools to confirm catchment area, stage smell tests for homes near KFC’s or major roads (weird one, I know, but have you ever lived with scent pollution?), and perform endless google searches such as “224 LoganAvenue and murder”.

This Riverdale semi had eleven offers and sold for $130,000 over asking in Feb 2010. That means TEN sad families were crying into their cornflakes the next morning.

So after putting all your emotional energy into making an offer, what happens when you lose?  With so few houses on the market it only makes sense that competition is steep and you’re likely to be a bridesmaid more than once.  While we all participate in the customary “it wasn’t the one” and “it wasn’t meant to be” reassurances, what happens when you lose a house that you really wanted and actually would have been a great fit for you?

A friend of mine recently lost her first bidding war and shared her traumatic experience of losing the house by $2,000.   She went through the usual victim pattern of blaming herself and re-living the details of the night over and over, trying to figure out what she could have done differently.  That soon turned to anger and resentment about the whole process.  Her fury seemed to be all about the $2,000 and how close they had come.  A few years ago another close friend lost a house by only a $1,000 and she too kept kicking herself and playing the “if only” game again and again in her head.  They both said the same thing – losing by an inch is so much more traumatic than losing by a mile.

Having lost more than a few bidding wars over the years, I actually disagree.  If you have lost a house by a tiny amount it means you are bidding well and are shopping in the right price bracket.  Although it is incredibly frustrating, you are doing everything right and will find something.

It is actually way worse to lose houses by a large amount.  If you are losing every house you bid on by $30,000, $50,000, $70,000, you cannot afford the houses you are bidding on.  If you keep offering on solid houses in prime areas and praying they don’t go into multiples, you will be disappointed.  As someone who has lost houses by anywhere from $3,000-$100,000, I know better than anyone.

So the moral is – if you’re losing small, don’t feel bad.  Take a day or two, mourn the loss of your dream house but then throw on some lipstick and skinny jeans and get yourself back out there.  If you’re losing big, it is time to re-assess.  The last thing you want to do is waste so much time on bidding wars that prices rise during your search.  Consider increasing your budget or change your criteria slightly so you’re going after more affordable houses.

Have you loved and lost?  Please share!

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