Buying


Loyal Housefly readers may remember my recent post House Crush Goes Green about HGTV host Emmanuel Belliveau‘s eco-friendly flip of a detached house in Danforth Village.  The house went on the market in early May for $679,000, later dropped in price to $649,000, and then to $619,000.  I’m pleased to report that the house has finally sold for $611,000.  This is obviously quite a bit below asking, but it is still one of the highest selling prices in the nabe. While the demographic of new residents is similar to other gentrifying areas like Leslieville or the Junction – newly married couples and young families – the area is still very much in transition and lacks the hipster amenities these nabes offer in spades.  I think buyers may have stretched to the premium price for an eco-friendly renovation had the house been located in an area that supports other elements of a green lifestyle, such as walkability, restaurants (lunch at Rawlicious, anyone?), and shopping (I’ll take two bamboo cotton onesies, please and thank-you Baby on the Hip).  It is a lovely home though and I’m sure the new residents will be very happy.

On a quiet side street in Danforth Village lurks an unusual species for sale – a gleaming modern gem renovated with eco-friendly building practices and materials.  The designer of this unique home is Emmanuel Belliveau, one of the hosts of HGTV’s World’s Greenest Homes. Emmanuel is in various stages of renovation on four flip projects in the area, testing the market’s interest in sustainable homes and, most importantly, finding out if buyers are willing to part with a little more green to get green.

Emmanuel took me on a tour of the house last week and I was amazed by the light, airy ambiance and attention to detail throughout.  While the house is a compact 1000 square feet (1300 square feet including the basement), the space has been carefully maximized by smart decisions like cathedral ceilings in the bedrooms, a space-saving built-in teak headboard in the master bedroom and a glass enclosed staircase that acts as a central light well and divides the living and eating space.  No corner has been neglected, including the Forest Stewardship Council certified wood patio, which features an organic herb garden.

Like any eco-friendly product, a green home challenges the buyers’ expectations around necessity versus desire.  Emmanuel’s house is being defined by many buyers as a starter home and perhaps not large enough to raise a family.  The difficulty with green renovation is that the payback period is 5-20 years, whereas first time buyers typically stay in their homes for 5-8 years.  The annual savings in running costs of a house of this size are around $4,000, which may not offset the initial renovation investment if a buyer doesn’t stay in the house over the long-term.  Emmanuel reminded me that “The average person needs 300-500 square feet of living space so we have ample room here for a family of four.  Why have formal rooms that you don’t use but have to heat?”

The key to being more environmentally responsible is to buy only what you need, so why wouldn’t a three bedroom home with two separate living spaces be adequate for a growing family?  Europe and Japan have embraced compact living, so why can’t we?

Given all the recent media attention around “green-washing” and general green fatigue, anything that is marketed as eco-friendly is now open to massive scrutiny.  We used cloth diapers for our daughter but were scolded for wasting water by laundering the diapers every other day.  It is very difficult to attain perfection and in the frustration to do so, many people give up.  With Emmanuel’s house, buyers have questioned everything from maintaining the original home’s air conditioning system instead of installing fans to using reclaimed granite in the bathroom rather than an eco material like Ice Stone.  Emmanuel points out that “You can’t be perfect.  You have to participate in the movement, do things that are better.  It’s not about perfection, it’s about participation.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Let’s take a look inside, shall we?

Lovely views of the street can be enjoyed from the house's hillside perch. While shoveling two sets of stairs in the winter won't be fun, being above street level allows for a very private treehouse feel. The siding is made of Extira, with no old growth wood used in manufacturing and no added urea formaldehyde.

The rock garden and minimal lawn space reduces the need for a lawnmower and low maintenance planting and mulching reduces the amount of watering required. The Ecoscapes mulch is MSC certified and does not contain cremated copper arsenate-treated wood. Safe for your misbehaving dog to chew!

Breathe in and enjoy! No VOC paint, bamboo floors, and energy-efficient, allergy friendly radiant in-floor heating.

Many family buyers are looking for entrance storage or some way to hide all the unsightly "stuff" that comes with kids. While there is a coat closet in the kitchen, it would have been nice to have some storage or a partition wall for hooks here.

Nothing looks better naked than red brick! The exposed brick feature wall brings warmth to the dining area and is a nod to the original building.

Ikea cabinetry, energy star appliances in stainless steel and reclaimed white granite are neutral choices but exude style. Little details like the pot filler above the stove and "book-matched" counter and back splash get my pulse racing. Double doors lead to a generous patio and a recycling depot (no more midnight snacks for you, raccoons of the East end!). A barbecue gas line is already installed. See you at the housewarming BBQ, lucky buyer, whomever you are!

Let there be light! The glass staircase leads to a skylight, creating a central light well. Natural light throughout the house is maximized, reducing use of electrical lights. Wood open risers are a modern choice but could be tricky for small children to navigate.

The master bedroom and bathroom are separated by the staircase from the other two bedrooms, aka "the kids wing". See you never, I mean in the morning, kids!

Vaulted ceilings and a very large closet with a safe (what secrets shall I hide? mmm ha ha!) and organizers make this a lovely master bedroom. The best part is what lies above - the house is retrofitted for solar panels!

By moving the staircase, the bathroom gained square footage. Mondo storage can be found in the responsibly harvested teak vanity.

100% wool broadloom produced by progressive green company Interface has an eco rubber underlay, giving the basement a cosy vibe without the usual worry of toxic fibers and glue. The family room is a great space but there is no storage room for your old high school yearbooks and Doc Marten collection in the basement. Guess it's time to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Emmanuel’s recommended reading list:

Eco:  An Essential Sourcebook

Cradle to Cradle

The full tour of the house is available here.

The Deets:

Danforth/Coxwell, Detached, 2-Storey, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms

List: $649,900

Taxes: $2,572

Lot: 20 x 11o Feet

Parking: 1 space

Remarks For Clients: Green Living At Its Best. Fully Reno’d Top To Bottom, Inside & Out. Modern, Unique, Energy-Efficient Reno By Celebrity Designer Emmanuel Belliveau (Hgtv’s Worlds Greenest Homes). Eco-Friendly Materials, Meticulous Attention To Detail, Top Quality Finishes And Fixtures (Granite, Bamboo, Teak, Porcelain, Wool Carpet). Steps To Subway, Danforth Restaurants & Shops, Good Schools & Park. Absolute Must See – Too Many Custom Features To Describe.

For the past few years, Danforth Village has been heralded as the Next Big Thing.  Toronto Life profiled the nabe in its March 2009 feature “Next Hot Hoods” and HGTV’s “Property Virgins” host Sandra Rinomato has broken in more than her fair share of first-timers on Danny Village side streets.

So what’s it like to live in the real estate equivalent of rap up-and-comer Drake?  So much buzz, so much potential, but what’s the album like already?  I was lucky enough to chat with a loyal Housefly reader who shares a slice of life in the Village in our newly updated neighborhood profile.

Relax, take a deep breath and transport yourself to Danforth Village

You the, you the best. The best I ever had. Photo by Spacing Toronto.

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?

For this week’s House Crush, I ventured to my old stomping grounds in Leslieville.  After checking out a fat papa bear in the Beach at Queen/Woodbine, I decided to mix it up and visit a baby bear on a small cul-de-sac off Pape.

Papa Bear. Listed for $899,000, sold for $915,000 with three offers.

Cul-de-sacs are a rarity in Toronto and this location is extra special due to its proximity to Hideaway Park.  We used to take our dog Ruby Slippers there for a raucous good time.  It is extremely convenient for dog owners and parents to slip through their back gate and be at a secret park, especially in green-space-deprived Leslieville.

Ms. Slippers chases a fuzzy friend at Hideaway Park

This Victorian rowhouse might be small, but it is perfectly formed.  Listed for $529,000, this 2 bedroom, 1 1/2 bath home is the Kate Moss of houses at only 12.5 feet wide.

The product of a 800 calorie per day diet

However, it more than makes up for its petite dimensions with soaring ceilings, high quality renovations, lovely Victorian period details including two stained glass windows, and true “move in and enjoy” decor.

The original floors are stained the perfect shade of walnut.

The kitchen is light and airy and makes great use of a smaller space. Love the cabinetry and stone mini- brick back splash. Granite isn't my thing but it's a nice luxe touch here. I can visualize some lucky ducks enjoying a foamy latte at the breakfast bar.

J'adore the lovely shape of the master bedroom... extra points for the little stained glass window.

I always advise buyers to look for houses with growth potential that could suit them for longer than a few years.  While this house has only two bedrooms, there are architect plans available for a third floor bedroom and bathroom.  The basement is also undeveloped and could be renovated down the road.  Since you wouldn’t need to make many changes to the existing two floors, you could concentrate renovation dollars on expanding the space.

This house has parking and is located in the most prime pocket of Leslieville – the best shopping strip runs from Pape to Jones and the best coffee and some of the best restaurants can be found from Booth to Jones.  You’d be well-served to take advantage of the best of the Ville and enjoy a secret park in your back yard.

With all this enthusiasm, you can imagine my surprise when I learned that no buyers had come forward on Tuesday, the offers night.  The house ended up selling last night for $538,800, a hair over asking.  A curious state of affairs.  By the end of April, many buyers are fatigued by the Spring market and head for the hills when they see a house they assume could inspire a large bidding war.  Also, there were a lot of other similar homes on the market in Leslieville this week so buyers likely chose to back other horses.  The owners did a pre-inspection and openly stated that the house requires roofing attention and has some knob and tube.  Could this have turned off skittish first time buyers?  I wouldn’t think so as all old houses tend to have something that needs to be done, whether it’s a new furnace, new windows, etc.  Compared with some homes that are going upwards of $600,000 in lesser Leslieville postal codes, I think this house was a great buy at $538,800.

The deets:

Queen/Pape,  Attached, 2-Storey, 2 bedrooms, 1 1/2 bathrooms

List:  $529,000

Sold:  $538,800 (101 % of list, April 2010)

Taxes: $2,712

Lot: 12.5 x 107 Feet

Parking: 1 space

Remarks For Clients: Prime Leslieville – Tucked Away On A Quiet Cul De Sac, Steps To Queen St, Restaurants & Shops, 24 Hr T.T.C; Beautifully Renovated Victorian; High Ceilings – Crown Moldings: California Shutters; Spectacular Kitchen; Granite Counters; Main Floor Sunroom + Powder Room; ‘French’ Door Walkout To An ‘A M A Z I N G’ Deck With Stainless Steel Water Wall; Flower Beds, Parking… You Gotta See This House!!!**** EXTRAS **** All Appliances & Window Coverings; Chandeliers; All E L Fs; Hardwood Floors; Large 2nd Flr Bath; 100 Amp, Approx. 10 Yr Gas Furnace; C A C; Note: Needs Roofing, Has Small Amount Knob- Priced Accordingly!

Click here to see the house tour!

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