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.


Exciting developments are afoot at Housefly.  I’m thrilled to share my first post for HGTVWhat Does 500k Get You in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal? I’ve got my snoopy hat on once again and this time I’m taking you inside the best homes your hard-earned 500k can buy in three major cities.  Remember to vote for your favourite property at the end of the tour!

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!

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.

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