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A sold sign in Oakville, Ont. (Richard Buchan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A sold sign in Oakville, Ont. (Richard Buchan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Retirement and RRSPs

Living in retirement: How I ended up with a $200,000 mortgage Add to ...

In our Living in Retirement blog, a recent retiree chronicles the ups and downs of her real-life retirement journey.

The thing about close friends is that some of them delight in reminding you of your miscalculations. In my circle these talks, which I call the Schadenfreude conversations, revolve around money or romance, the unexpected late-in-life failures that prompt the most penetrating discussions.

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Now that I’ve sold my downtown Toronto condo and am preparing to return to Oakville, the suburban Toronto pocket where I previously lived for 20 years, my friends are not the least bit shy about commenting: “Wasn’t it only two years ago that you moved away?” And: “Do you like packing?” When I told another confidante I was returning to the burbs, he said, “Right back from where you started!”

I’ve bought a 2,500-square foot, four-story, decade-old townhouse in Bronte Village, a picturesque waterfront community at the southwest corner of Oakville. I am outwardly sheepish about my about-face. After all, I’ve thrown in the towel on what was to be the heady, intoxicating life of a post-60-year-old writer mixing with the avant garde on Queen Street West.

Privately I’m elated about boomeranging to the burbs – or to “the town” – as Oakville residents prefer to call their growing city of 185,000.

I started searching for more spacious digs after the New Year. By the time I sold my condo in late February, I was left with a budget of $405,000 if I was to remain mortgage free –– after subtracting $40,000 for realtor fees, moving, legal and land transfer taxes.

For $405,000 it’s just no longer possible to purchase a semi-detached or townhouse in central Toronto. I looked and could not find anything suitable. The only options were older condos, saddled with higher maintenance fees than the $600 monthly I had been paying. A Trinity-Bellwoods townhouse, similar to the one I purchased in Oakville, recently sold for $972,205: $73,205 over its asking price.

Earlier in the year, I’d visited an Oakville townhouse listed at $390,000. Although the asking price was right, there were condo fees of $375 a month. Living here, I would face electric baseboard heating, no AC, no hardwood flooring, an old-fashioned kitchen and a sunken driveway where it was next to impossible to maneuver my car.

The townhouse I eventually found and liked in Oakville was listed at $619,000. As soon as I walked in, I knew it was the one. By this point, I had already accepted that my dream of remaining mortgage-free was dead. I looked at my finances and during a snowstorm on a bone-chilling winter night, I put in an offer for $600,000 with no conditions. It was my first offer since beginning the hunt for new digs and it was accepted the following morning.

By selling my downtown Toronto condo and buying this townhouse in Oakville I got:

1. A study to call my own.
2. A guest bedroom.
3. A backyard, however small, in which to plant flowers.
4. A kitchen, with the latest appliances, separated from the living room.
5. A dining room where guests could be seated comfortably.
6. An attached garage to park the car.
7. Walking distance from a park.
8. Neighbours my age.
9. No condo fees.
10. No apparent costly renovations or upgrades.

What I didn’t count on was:

1. Four floors to climb which might become problematic as I age.
2. A $200,000 mortgage.
3. Regular trips to Toronto for business and entertainment.

As with all real estate purchases, I’m taking a risk. Will I be able to earn enough income to cover the mortgage on this handsome townhouse, even if it is configured at historic low rates? The monthly payment is only $200 more than the former condo fees and the rental of an off-site storage locker, but utilities and taxes are higher than I was paying at the condo. Right now, I’m living comfortably on my workplace pension and freelance income while not depleting any private investments. But the time will come when I’ll need to dip into them, when I won’t wish to or won’t be able to work.

What I have discovered is that moving directly after retiring is tricky and expensive. I’ve watched a friend move to Victoria to care for her aging parents, another to Stratford to partake of the theatre scene, and more to British Columbia for the weather. Not one of these moves were easy. Luckily, some were reversible – as was my relocation to downtown Toronto.

My townhouse, located on a green-leafy tree-lined street, half a block’s stroll to the marina and the broad expanse of Lake Ontario, is everything I could hope for. I’ve worked for 37 years to get it. Some of my friends guardedly admit that this is a decision worthy of their approval. Others are taking a wait and see approach.

Of course, one of the best things about being my age is that you no longer care what anyone thinks. When I think about my new townhouse in Oakville, I finally feel as if I’m coming home.

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