One million dollars. It's still the stuff that dreams are made of, it's just that our dreams have become a little less extravagant.
In April, Toronto's wild housing market hit a historical benchmark, when the average price of a detached home hit $965,760.
Most real estate observers rounded up to $1-million, and clarified that they were discussing the cost of a house, not a mansion: just a nice place to live, where two kids can each have their own bedrooms, and we're not constantly yanked into the drama between neighbours on the other side of a wall.
Prices fluctuate, of course – in July, a detached house was a mere $880,433 and yes, there are still good houses in good neighbourhoods for less money. But interminable gridlock and perpetually minuscule interest rates are a deadly combination for anyone hoping to find a house with a bearable commute to downtown.
Perhaps the biggest factor is that Toronto is a bustling city full of energy, ideas, and fun. Despite bidding wars and mortgage insurance, condo delays and endless real estate bubble talk, it's why buyers are willing to spend seven figures to live here. Here's a look at three who did, and what they got for $1-million.
Rozita Razavi and Tim Hughes
Lot size: 30 ft by 110 ft
Asking price: $889,000
Sold price: $999,999
Agent: Chris Chopik, Sage Real Estate Ltd.
Tim Hughes and Rozita Razavi lost three bidding wars, and were bullied out of a fourth before it started. "There were Seaton, Grafton and Manning," says Mr. Hughes, counting off the streets that could have been. "And then Beverley, that was the bully offer."
The couple began their search in March, when the condo that they were sharing with Ms. Razavi's sister finally seemed just too small. Ms. Razavi's parents visit often, for one, and Mr. Hughes, 46, is a bicycle aficionado with a lot of wheels and frames to fix. "The elevator in a condo drives me nuts," he says.
Their requirements were simple enough: three bedrooms within bicycling distance of the University of Toronto, where he's a professor and she's a research associate, since they don't have a car. Although they were approved for a mortgage of up to a million dollars right away, the couple originally planned to spend about $750,000. "That wasn't realistic," says Ms. Razavi, 42, of their early search. "Even if that was the asking price, the final selling price was always over a million." Mr. Hughes was pushing for a detached house, but they looked at semis and even rowhouses, including one on Beverley Street, just south of the university, that was sold before they had a chance to get their paperwork together.
By June, the couple was ready to take a break for the summer when their agent suggested they look at one more house in Parkdale. The commute seemed a bit long, though they both liked the neighbourhood's cool yet down-to-earth vibe. What convinced them, though, was the place itself, a 120-year-old detached house with a wraparound porch, many of its original features, and almost 4,000 square feet of space. "It's an amazing house," Ms. Razavi says. "Better than we expected." It does need some modernizing and renovations – Mr. Hughes is looking forward into making the unfinished, 1,000-square-foot loft (which has awesome vaunted ceilings) into a livable space.
Of course, there was a bidding war: theirs was one of seven offers. In fact, Ms. Razavi and Mr. Hughes were told by another buying agent that they'd lost out, and were headed home when the call came through that they'd actually won.
"It does sound like a lot to me," says Ms. Razavi of the million-dollar price tag. Because their down payment is less than 20 per cent, they had to qualify for CMHC insurance to get a mortgage, and the house was assessed three times before the deal was done. CMHC's willingness to insure high-ratio mortgages is capped at a million, so Mr. Hughes calls it "the magical number," the price point that defines the hottest competitions. "I think that Toronto is at the edge of not having houses for everyone who wants a house," Mr. Hughes says. "You can almost think of it as a luxury good."
Adam Weitner and Ginny Weitner
Yonge and Eglinton
Lot size: 25 ft by 65 ft
Asking price: $1,220,000
Sold price: $1.2 million
Agent: Christine Cowern, Keller Williams Referred Urban Realty
"It's too expensive to move in Toronto," explains Adam Weitner about why he and his wife, Ginny, bought a house to raise kids in even though they don't have children yet. With the city's land transfer tax demanding thousands of every buyer, and housing prices consistently resisting deflation, the Weitners decided to skip the starter home. Their hunt was for a house they could live in for a really long time, maybe forever.
Not that this is their first venture into ownership. With a little financial help from his family, Mr. Weitner bought his first condo as a university student in Ottawa. When he moved to Toronto in 2005, he sold that condo and bought one here, which is where the couple were living when they got married. "If it was my first property there would be no way I'd be able to do it," says the marketing manager, now 30, of the cost of his new house.
The Weitners' search began in October, 2013 and took them to Leslieville, Little Italy, the Danforth and midtown – they wanted a place no more than a 20-minute commute away from downtown, where they both work, and that wasn't negotiable. "I cannot stand being in traffic, it's bad for my health," says Mr. Weitner, who grew up in Brampton. "I'd never move to the suburbs, I'd rather live in a condo my whole life."
All in all, it was relatively painless. There were no bidding wars, because the duo was so particular they didn't make any other bids. Though they toured some semi-detached homes around $700,000, the couple felt they were too small to stay in for a very long time.They rejected houses listed at $900,000 that were in such bad shape that Ms. Weitner calls them "haunted," and said a bittersweet goodbye to an almost-perfect place in High Park that shook when the subway rumbled underneath.
Last January, they found a newly built detached house two blocks north of Eglinton, just west of Yonge, in a midtown neighbourhood with good schools that they thought would be out of their price range. Because it was originally a developer's own home, the work was much more solid and well-done than many of the shoddy flip jobs the duo had seen. There are four bathrooms, one with heated floors, and a heated driveway that was a lifesaver during last winter's ice storms. "We could tell it was really good quality," says Ms. Weitner, 27, who works in sales.
Although the lot is slightly shallower than they'd like, the neighbourhood is full of parks. Mr. Weitner credits the just-over one-million asking price for the lack of competition. On a Sunday night at 10:30 p.m., they made an offer of $20,000 under asking with no conditions and it was accepted right away. "Toronto is expensive," Mr. Weitner says. "If you're going to break the bank, you may as well go all the way."
Square footage: 1,900 plus balcony
Sold price: $1,000,049
Agent: Robin Pope, Pope Real Estate Ltd.
Twenty-three years ago, Dawna Henderson bought a 1,500 square-foot semi-detached house on Bertmount Avenue in Leslieville for $186,000. Last October, she sold it for $870,000. Wanting to make the most of her return, she bought two more properties: another Leslieville house to live in, and a new penthouse condominium as an investment. Both of them cost about a million dollars.
"I like this part of town, it's not as congested as the west," says Ms. Henderson of her decision to stay close to her old home. The 52-year-old advertising executive wasn't planning to buy an investment condo from the outset – she grew up in the country, and isn't quite sure how people live without a backyard. But she was intrigued with the plans for the West Don Lands neighbourhood, south of King Street E. off of River Street, near the site of next summer's Pan-American Games.
"Perhaps the developers have learned what not to do downtown," says Ms. Henderson of the park-and-amenity laden plan. Corktown residents are anticipating a brand-new YMCA, and arevalready enjoying the splash pad at Corktown Commons Park. All three levels of government kicked in money to build affordable rental housing nearby, which Ms. Henderson hopes will help maintain the east end's traditional class diversity.
She began to consider the 12-storey third building of the five-building, 1,000-unit River City development. Although the penthouse was much more expensive than a smaller unit, her agent advised that because bigger condos are scarce in the city, it's easier to rent and sell them. "There's a glut of one bedrooms plus dens," Ms. Henderson says. "Like in Liberty Village, you have to wonder what some of those buildings will look like in five years."
To visualize how big the unit would be, Ms. Henderson drove out to a field in Caledon, and used spray paint to outline the space. "I thought 'Oh, I understand now,'" she said. It became real that the condo took up more space than her old house, especially since it came with a 700 square foot LEED-certified green roof and patio. After asking an architect friend's opinion and getting an enthusiastic response (and some suggested redesigns for the space), Ms. Henderson decided to go for it.
Her plan is to rent the unit out for about $4,000 a month when the building is ready for inhabitants next year. She and her husband are considering the space as their retirement home, and in the meantime, she definitely isn't worried about her investment. "It's a question of supply and demand – people are sick of driving out to the suburbs," Ms. Henderson says. "It doesn't matter where you live in downtown Toronto, it's all going to be worth something."