The listing: 1483 Danforth Ave., Toronto
Asking Price: $1,189,000
Taxes: $3,608 (2017)
Lot Size: 20 ft. by 100 ft.
Agents: Steven Fudge, Sales Representative, Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage and Carl Laudan, Sales Representative, Property.ca Realty Inc., Brokerage
The back story
Next time you walk into your doctor’s office, close your eyes and try to envision it as a home. Take the clinical, clean white walls and sterile examination room and see if you can transform it into a dining room or a living room or a kitchen.
It’s a hard exercise for most, but not for Ingrid and Roland Mueller. They did exactly that when they bought an old doctor’s office on Danforth Avenue in Toronto’s old East York.
“Our friends said ‘You’re nuts,’ ” Mr. Mueller said.
“Our kids said ‘You’re nuts,’ ” Ms. Mueller added. “Everybody said ‘You’re nuts, ’”
“I think they were on to something,” Mr. Mueller concluded with a laugh.
To a certain extent, the Muellers understood the reaction.
“This was not your normal home ... this wasn’t even a home,” Ms. Mueller said.
The house today
The Muellers bought Dr. M A Tyber’s old office at the beginning of 2014, but that came after a two-year house-hunt after the couple decided to downsize from their Willowdale home. They struck out to search for something urban and visited all kinds of properties across Toronto.
“And nothing was right, nothing had the space or parking,” said Ms. Mueller. “And even if you renovated, the space still wouldn’t be what we were looking for.”
They found a storefront in Mimico (which is in Toronto’s west end by the lake) that had been turned into a residence, “but we thought we could do better,” said Mr. Mueller.
Even though that particular space was not for them, that storefront opened their eyes to different, albeit more complex, housing possibilities.
“You get all of these stats saying there is a shortage of housing – but there isn’t,” said Ms. Mueller.
“There’s a shortage of vision and imagination,” said Mr. Mueller.
Soon after, they came across 1483 Danforth Ave. The lower level had a typical doctor’s office layout: waiting room in the front with a reception desk partitioned off by a wall, then a series of examination rooms in the back, along with a little kitchen.The upstairs was a full apartment complete with a kitchen and even a fireplace in the living room.
The Muellers knew right away what they wanted to do with the space. They wanted to turn the first floor with all of its examination rooms into a living room, dining room, kitchen and powder room. On the second floor, they decided to take out the kitchen, expand the bathroom so it could have a luxuriously large shower and convert the living space into a master bedroom and then use the other two rooms as a secondary bedroom and Ms. Mueller’s art studio.
The renovation took up most of the first year, with the first few months spent getting plans approved from the city. The Muellers didn’t ask for the building to be rezoned – it’s still zoned commercial and residential – but they did lobby to have their taxes aligned with other residential properties, dropping them down from around $10,000 to what they are now.
Their new design catered to the home’s Danforth address in two ways. First, it accommodated for the noise of living on one of Toronto’s busier streets. While it’s a few blocks east of where the city’s famous Taste of the Danforth festival takes place, there is still the occasional siren that goes by, according to the Muellers. Instead of fighting that reality, they worked with it.
“The kitchen is an active, noisier space. So we thought we should put the living space at the back,” said Mr. Mueller. “Who cares if there is a siren going by when you’re cooking?”
The other design feature they opted for was to make use of the “roughed-in” kitchen space on the second floor by installing a sink for what was to become Ms. Mueller’s art studio. The space can be converted back into a kitchen should the next owner want to.
That flexibility – along with the option to extend the building to the rear – was one of the key factors that listing agents Steven Fudge and Carl Laudan included in their equation to price the home.
“There is a lot of development potential for capacity or to suit your own needs, both in size – expansion – and in mixed use,” said Mr. Fudge. “It’s a Rubic’s Cube of opportunity.”
“Toronto has been traditionally a very straight-laced city; everything is super confined and controlled,” Mr. Laudan added. “The city can’t stop you from being creative in this space.”
The other factors that led to their choosing a list price of $1,189,000 included assessing the value of the area’s freehold housing stock, which had an average price of $1,217,889 in February of this year, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board.
“We’ve been trying to extrapolate what those properties are selling for based on size, condition and their location,” Mr. Fudge said. “There’s also the commercial properties on the street and what they’ve been garnering.”
“Then it’s about trying to find a balance between those two, while taking into account the calibre of the renovation here,” he added.
The best feature
The quality of the renovation was one of the first things Mr. Fudge noticed when he walked into the Muellers’ home. The details are both practical and quirky, like the main floor’s use of grey porcelain tile, which Ms. Mueller points out is stylish and easy to clean. Other aspects of the home showcase the couple’s artistic bent, like the first-floor powder room.
“That square toilet is my pride and joy,” Ms. Mueller said. “In all of my life, I’ve had to do things cheaply – we had three kids and all – but this was my chance. And once I had a square toilet, I knew I had to have a square sink.”
It’s these things that make leaving the home hard for the couple, who are now searching for a slightly bigger dwelling to “right-size“ after one of their children moved back in with them.
“We designed this house with thought and creativity,” Ms. Mueller said, “not to be flipped. I hope someone will embrace it.”