The listing: 15 Bramley St. N., Port Hope, Ont.
Asking Price: $424,900
Taxes: $2,554 (2019)
Lot Size: 19 feet by 92 feet
Agent: Scott Ingram, Century 21 Regal Realty Inc.
When Sally McCubbin first purchased the sturdy little terrace house at 15 Bramley St. N. in Port Hope, Ont., back in 2013, it was part of a plan to start a new glass-blowing venture in town and escape the hustle and bustle of Toronto. As fate would have it, that passion project did not materialize, but out of her Port Hope adventure she would gain a husband, a child and a move back to Toronto. After renting it out for a few years the couple thinks it’s time to close this chapter and say goodbye to small-town living.
“It was just really affordable at the time,” Ms. McCubbin said. "I was attracted to it, because it has a really urban feel; ticks off a lot of boxes. When I first moved there, there was a lot of people who had retired to Port Hope and a lot of local business owners. More recently, we’re seeing people who work remotely, or [are] moving businesses out there, or there are people that commute into the city. The landscape of Port Hope is quite hip. There’s a bunch of coffee shops, good restaurants, good bars and a historical backdrop.”
There’s a great deal of conversation in federal politics about housing “affordability” – whether it be through relaxing mortgage stress tests or expanding first-time home buyer tax credits – and in the Greater Toronto Area the context is often described as “drive until you can qualify.”
Simply put, Port Hope is an hour from Toronto, but it’s a different country in terms of price: Houses here are essentially half the price of the average Toronto home (and Toronto’s median prices are held down by lower-price high-rise condos).
In 2013, the median sales price for a Port Hope house was about $225,000. By the second quarter of 2019, Port Hope’s median sales price was $438,500. That’s a slight dip from the spiking prices of 2017, but the trend remains an upward one. Admittedly, volumes are very low: About 18 houses sell every month in the town, which reported 16,753 residents in 2016’s census.
“To buy the same house in Toronto, it would still be three times the price in Parkdale,” Ms. McCubbin said. The couple considered keeping the house as an investment, or even a “country” getaway, but ultimately decided selling made more sense. “We’re just not cut out to be landlords; it does the house disservice to have someone in there that doesn’t care about it,” Ms. McCubbin said.
The house today
The little terrace house has about 1,264 square feet of living space, but it’s packed with charm. From the street, you gain a sense of the strong craftsmanship found within: red brick is the main colour, but yellow bricks were added to highlight such features as intricate block cornices along the roofline (three corbelled bricks stacked to form what is called a modillion), alternating-colour soldier courses (vertically stacked bricks) above the windows and string-courses (a band of coloured brick) that form corbels above the window frames. It’s the only house in the row of six that has a covered front porch (not original, but a tasteful addition).
A little historical digging by listing agent Scott Ingram suggests the building was constructed around 1875, part of local grocer Thomas Menhennit’s attempts at land speculation that ended poorly: insolvency and death from “dropsy.” Down the street on the corner of Ridout Street and Bramley Street North is Basil’s Market & Deli, located in Menhennit’s original store.
The front vestibule is a modest little square. Through the inner door, you come into the main-floor’s central hallway, with wide-plank floors and a staircase that climbs up the wall on the right and takes an elegant curve to the left at the top of the run. These spaces can be purely functional in some houses, but in this house, with two well-lit rooms opening off the left, they are inviting.
At the end of this hallway is the main-floor powder room, which also has the washer and dryer and wood-panelled walls. There is also a doorway to the basement, which is unfinished, but it is dry and – unlike a lot of basements of this vintage in Port Hope – it is concrete, not simply bare dirt, as with many old country homes.
The front sitting room and the formal dining room are connected by an archway with pillars. The broad plank pine floor (refinished by Ms. McCubbin) is complemented by modern furnishings, clean white walls and simple lines. The tall windows let light in on both exterior walls – all the windows in the house were replaced by the couple. Visitors should take notice of the rose-coloured glass piece labelled “fish” on the coffee table; that’s from a series of glassworks Ms. McCubbin did on Canada’s greatest resource exports.
The space feels more farmhouse than townhouse.
“There’s a ton of cool details in this house; the old staircase is beautiful, details up the stairs and spindles, old baseboards and old doors,” said Clayton Hanmer, Ms. McCubbin’s husband who is also known as the cartoonist and illustrator CTON. “And the special façade on the buildings … no wonder the guy went broke.”
The kitchen is one of the areas the sellers did the most work on: exposing the brick, making a jumbled area into a more natural galley-style space. The counters are butcher’s block and there are no upper cabinets, so the kitchen feels bigger than its 11-foot-by-9-foot layout, not that you would call this an eat-in space. To make up for the cabinet space, one just has to turn to the left and there’s a mudroom with a wall full of pantry storage, more brick (painted now) and a glass-pane door to the rear yard.
In the yard, straight back from that rear door, is the small detached studio space. Designed and built by Mr. Hanmer (though contractors were called in for the structural stuff), it has the same pale pine wood panelling on the floors, ceiling, window and door trim, plus a loft space for storage. There is baseboard heating and windows on all four sides.
Back to the front of the house and up the stairs is the second level – and no space is wasted here. It’s basically a landing with four doors right next to each other, two on each side.
First door on the right: the crib suggests it’s a baby’s room, 8 feet by 8 feet, (tall window, those plank floors, no closet), but this was also used as a study by the sellers in the past.
Second door on the right: Full bath (8 feet by 8 feet) with claw-foot tub and shower, single sink, toilet, linen storage space next to the door. The floor here could use an update, for sure.
First door on the left: Second bedroom, 7 feet by 9 feet, tall window; at some point someone built out a closet enclosure and we’re back to the plank floors.
Second door on the left: Master bedroom, not a vast space at 9 feet by 11 feet, but does have two windows looking out on the street and a reasonable-sized closet (for the era, it’s large).
Why drive to qualify?
Agent and sellers emphasize that the house is minutes to the 401 and there are also a couple of GO train options within a short drive. Add to that the community’s proximity to the big city and the burgeoning culinary and hospitality scene of Prince Edward County (and it’s own maturing local charms) and there’s a case for living in Port Hope even if you don’t work there.
The couple used to spend most of their time in the backyard, shaded by 150-year-old maples, or walking around the community and seeing the dozens of historically significant homes. Several street scenes from the recent movie adaptations of Stephen King’s It were filmed in the town, which may give you a sense of some of the environs given its evocation of frozen-in-time Derry, Me.
In this case the agent thinks the buyers will look a lot like the sellers. “I think it’s someone from Toronto that doesn’t want to be in a bland subdivision,” Mr. Ingram said. “It’s a cool house and you can walk down the main street in be in the town centre.” Indeed, one of the other houses in the row is currently being renovated by a new arrival looking for just that sort of thing.
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