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Monday, December 19th, 2016

House hunting? Here’s what $1-million buys in Toronto these days

I love visiting open houses in expensive neighbourhoods. Touring rich people’s homes combines two of my favourite things: seeing how the other half lives and pretending to have buckets of money.

imageTo scratch my itch, I settled on the west-end Toronto neighbourhood of Roncesvalles, where houses routinely snag multiple offers and winning bids often exceed the million dollar mark. With High Park, good schools, transit, and adorable shops steps away, it’s easy to see why “Roncy” is a hot location for families.

Since I have a family and like things hot, I wanted in on the action. With my pretend million dollar budget burning a hole in my pretend home buyer’s wallet, I crashed a few open houses to see what a million bucks buys you in Roncesvalles.

My first stop was a two-and-a-half detached house with six bedrooms, three kitchens, and three bathrooms listed for $959,000, just steps from High Park. I’m not sure what half a storey is, but at a cost of $384,000 per floor I was pretend thrilled the lot had a backyard.
The first house I visited in Roncesvalles. (All photos by Kerry K. Taylor for The Globe and Mail.)
While dreaming about the rich Roncy lifestyle, I strutted into the open house. My heart sank.

The sinking wasn’t just due to disappointment, it was because the floor wasn’t level. Not letting first impressions deter me, I wandered into a dilapidated kitchen, dodged through every dingy bedroom, and failed to avoid the smell in all three bathrooms.

The place was wall-to-wall abysmal, a true “renovator’s dream.” With paint peeling off the walls, ceilings sloping over stained floors, and broken light fixtures for prospective buyers to see the light, it was obvious. Rich people live terribly.

I asked the real estate agent what she thought of the place.

“There’s no parking,” she said.

Parking? I was more concerned about the shifting floors. Besides, I don’t have a car.

“There’s a buyer for every property,” she said. “If you want parking, go see the beautiful dump down the street. It’s $1.3-million.”

The thing about pretend real estate shopping in hot locations is there are a lot of snoopy people pretending to afford the hot market too. I followed a group on foot in search of property with parking.
The windows at The Abbey.

Located directly beside the The Abbey Lofts, a century old church converted into condos, the detached house with five bedrooms, five washrooms, a finished basement, and parking was something to see. Bathed in natural light with gleaming floors, new appliances, and stained glass windows reclaimed from the church conversion, this “beautiful dump” was priced at a cool $1,279,000.

I never wanted to pretend-buy a pricey house with unneeded parking more than now. Renting out that parking spot could be my ticket to affording the mortgage. I quickly crunched some numbers.

With a monthly mortgage payment of around $4,600, property tax at $5,850, land transfer tax of $43,400, and a bunch of closing fees, that parking spot would have to rent for far too much. I’d be better off pretend negotiating with the agent.
The”beautiful dump.”
I found Shawna Fletcher, a broker with HomeLife/Realty One Ltd., in the gleaming white kitchen surrounded by people asking questions. I had questions too. So in a later phone call, I asked Ms. Fletcher what the parking space was worth.

“The thing with parking is some people won’t even look at a house without it. Parking spots add around $50,000 to the price of the house,” she said, adding that searching for street parking in downtown Toronto and then slogging groceries to your house from a parking spot down the street can be “awful.”

Since detaching the parking spot would only save me fifty grand, I joined the mob of dejected house hunters outside and went in search of a more affordable million dollar property elsewhere, with parking.
This house had a private driveway with an enclosed garage.

No one could miss the open house signs of Trish Mutch, sales representative with Keller Williams Neighbourhood Realty. The property poised for a bidding war was a semi-detached in the south-west pocket of Roncy. Listed at $859,900 with four bedrooms, one-and-a-half bathrooms, a fully renovated kitchen, and a backyard with deck, the real star of the show was the private driveway with enclosed garage.

Inside, the place was immaculate. Packed with serious couples and a few angry toddlers, the spacious kitchen didn’t feel like a semi at all. With granite counters, gas stove, and newer cabinets, it felt like home.

I was into this house, so I did the mortgage math. With 20 per cent down, the payment would be around $3,100 a month. Add in property tax, land transfer, lawyer fees and moving, and I had to wonder who could afford these modest million dollar homes.
The renovated kitchen.
So I asked Ms. Mutch.

“It’s a lot of families, but typically it’s two professionals who can handle that mortgage,” she said. “They’ve had a second child or have two children and they need parking. One may work from home and needs a study.”

So far her description sounded like my family. But then my pretend fantasy became a reality. As a renter in Toronto, I was priced out of this market.

“The buyers in this area are trading up, having 20 per cent down is common. They are not coming from a condo, they are coming from a smaller house,” said Ms. Mutch.

So what does a million bucks buy you in Roncesvalles?

“Not much,” she said.

I wanted to be a contender. I wanted a million dollar home. I wanted enclosed parking. Heck, owning a car would be nice too. But the real draw of Roncy for me would have to be the shops, cafes, and parks. It’s a good thing Roncesvalles is accessible by streetcar, because I hear parking is a bitch.

Kerry K. Taylor is a personal finance and consumer expert, the author of 397 Ways To Save Money and the lone blogger at Squawkfox.com. You can follow her on twitter at @squawkfox.

Follow us on Twitter: @GlobeMoney

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