I went down to Etobicoke earlier this week to visit friends who were quite proud to show me their newly purchased home.
"We beat out two other families who were bidding against us" My friend Mark said as we walked to the single car detached garage set at the back of the yard. The house is a modestly sized brick bungalow built in the forties or fifties judging by the milk door beside the side door entrance off the driveway and the burnt red coloured brick and aluminium framed sliding bedroom windows.
A family on the neighbouring back patio watched studiously through the chain length fence that ran between the yards as we suveyed the back of the house and yard. We waved at them and my friend said hi as we walked through the yard, the father gave a slow nod in return, the two small children and the woman just continued watching us. "I don't think they speak english" Mark said.
"I have to ask Mark, what did you pay?" "Guess" he said , hoping to test my real estate savvy. "OK, In Barrie Ontario this would run you about $240k to $250k but here in the frenzied GTA market I'm guessing you paid a little more, I'm going to say $300,000." There was a long pause. Mark, looking stone faced now, methodically said "$485,000."
There was another long pause filled only by the sound of transport truck air breaks a couple blocks away on Black Creek drive competing with the sound of a passenger jet above us making its decent into Pearson airport. "We only paid fifty over list and it is sure to double in value in the next ten years, hey it doubled in the last ten."
"Sure" I said nodding in agreement as I was doing some quick math in my head... ""that's about $2500 a month for mortgage plus another $400 or so a month for taxes in a city second only to Vancouver for high taxes, add to that about $300 to $400 more a month for utilities on a house that over the next ten years is going to require a new roof, furnace, fencing, windows and what ever else gives out."
I just bit my lip while we continued looking the place over, keeping my financial thoughts to myself.
My friends didn't buy on a whim, they had been looking for a place since the fall and had been beat out by competing offer on two previously picked out listings. Mark works for Toronto Hydro while his wife is a legal assistant. Together they would have had to come up with about a $50,000 down payment plus two separate land transfer taxes, (another bonus Toronto sprung on home buyers a couple years back.)
Inside the house had small bedrooms with dark brown varnished wood veneer doors that matched the base molding, one main floor bathroom and a small living room and dining room. The basement was finished with a bedroom and a rec room that looked like it was newly completed in time to watch the Leafs last hoist of the Stanley Cup.
Looking up and down the street there were three and four cars in front of almost every house and nothing about the area gave me a sense of community or would give a young family comfort in letting their children head out unaccompanied to play.
I am not knocking the GTA there are some beautiful neighbourhoods and fine houses but these days unless you and your partner are earning good six figure incomes or looking for someplace to put a generous inheritance just left to you then those 'A' and many of the 'B' neighbourhoods are well out of range for most. I don't know why, let alone how one does it without becoming "house poor" with little or nothing left over for vacations or the occasional meal out. I have friends in their mid to late 40's and through accelerated payments, many have or are close to paying off their mortgages in and around Barrie. My Etobicoke friends are looking at 25 to 30, maybe even more years of heavy duty month after month debt reduction.
I left Toronto 11 years ago and even then I traded a semi detached east york fixer upper for a 2400 sq ft 4 bedroom 4 level back split with a kidney shaped pool manicured gardens, double garage and all the bells and whistles one could hope for in a home and I paid $15,000 less than I sold the tired 1100 sq ft semi for!
Today the difference in value between those two properties would likely be six figures. Having your home increase in value is great but it is meaningless if you sell only to buy again in the same overvalued market.
Every time I go back to Toronto I return with a fresh list of reminders of how the quality of life and the cost of living is so much more rewarding here in the Barrie area. There is the saying "to each their own" but in the case of my friends in Etobicoke and many more, I see it less as a choice than an overlooked opportunity.
Here are a few of this past week's Barrie home sales:
3 BEDROOM, 3 BATH GREAT SOUTH END LOCATION ON QUIET STREET CLOSE TO PARK. OPEN CONCEPT KITCHEN & FAMILY RM & GAS FP. EAT IN KITCHEN W/WALK-OUT TO DECK & WELL LANDSCAPED FENCED YARD. INSIDE ENTRY FROM 2CAR GARAGE TO LAUNDRY ROOM.SEPARATE DINING ROOM. MASTER BEDROOM SUITE W/SITTING ROOM, 5 PC ENSUITE & WALK-IN CLOSET. NEW SHINGLES 2011, NEUTRAL DECOR. OVERSIZED FOYER. CENTRAL VAC & AIR.APPLIANCES INCLUDED ASK $315000 SOLD $314500
IMPRESSIVE, IMMACULATE AND TOTALLY FINISHED. THIS ALL BRICK HOME BOASTS 4.1 GENEROUSLY SIZED BDRMS WITH NOT 1 BUT 2!! ENSUITE BATHROOMS.SUPER SIZED KITCHEN WHICH OPENS TO A F/RM.BUILT-IN BOOKCASE SURROUNDS THEGAS F/PLACE IN THE COZY L/RM.PROF FINISHED BSMNT,POT LIGHTS, PORCH, 4 LINEN CLOSETS,MUDROOM,AWSOME LAMINATE,GARDEN DOORS,PORCH,DECK ETC..ALL THIS IN DESIRABLE "TALL OAKS". MOVE IN READY. ASK $369900 SOLD $362000
3 BEDROOM, 2 BATH CLEAN, BRIGHT & VERY WELL MAINTAINED RAISED BUNGALOW ON MATURE LOT IN NORTH BARRIE. RECENTLY UPDATED KITCHEN & BATHROOMS, MOST ROOMS FRESHLY PAINTED IN NEUTRAL COLOURS. LARGE MATURE LOT WITHFULLY FENCED YARD.LARGE ROOMS - HUGE REC RM IN BASEMENT WITH HIGH CEILINGS + INSIDE GARAGE ENTRY TO LARGE MUDROOM/LAUNDRY ROOM IN BASEMENT. LOTS OF PARKING - NO SIDEWALK! NOTE: NEW FURNACE TO BE INSTALLED BEFORE CLOSING. ASK $243500 SOLD $241000