Adventures in real estate: How the pandemic is changing the way we live now
Upsize, downsize, flee to the country, live on a boat, buy an RV, get a farm, shack up with the in-laws, and other life-altering changes Torontonians are making in these crazy times
The smart money this pandemic year was on manufacturers of trampolines, pools and, yep, top-loading washers. Wherever you looked, the answer was sold out, check back later. Some enterprising types tried scalping above-ground pool kits. Stuck indoors in our sweatpants, we craved a jump, a dip and in-home laundry. Most of all, we craved space.
Despite the unemployed chefs and empty theatres and ghost-town corporate core, despite the iffy assurances that it’s okay to send your kids back to school, despite the seemingly permanent undercurrent of volatility making our daily lives so queasy—despite everything—home prices and sales just kept climbing. Weirdest of all, after a few soft months during the pandemic’s earliest stages, sales spiked. In August, there was a 20.1 per cent increase in the average house price compared to August of last year, and a 40.3 per cent jump in sales. Even the price of condos—you know, those super-dense glass towers where residents freak out about sharing elevators—won’t quit. By August, condo prices had climbed 9.5 per cent. So much for the theory that the only buyers were Airbnb speculators.
What’s going on? We offer a few theories. First is that our (fingers and toes crossed) success at flattening the curve and reopening parts of the economy means we’re good and ready to buy again. Then there’s the likelihood that we’ve all got calamity survivor syndrome, leaping into major life changes (getting married, getting pregnant, signing a mortgage) as a kind of promise ring for a brighter future.
The simplest answer: in a world where we measure personal safety in two-metre increments and spend our evenings sewing masks, a safe haven is our most valuable commodity. We’ve all become ruthless cost-benefit analysts of personal space. If you live in an apartment, this is the year to score a place with another bedroom to use as a home office. Or maybe you decided to buy—according to a survey this summer by Mortgage Professionals Canada, twice as many renters as in 2019 planned to purchase in the next year. If you live in a house, you want a bigger yard (for those trampolines and pools) or another storey so you can hide from the kids. Or maybe you’re feeling the urgency to give up on the city, sell your place in a bidding war (still happening!) and live out your fantasy of tending crops on an organic farm where your only neighbours are emus whose wool you weave into your own sack dresses (a July Ontario Real Estate Association survey found that 61 per cent of respondents wanted to move to the suburbs or countryside).
At the moment (but hopefully not for long), so much of what we take for granted about city living now falls into the category of unnecessary risk—belting out show tunes at karaoke, ditching work for Hanlan’s Point, navigating bustling sidewalks. No wonder everyone wants an escape, whether in an RV, a starter yacht or a cottage. (Prices increased in Muskoka by 15 per cent year over year between January and the end of May, and sales were up 73 per cent for the month of June.)
In the linked stories above, you’ll meet people who decided this was the year to take a leap and spring for that RV, buy that farm or put a down payment on that downtown condo. We might not have a vaccine (digits crossed on that one, too), but at least we’ve learned how to shelter in place in the best ways possible.
The full package appears in the October 2020 issue of Toronto Life magazine. To subscribe, for just $29.95 a year, click here.