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Adventures in real estate: “I moved from a windowless 140-square-foot basement apartment to a penthouse”

It’s 700 square feet, and I got it for $1,825, utilities and parking included

By Roxy Kirshenbaum| Photography by George Pimentel
Adventures in real estate: “I moved from a windowless 140-square-foot basement apartment to a penthouse”
Michael Upfold, 25

Music project manager, Scarborough

For the past few years, I’ve lived in a 140-square-foot basement rental in a six-bedroom rooming house, paying $700 a month. It was a decent spot, located on a quiet street about a 10-minute walk from Victoria Park station. There were grocery stores, banks and a few good restaurants nearby. The house was nice, only a year old, with a big kitchen and backyard. But my room was tiny, with space for only a double bed and a small desk. There were no windows and no closet.

Adventures in real estate: “I moved from a windowless 140-square-foot basement apartment to a penthouse”
Michael’s windowless room in the basement of a house in Scarborough

After trying out careers in cooking and construction, I had decided to pursue something that had been a fixture in my life for as long as I could remember: music. Growing up, I played piano and violin, sang in the church choir, collected hip-hop albums by Jay-Z and OutKast and memorized all the lyrics. So I launched Norfside Entertainment, a management company for local artists, and started collaborating with a handful of other companies, expanding my operations, doing everything from producing concerts to managing artists. I was bringing in $1,500 a month, enough to cover rent, food and other necessities.

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Adventures in real estate: How the pandemic is changing the way we live now

In early 2020, I partnered with International Artist Agency, a talent agency based in the U.S. That provided me with the opportunity to work with bigger clients and bumped my monthly income up to $4,500. Things were looking up, and yet I felt stuck. I was 25 and living in a basement with five flatmates. Food would go missing from the shared fridge. There was rarely warm water available when I showered.

Then the pandemic hit, and things got even worse. I was alone and stuck inside a windowless room for most of the day. So, when rents started dropping , I made my move. On June 5, I found a 640-square-foot penthouse in a mid-rise building at King and Strachan for $1,875. It was awesome and would have gone for at least $2,500 pre-pandemic. I made an offer, but I didn’t get it.

Then, on June 18, I saw a penthouse at the 404 and Sheppard Avenue East, listed for $1,900 plus utilities. It was a 650-square-foot corner unit, northeast-facing with a pretty view of Markham. It had floor-to-ceiling windows, plus a large patio. Unfortunately, the landlord chose a couple over me.

I soon found a 700-square-foot penthouse listed for $1,825, with all utilities and parking included. It was located in a gated condo complex in Scarborough, right beside the 401, making for an easy commute downtown. It was also a two-minute walk to Scarborough Town Centre and grocery stores and restaurants. There was a large kitchen, living room and dining room, and a huge double-door den with a view of Lake Ontario that could be converted into an office. I was motivated. I told the landlords I’d provide postdated cheques. I followed up with them twice that weekend. On Monday, they called with the good news.

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I moved in on July 1. I just bought my first king-size bed, an 80-inch flat-screen TV, some artwork, a large loveseat and a dining room table. Six months ago, this unit could have easily gone for $2,100, plus utilities. Let’s just say it sure beats the 140-square-foot windowless basement apartment.

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