A new baby, a pandemic, a personalized letter, a pre-emptive bid—then their pre-approved mortgage got pulled
Who they are: Dylan Hopman, 27, a sommelier; Sheila Flaherty, 33, a wine importer at Halpern Wine; and their five-month-old daughter, Grace
The buy: a three-bedroom, two-bathroom Victorian row house in Riverside
Sheila: In 2004, I moved to Toronto to study political science at U of T and got a part-time job at a restaurant. Over the years, I worked at a few different places: as a server, manager and wine director. Eventually, I was able to make a career in the industry, and in 2013, I landed my current job as a wine importer.
Dylan: I grew up in Hamilton and moved to Toronto in 2012 to cook. I dreamed of becoming a chef. In 2018, I met Sheila through mutual friends at a concert at the Velvet Underground. At first, we were just friends, but we started officially dating in April 2019.
Sheila: We didn’t plan to move in together right away, but sometimes life can go in unexpected directions. In May, we found out that I was pregnant. Dylan cancelled the lease at his Regent Park apartment, and we decided to move into the 1,250-square-foot loft that I was renting in Leslieville for $3,300 a month.
Dylan: We knew we wouldn’t be able to stay in the rental long once the baby was born. The loft was completely open concept, so we’d have nowhere quiet for the baby to sleep.
Sheila: Grace was born in mid-January, and we started looking for a new place on MLS a few weeks later. At just five weeks old, she attended her first open house. We had a few things on our wish list: an older house with some character that we could fix up and make our own; at least two bedrooms and an outdoor space for entertaining; and we wanted it to be in Riverside or the surrounding area, where there’s a small-town vibe but it’s close to the city core. We also wanted to have parks nearby for our dog, Bear, who can’t walk very far because he has arthritis and other medical issues. So, we set a budget of $1 million, planning to pool our money together and get some financial help from family.
Sheila: In early March, we found a two-bed, two-bath detached in the Greenwood-Coxwell area listed for $799,000. It was across the street from an elementary school, which we thought would be great for Grace. We put in a bid of $1,051,000 and also wrote a letter to the seller to introduce ourselves. But that didn’t do the trick. The place would’ve been a nice starter home, but we weren’t willing to spend any more. It ended up selling for $1.09 million.
Dylan: A couple of days later, we saw another house that we loved. It was a beautiful family home in Riverside that was move-in ready. It had three bedrooms and two bathrooms, old hardwood floors and a big backyard. It was listed at $1,099,000. We knew it would be above our budget, but it had a potential income suite in the basement, which we could rent out to supplement our income. The house didn’t need any work, so we built our reno budget into the bid and submitted $1,375,000, along with another note to seal the deal. Sadly, the house sold to someone else for $1,425,000. At that point, we started to lose hope. We thought we were bidding high enough, but always ended up losing.
Sheila: The following week, we saw a three-bed, two-bath in Riverside. It was listed at $999,000, and we bid $1.2 million. Again, we lost out—the place ultimately went for $1,325,000. By this point, we weren’t seeing many properties come up for sale, so our agent suggested we wait a bit.
Dylan: The pandemic hadn’t hit full-force in Canada at this point. But by mid-March, we started to hear rumours that the government was going to announce a state of emergency.
Sheila: The day before the state of emergency was declared, we went on our daily walk with Grace and noticed a “coming soon” sign outside a house in Riverside. It wasn’t on the market yet, but we contacted our agent and got an appointment to see it two days later. It was listed at $899,000, and it checked off everything on our list. It was a three-bed, two-bath Victorian row house with space for entertaining and a beautiful garden in the back. It was older, built in 1880, just like we wanted. And although the lot was only 15 feet wide, there were soaring 12-foot ceilings on the main floor along with crown moulding. There was also a park right across the street that would be perfect for Bear.
Dylan: But we were anxious. The stock market was going up and down, and we worried the same would happen with the housing market. We wondered, Are we making a huge mistake? But we decided that even if the market dipped and the house lost value, we didn’t need to move anywhere anytime soon—we could just wait until things stabilized.
Sheila: The next day, we put in a pre-emptive offer of $1.1 million. We’d received advice from our realtor and looked at comparables in the neighbourhood, so we thought it was a fair bid. We decided to write a letter to the seller again. We mentioned how Dylan and I met, our history in the neighbourhood, and how much we love the area. The house went on the market the next day, but the owners contacted us the same day and told us our letter meant the world to them. They said they were going to take down the listing and accept our offer.
Dylan: We were ecstatic. We finalized the sale, with our closing in a month, through video chat, signing our papers and holding them up to the camera. We were due to close on April 20. Everything was looking good—until it wasn’t. We had been pre-approved for a mortgage, but things were changing very quickly with the pandemic. After we’d agreed to buy the house, our mortgage broker tried to follow up with Desjardins, but with their reduced hours and staff during the pandemic, it took two weeks to get a response. When our broker finally got back to us, we learned that because of Covid, the lender was being more cautious. Basically, our mortgage pre-approval was no longer valid.
Sheila: I was terrified. We were first-time homebuyers, and none of this was normal. On top of that, we were taking care of a newborn and I was transitioning to working from home after a short mat leave. We also found out that the company I had my house insurance with for years was not going to insure our new house because, along with the pandemic, they determined our house was higher risk because it was so old. With only two weeks left before our closing, our broker had to get our mortgage approved by a different company, while Dylan and I scrambled to find new home insurance. If we weren’t able to get a new mortgage by closing—and the seller didn’t extend the closing date—we risked forfeiting our deposit and getting sued for damages.
Dylan: On Friday April 17, with our closing the following Monday, our broker finally found us a company, First National, that would give us a mortgage. We also secured our home insurance. When we got our keys on April 20, I felt a huge amount of relief.
Sheila: The last day of our Leslieville rental was May 31, so we had plenty of time to move our belongings, bit by bit, into the new home. Now that we’re settled, we’ve started renovating. So far, we’ve been re-plastering and replacing the walls, and repainting, most of which we did ourselves. We’ve added a new furnace and central AC, and now we’re waiting for a building permit to add an ensuite to the master bedroom upstairs, by converting the third bedroom into a closet and bathroom. We’re going to replace the windows, too, because they’re dated and energy inefficient. We expect the initial set of renovations to cost $50,000, with more long-term plans for later.
Dylan: Life can go in unexpected directions, whether it’s a newborn or a global pandemic—but it feels like it all worked out in the end.