A Toronto couple wanted a starter home. The city was too expensive, but they found this $375,000 detached in St. Thomas

A Toronto couple wanted a starter home. The city was too expensive, but they found this $375,000 detached in St. Thomas

Who: Kyle Pihokker, 27, an electrician; Colleen Johnston, 28, a legal assistant; with their three-year-old shorkie, Archie

The history: In 2015, Kyle and Colleen met on an online dating site and started dating shortly after. At the time, both of them happened to be studying at Humber College, but Kyle lived with his dad in Mississauga, while Colleen rented a room in a three-bed, two-bath detached in Etobicoke for $600 a month.

In late 2016, they moved into a one-bed, one-bath condo rental in Etobicoke, paying $1,430 a month. The 600-square-foot condo was right near Islington Station. Colleen took the TTC downtown to her office, while Kyle had a 10-minute drive to his job at an electrical company in Mississauga.

Colleen and Kyle enjoyed living in the area. In their spare time, they visited bars and restaurants in Port Credit and along the Queensway. In 2017, when they got their shorkie, Archie, the couple took him to neighbourhood dog parks and a trail near Etobicoke Creek.

Early in their relationship, Kyle and Colleen decided they wanted to own a home, somewhere big enough to raise a family. But given the cost of purchasing property in Toronto, the couple figured they would have to move elsewhere if they wanted to enter the market.

In 2018, they did some research in the London area, where houses were relatively affordable compared to Toronto. Kyle also had family who lived there. If they moved, Kyle would have to find work as an electrician and Colleen would probably need to find a new firm, but they figured it was possible.

At the time, the couple noticed detached homes were selling for roughly $375,000, so they set themselves a five-year goal to save $75,000 for a 20 per cent down payment. As time passed, Colleen and Kyle watched the housing market in Ontario continue to climb, which made them worry that their initial savings target might have been too modest.

When the pandemic hit, Kyle continued working in the field while Colleen switched to WFH. They hoped the pandemic might cause a dip in the market, allowing them to get in at a lower price. But property values just continued to increase. The couple realized that if they waited any longer, they might just get priced out of the London market, so, with nearly $75,000 in savings, they reached out to their bank in June 2020 to apply for a mortgage.

The hunt: House prices for single-family homes in London had increased to approximately $500,000. There were still some properties within their budget, but they were typically older and smaller, requiring extensive upgrades. So Kyle and Colleen shifted their search 30 minutes’ drive south of London, to St. Thomas, a small town with a population of about 40,000.

The couple liked that it was close enough to visit Kyle’s family in London. It had grocery stores, schools, restaurants and breweries, and there were lots of parks and trails they could explore with Archie. Kyle would need to find a new job, but Colleen could continue working remotely for her Toronto-based firm. And most importantly, houses in the area were more affordable.

Kyle and Colleen wanted a three-bed, two-bath for roughly $375,000. Ideally, it would have a backyard for Archie and a garage where Kyle could do his woodworking projects.

In June 2020, they took a trip to St. Thomas to visit a few places. One of the houses piqued their interest immediately. It was a three-bed, 1.5-bath listed for $380,000, located on a quiet street about a five-minute drive from central St. Thomas.

At 1,200 square feet across two-storeys, already twice the size of their Etobicoke condo, it had an open-concept main floor that made the house feel even bigger. Another bonus: the backyard had a fence, which would make it easy to let Archie out to play.

Kyle and Colleen drove back to Etobicoke and put in an offer at $370,000, just below their budget. The owners countered at $378,000. The couple came back at $375,000, telling the owners it was their final offer. That sealed it.

The outcome: The couple officially made the move to St. Thomas in late September. There are lots of young families in the neighbourhood, so Kyle and Colleen think it will be a good place to start a family.

In the meantime, they’ve turned the extra bedrooms into a guest room and a home office for Colleen, who is still working for her Toronto firm. Kyle found work with an electrical company in London. He loves driving along the quiet farm roads every morning on his way into town.

Kyle installed a workbench in the garage, with plans to do some home reno projects in the spring. They plan to redo the back deck, install a fire pit and start a garden, which they expect to cost about $5,000 altogether. Also on their to-do list: renovating the basement within the next couple of years to add a rec room and bathroom.

Kyle and Colleen have no regrets about ditching the city for a rural lifestyle. And Archie apparently enjoys post-condo living, too, with plenty of space to roam the neighbourhood and some nice walking trails nearby.