Adventures in Real Estate: After encounters with rats, illicit drugs and decapitated dolls, we found our dream condo in Liberty Village

Adventures in Real Estate: After encounters with rats, illicit drugs and decapitated dolls, we found our dream condo in Liberty Village

“We saw a listing where the current tenant was passed out in the bedroom. That was a deal breaker”

The family

Samantha Jones, a 27-year-old merchandise planner at an apparel company, and her partner, Ben, a 28-year-old technical director of operations for an AV company, with their lovable mutt, Lewis.

The story

Ben and I moved to Toronto in 2019. He’s from Stouffville and I’m from Aurora, and we wanted a faster pace of life, so we rented a two-bedroom condo in Liberty Village. We loved everything about our new place: it was close to King West nightlife but not noisy, a quick walk from the concerts at Ontario Place and full of young people. We decided that, when we were ready to buy, we’d try to find something in the west end.

That time came in February 2022. By then, we had a dog, Lewis, and we wondered if we would be better off looking for a semi-detached or detached home with a backyard. Liberty Village is mostly condos, so we considered Mimico instead. The Toronto market was hotter than ever, and a quick search revealed that our budget of roughly $800,000 only put us within reach of old, run-down houses that would require at least $100,000 worth of renovations. And, still, we would have no way of knowing what might be behind the walls. As much as we wanted a backyard, it made no sense to buy out there and be house poor.

By March, we gave up on the semi-detached idea and returned to Liberty Village. We went to showings, and the market was incredibly competitive. While visiting very standard two-bedroom condos, the sellers would tell us something like “There are 40 offers on this place. If you want it, please bid $150,000 over asking. If you don’t, get out.” I get it—it was a seller’s market—but it was intimidating, and it felt like people were putting too much pressure on us to buy, so we didn’t make a move. 

Meanwhile, we were struggling with our bank. It took six weeks to receive pre-approval for a mortgage, and home prices seemed to rise by the week. We wondered if we should just ditch the idea of buying in the city and move to Aurora. That would get us a bigger yard and a driveway, but we loved trying new restaurants and going to concerts, and neither of us wanted to give up city life. We looked at the price of detached homes in Aurora, and they were just as expensive as Toronto condos, so it wasn’t like we would be saving money. 

We came up with a new plan to buy a pre-construction unit. That way, we thought, we could save up every month until the down payment was due. But our realtor, Anya Ettinger, advised against it. She said the frequent construction delays, higher downpayment requirements and price premiums for new builds made pre-construction not worth it. She convinced us that we could get more for our dollar if we bought an existing home, which would probably have larger square footage and better appliances. So we booked a new series of showings for condos in Liberty Village.

In April, we saw a unit on Joe Shuster Way that checked some boxes: a two-bedroom for roughly $700,000. We had a good feeling about the place—until we walked through the door and saw a wall of decapitated dolls. Some sort of bizarre artwork, maybe. I was creeped out. Still, the bones and layout of the place were great, and we put in an offer. No deal. It ended up selling for far over asking. I thought to myself, This may be for the best.

May and June passed, and we were frustrated that we were still spending so much on rent. But home prices were starting to cool, which meant newfound negotiating power. 

In July, another two-bedroom on Joe Shuster Way hit the market for about $700,000. It had two parking spots, and I thought it could be the one. Full of hope, Anya, Ben and I went to the unit, opened the door and walked into the filthiest space I’d ever seen. The two tenants were sitting on the couch, staring at us. They didn’t want us around, and we didn’t stay long. The laundry room was disgusting, with a film of mould covering piles of dirty clothes. The bedroom floor was covered in dust bunnies held together with what looked like clumps of human hair. We had already ruled the place out by the time we made it to the living room and met some free-range rodents. Then Ben noticed that he was stepping in rat poop. We would not be returning to that building for any more viewings. 

By the time we saw another listing we liked, it was September. This one, too, was on Joe Shuster Way. I brought my father to see it, hoping he’d bring some luck. Instead, we got a collection of illicit drugs scattered across the kitchen island and empty beer bottles throughout. The tenant was passed out in the bedroom. That was a deal breaker.

I wondered if we would ever find a two-bedroom condo in decent shape. Then, in October, we found a golden listing: another two-bedroom condo on good old Joe Shuster, this one for $650,000. Similar units were selling for $30,000 under asking, so the goal was to get a hefty discount. We made an offer of $638,000. At the last minute, an investor countered with a bid, so we increased ours by $20,000. We included a one-page letter about ourselves: who we were, where we came from, how long we had been searching for a place like this, and what it would mean for us to become first-time buyers—along with photos of us and Lewis. Then we waited, hoping for the best.

A few days later, the seller reached out. While we had not placed the highest bid, she loved our story and offered us the property. The gesture was so kind on her part. It showed me that more things than money can sway a seller. It was the biggest weight off our shoulders.

We finally moved into our new place this January, and we love it. I work from home, so we converted the second bedroom into an office. It took such a long time to get here, but I’m thrilled that we’re homeowners. In the end, riding the downward market wave for most of 2022 allowed us to save money. 

When I think of the weird things we saw in our search—the dolls, the rodents, the drugs—I realize that all those places were rented, and those tenants didn’t want to lose their homes to us. I get it; I wouldn’t want to be forced to rent an identical unit in some other part of town for hundreds, if not thousands, more per month. Everyone deserves an affordable place to live, and I feel fortunate that we were able to find ours. Plus, now we have a few good stories to tell.

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