“We’re effectively priced out of our hometown”: After losing out on their dream home, this Uxbridge couple is living in his parents’ basement
In 2016, A.J. Brandon and his wife, Melody, bought a townhouse in their hometown of Uxbridge, a 90-minute drive from Toronto. Three years later, they were looking to upgrade. Just when they thought they’d landed their dream home, their mortgage fell through. Now, they’re back in his parents’ basement, priced out of the exploding housing market.
—As told to Sean Wetselaar
“I’ll always remember our first home. It was a small brick townhouse, tucked into a part of Uxbridge not far from where my wife, Melody, and I went to high school. We bought the place in 2016 for roughly $200,000. Mel had inherited some money, and I’d scrimped and saved for years while living in my parents’ spacious basement after graduating from college. Even with a sizeable down payment, we couldn’t get a mortgage, so my dad stepped in, loaning us the extra money we needed, which we agreed to pay back with the same interest we would have paid any bank. The townhouse was cramped and came with condo fees, but it was home. We felt lucky to have found a house in Uxbridge at that price. Its proximity to Toronto had made it a commuter haven, and the market was heating up.
“By 2019, Mel and I decided to start looking for an upgrade. After years of low-income jobs, we were finally settling into our careers and had doubled our annual income. I was managing a board game retailer in Scarborough, and Mel had a job as a unit clerk at a hospital.
“That fall, we looked at dozens of houses and condos, most of them in Ajax and Whitby, which would be close to work for both of us. But every time we made an offer, we were blown out of contention by bids that came in well over asking. And it seemed like no one was willing to consider a bid conditional on the sale of our house.
“So, as we entered 2020, we knew we had to make a call. Either we stayed where we were, or we sold our house, pocketed the cash, and returned to the market with a huge down payment and fewer conditions on our bids. My parents offered to put us up in their basement again and, in the spring of 2020, amid all the chaos of the first lockdown, we moved in with my folks and sold our house to a young couple for $330,000. Everyone was sure that was the most the place could ever be worth.
“Around that time, our realtor put us on to a house in Ajax. It was perfect—a quaint, detached bungalow with a renovated kitchen. It wasn’t huge, just two bedrooms and two bathrooms, but it was everything we needed, and it would grant us an easier commute. The pandemic housing market was starting to take off, so this was our best chance. We had to go for it.
“Ultimately, it came down to us and one other bidder. We offered $530,000, crossed our fingers and hit a stroke of luck. The owner of our dream house happened to be a work acquaintance, and he told me that he’d rather sell the house to someone he knew, even if our offer was a few thousand dollars short of the other bid. I can’t remember a time I’d been so happy. The house was ours.
“The next day, it all went away.
“I’d been laid off earlier in the pandemic and, like millions of other Canadians, went on CERB. Though the future was uncertain, we’d been pre-approved by a broker earlier in our hunt. But just as we thought we’d scored a new home, our new broker informed me that an updated policy regarding CERB prevented him from considering any of my income before the pandemic towards a mortgage. Worse, my wife’s unit clerk job, which was a permanent, part-time position, also wouldn’t count towards a mortgage due to esoteric union rules.
“The mortgage fell through, and so did our deal. We figured the market would cool off soon, giving us another shot once we could qualify for a mortgage again, so we went through with the sale of our old house, which closed on July 9, 2020. Of course, we were wrong. The market’s historic boom only escalated into 2021, and Durham Region became one of the hottest markets in the GTA. In Ajax, the average selling price rose 30 per cent in 2021, climbing past $1 million.
“I have lived a privileged life. I’m lucky in so many ways. I have wonderful parents, a wife who loves me, and a career in board games that, while not wildly lucrative, is fulfilling in so many other ways. And though we lost out on our dream house in Ajax, we managed to sell a house for a six-figure profit after four years. In any other period in history, we’d be incredibly lucky. We don’t feel sorry for ourselves. On the other hand, that profit still isn’t enough to buy us a small house on the outer reaches of the GTA. We’re effectively priced out of not just Ajax, but Uxbridge, too. More than two years into the pandemic, Mel and I are still stuck in my parent’s basement.
“In many ways, we’re in a better position now. We have a sizeable down payment thanks to the sale of our townhouse. I’m working again, this time for a small board game publisher called Jellybean Games, and Mel is full-time now. We’re sure that we could get approved for a mortgage and afford payments on a house that’s in our budget. It’s just that, these days, our budget won’t get us far.
“We could afford to buy something similar to our first townhouse, but we’d probably be taking on a mortgage bigger than the total value of that home back in 2016. Neither Mel nor I can stomach it. So, we wait. We wonder if the market really is a bubble, if we really will see prices drop, and I try not to pay attention to soaring costs in my hometown too closely. It just brings me down.
“It would be easy for me to resent the people who left Toronto during the pandemic and bought up homes across the GTA and southern Ontario. They’re a big reason for the escalation of real estate prices. But I don’t blame anyone choosing to live somewhere else. What frustrates me is the investors, professionals who are buying up property and then renting it back to the same people they priced out of their own towns. If someone outbids me on a house, that’s one thing. But I can’t stand the idea that, afterwards, they’re going to try to rent it back to me.”