The pandemic delayed our home purchase—now we’re stuck in our parents’ basement

The pandemic delayed our home purchase—now we’re stuck in our parents’ basement

Who they are: Stephanie Barsby, 28, a health care account supervisor, and Spencer Matheson, 29, a law clerk.

Spencer: I’m originally from Brampton and graduated from the law clerk program at Humber College. In 2014, I bought a pre-construction condo in King West for $276,000 with some help from my parents. While waiting for the condo to be built, I lived with family.

Stephanie: I was born and raised in Lakeview and went to U of T Mississauga to study psychology. In 2016, Spencer and I met on Tinder and had our first date at Nathan Phillips Square. We’ve been together ever since. In 2018, I moved into a 330-square-foot condo in St. Lawrence Market, paying $1,800 a month for rent.

Spencer: After Stephanie moved downtown, I’d often just stay at her place. In 2019, I got a job as a law clerk and Stephanie started working as a health care account supervisor.

Stephanie: As Spencer’s own condo was reaching completion, we decided it would be better for us financially to move in together. So, in summer 2019, we both moved into his 450-square-foot unit on King West. It was great because I could walk to work, and Spencer could easily take the TTC to his job uptown. We also liked the nightlife and living with lots of restaurants nearby.

Spencer: But because we lived right in the core of the city, it could get noisy. The kitchen was really small, which wasn’t ideal since we really like to cook. Plus, it was nearly impossible to entertain friends in such limited square footage, and if one thing was out of place, it felt like the entire apartment was a mess. So, at the start of 2020, we started discussing moving to a bigger place.

Stephanie: On Valentine’s Day, Spencer proposed, and we started thinking about building a future together. We planned to get married in September 2020. We wanted to have our own place before then, fixed up and ready to move into. A place where we could raise a family together. We wanted a two-bedroom, three-bathroom detached, with room for an office, and a basement that could be turned into a rec room for us and our future family. A property with a big backyard for hosting barbecues in the summer and adding an ice rink in the winter, along with a driveway where Spencer could play ball hockey to stay in shape.

Spencer: Ideally, we wanted somewhere quiet with less traffic, but still in or near Toronto, and a neighbourhood close to both our sets of parents—mine in Old Mill, Stephanie’s in Lakeview. That meant Long Branch, Mimico and Mississauga-Lakeview were at the top of our list. We wanted to be near the GO train so Stephanie could commute to work downtown. And we were willing to do a few renovations, if necessary.

Stephanie: We decided to sell our King West condo and make its sale price the starting point for our budget. It was March 9, the week before Ontario declared a state of emergency, when we listed the condo for $545,000. We got a bunch of bids, and on March 13, we accepted an unconditional offer of $580,000, which included the furnishings. The sale would close on May 13, which gave us 90 days to find a new place for ourselves.

Spencer: With the equity from the condo, we had a pre-approved mortgage up to $750,000. We crunched the numbers and decided that with the down payment and renovations included, it would be smart to set a strict budget of $1,070,000. There was plenty of uncertainty at the beginning of the pandemic, and that number gave us some cushion in case either of us got laid off. So, we started house-hunting. In late March, when in-person viewings were still happening, we looked at a three-bed, three-bath detached in Mississauga listed at $1.1 million. It was nicely renovated, with a big basement and a nice deck. Because it was completely move-in ready, we went in with our maximum budget, $1,070,000, on offer night. Unfortunately, the sellers accepted another offer.

Stephanie: A week later, we viewed another home in Mississauga. It was a three-bed, two-bath detached listed at $1.16 million. It was in a good location for my commute, right near the Long Branch GO train, and was also close to our parents’ houses. Although it was smaller than the first place, it had been updated with a nice kitchen and new floors throughout. But we knew we’d have to do some renovations. The place needed a new driveway, air conditioning and some minor carpentry fixes. We bid $1,040,000 and told them we were willing to go up to $1,050,000, leaving money in our budget for those renos. Sadly, the house sold for $1.1 million.

Spencer: After we lost out on that bid, we slowed down our search. It became clear that a lot of sellers were listing low to elicit more offers, which meant everything became a bidding war. Around that time, the Ontario government urged against in-person viewings, and there was a push toward virtual tours and appointment-only showings. On April 16, we looked at the listing for a two-bed, two-bath detached in Alderwood. It was listed for $948,000. From the photos, we saw a beautiful vaulted-ceiling addition in the living room. We called our agent to get an appointment to see it. As part of the Covid-19 precautions, we had to sign a form confirming that we weren’t sick and hadn’t been in contact with anyone who was.

Stephanie: A couple of days later, on April 18, we saw the house and were immediately impressed. It was an older home, built in 1950, but it was in immaculate condition. It had old, handmade wooden cabinets. The basement was finished, but not into a separate suite, which meant we could make it into a rec room. It also had a detached garage and a backyard with a garden. It was like a blank canvas for us to make into our dream home. We figured if we could negotiate the price down, we would be able to afford renovations.

Spencer: The only complication was that the house was part of an estate sale, which our agent warned us can lead to complications. With courts not working at full capacity because of the pandemic, our agent hinted that it could push back our closing. We were told that if we bought the house, there would be a stipulation that if courts closed, we would be able to close five business days after they reopened. Plus, we did some research and found out that if a house is purchased through an estate sale, there’s an emergency order that can be issued to make those cases a priority when the courts reopen. So, we decided to take the risk.

Stephanie and Spencer in their parent’s basement, where they were forced to move when the pandemic compromised their home purchase. (photo by Erin Leydon)

Stephanie: On April 18, the same day we saw the house, we put in an offer of $900,000 with no conditions. The sellers got back to us saying they’d received an identical offer and asked us to give them our best. We decided to follow up with an offer of $924,000, which they accepted. We wanted a 30-day close, but the sellers negotiated to 45 days, which would bring it to May 29. That worked because we could stay with family once our condo closed on May 13. We thought it worked out well, since we didn’t give into any pressure and were left with a comfortable price.

Spencer: In the end, our agent was right to warn us about the estate sale. We still haven’t closed on our house because of delays in the courts during the pandemic. We also learned that we wouldn’t be able to use the emergency measure in the court to push through the house sale, because the whole estate had been filed at once. It means that the whole estate would have to be sorted through at the same time, instead of the house individually.

Stephanie turned a basement closet into an office. (photo courtesy of Stephanie Barsby)

Stephanie: When our condo closed on May 13, we moved all our belongings into my parents’ basement in Lakeview—the house I grew up in. Thankfully, we sold our condo furnished, so we didn’t have to worry about putting things into storage. We moved half of our belongings into my parents’ shed, but there are still lots of boxes in the basement, packed away in a back room. We have one bedroom plus a living room in the basement. We kept our mattress from the condo, and we have some furniture in the bedroom. We’ve made a makeshift gym with equipment my parents had. Spencer and I coordinate with each other when we’re working during the day—I take a lot of calls, so I’ve converted our closet into a quiet little office. Spencer sometimes ducks into the laundry room if he has a call. On our down time, we go for long walks and bike rides in the neighbourhood.

Spencer: We try to chip in with chores as much as we can to thank Stephanie’s parents for accommodating us. They usually cook dinner, which we eat together as a family, but we also try to treat them to a nice dinner once a week. We also visit my parents in Old Mill on the weekend.

Stephanie, among the boxes from their King West condo (photo courtesy of Stephanie Barsby)

Stephanie: We still think about moving into our new home every day. My parents are in the process of putting in new floors upstairs, so we’re hoping we can give them space to finish them off without too much hassle. Once we do move into our new home, we’d like to redo the kitchen and outfit it with brand-new appliances. We’d like to carve out big closets in the bedrooms, and build a theatre room in the basement. We also have plans to make a gym in the garage. We expect all of that, plus furnishings, to cost about $100,000.

Spencer: We consider ourselves to be in a relatively good situation, even though we’re in a limbo phase. We’ve learned a lot of important lessons about buying a home, and in the future, we would make sure we fully understand the regulations about estate sales and probably engage a lawyer before signing off. We still have no clear timeline for when we can move in. If the case gets expedited, we could move in within 30 days, but if not, it could be months. But after everything is said and done, I’m still happy with our decision—although if six months from now we still don’t have our house, my answer would probably be different.