The pandemic postponed their wedding—so they bought a house instead
Who they are: Tamara Zdravkovic, 32, a lawyer at Anderson Wilson LLP; Aaron Kirschner, 35, a medical resident at McMaster University
The buy: a four-bed, two-bath semi near Dundas and Keele
Tamara: In 2014, Aaron and I met at the Hideout, a music venue on Queen West. That night, we each had friends playing in different bands. After the show, he came up to me on the street and introduced himself. Aaron and I both love live music—he plays guitar and I like to sing—so we hit it off immediately. We officially became a couple a few months after that. In 2016, Aaron bought a $180,000 loft in Hamilton, just around the corner from McMaster, where he was starting his residency in neurology. And I got a one-bed, one-bath condo for $368,000 near my law firm in downtown Toronto.
Aaron: When I started my residency in 2016, I planned to live in Hamilton for the first couple of years. Having a place close to the hospital made sense because I would often be on call 24 hours a day. After Tamara and I got engaged in late 2018, to help save for our wedding, I rented out my loft for $1,500 a month and moved into her downtown condo. Then I just commuted to Hamilton for work every day. Sometimes, if I was on call, I would sleep on a single bed in the call room at the hospital.
Tamara: We planned to get married in July 2020. It was going to be a 200-person wedding at Pilsner Beer Hall, an event space in the Steam Whistle factory downtown, with a live performance from a pop and R&B cover artist. I also had a trip booked to Costa Rica for my bachelorette in April. And after the wedding, Aaron and I were going to France for a few weeks. So much for that. When the pandemic hit, we realized our wedding plans would have to be put on hold.
Aaron: With both of us living and working from home during the lockdown, Tamara’s 570-square-foot condo started to feel really small. Our neurology department moved non-urgent patient visits online, so I was working with them over Zoom or on the phone. Tamara was also on the phone with her clients, which meant we had to coordinate when each of us could take calls. That made us realize that we needed a bigger place to live.
Tamara: The market had slowed considerably because of Covid, so we figured there would be less competition among buyers. That was perfect, since we weren’t really in a financial position to get into a bidding war. We sold Aaron’s Hamilton condo in mid-March for $315,000. With the money from the sale, plus the roughly $45,000 we saved from the wedding, we had enough for a down payment. We set a budget of $1 million and started hunting.
Aaron: We’d like to have a family in the distant future, so we wanted a three-bedroom place in a walkable and lively neighbourhood, somewhere it would be easy to grab groceries and eat out. My residency doesn’t finish until July 2021, so we also had to consider the commute to Hamilton. Finally, we thought it would be smart to find something with a unit we could rent out until we were both financially stable.
Tamara: Our ideal neighbourhood was the Junction. It has a cool, up-and-coming vibe and lots of live music venues and breweries. Plus, there are other cool businesses like Pinot’s Palette and a book bar called Famous Last Words. We also love the old Edwardian and Victorian houses, with their romantic façades, high ceilings and original moulding. It’s only about an hour’s drive to Hamilton, so it made sense for Aaron’s commute, too.
Aaron: By mid-April, everyone knew the lockdown would be longer than two weeks, but no one knew exactly how long. We found an online listing for a house that we liked: a four-bed, two-bath semi in the Junction. But it was priced at just under $1 million. From our perspective, the price was too low and would attract multiple offers. Again, we wanted to avoid a bidding war, so we decided to keep looking.
Tamara: We must have looked at a dozen other online listings. A lot of them had 3-D models, and we took virtual tours and scoped places out on Google Street view. But nothing really piqued our interest. Then, in late April, we found out that the Junction semi was back on the market for $200,000 over the original asking. That meant we might be able to place an offer without competing against a bunch of other bids.
Aaron: Wearing gloves and masks, we toured the Junction house the day after it was relisted. The place was built in 1914. On the main floor, it had nine-foot ceilings and beautiful wainscoting. Plus, there was an upstairs unit with two bedrooms and a separate entrance, which we could turn into a rental suite. The front porch reminded me of growing up in the neighbourhood, when my dad used to sit out front and play rock and blues music over the speaker for people walking by. And the backyard had a big patio for entertaining guests and enough space to grow a garden.
Tamara: The next day, we toured two other houses for good measure. Both were farther east and were listed for about $1.1 million. One was a semi in Leslieville. The other was a beautiful semi in the Greenwood-Coxwell area. But our heart was set on the place in the Junction from the start. Shortly after, we submitted an offer of $1,125,000. It became clear that the sellers were expecting more, so we upped the bid by $25,000. That sealed it.
Aaron: We’re really happy about our buy. In the end, we went over our budget, but my dad and Tamara’s dad offered to pitch in for some of the closing costs and future renovations. We’re really grateful for that. Honestly, we’re not sure we would have been able to get a house like this before the pandemic. It’s too early to tell, obviously, but if everything goes well, we plan to eventually open up the ceiling in the master bedroom and add a pool in the back. We also want to expose some of the brick walls and open up the kitchen. When the time comes, we expect the reno to cost around $150,000. After we close in mid-July, I’m excited to start planting a vegetable garden.
Tamara: For now, we plan to rent out the upstairs for $2,500 to help pay off the mortgage. That number could change, depending on how the virus impacts the rental market. When we’re eventually financially stable, we’d like to merge the two units into a single-family home and raise a family. We’ll also dig out the basement to make it a place where we can play music. As far as our wedding goes, we still plan to get married—eventually. I really want my dad to walk me down the aisle, but he’s older so we’d prefer to wait until the pandemic is over. Our venue let us rebook for next June, which also happens to be my dad’s birthday. Hopefully, by then, everything will be clear.