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This couple moved to Toronto during the pandemic. They got a 500-square-foot condo for $2,100 a month

By Ali Amad| Photography by Ebti Nabag
This couple moved to Toronto during the pandemic. They got a 500-square-foot condo for $2,100 a month

Who: Garry Ho, 29, PR manager; and Paidraic Carey, 28, talent acquisition director  

This couple moved to Toronto during the pandemic. They got a 500-square-foot condo for $2,100 a month

The history: In 2011, Garry moved from Vancouver to Toronto for a degree in cultural studies at York University. After graduating in 2014, he worked in PR and marketing before moving to England in 2018 for a master’s at City, University of London.

Before long, he met Paidraic, an Irishman who’d moved to London six years earlier to work in media and advertising. The two quickly hit it off. In September 2019, after completing his year-long master’s program, Garry found a job with a London PR agency and moved in with Paidraic, who lived with two other people in a three-bed, two-bath loft in Streatham Hill, about a 30-minute train ride from the city centre. Garry and Paidraic split their $1,700 share of the $3,700 total rent.

For their one-year anniversary, in the fall of 2019, the couple went on a four-day trip to Toronto, during which they stayed in a hotel near Yonge-Dundas Square. The couple fell in love with the city’s waterfront and parks, along with its more intimate vibe, compared to London. The trip also made Garry realize how much he missed his old college stomping ground. So, the couple made plans to move to Toronto once Garry’s U.K. visa expired in the summer of 2020.

Paidraic got a two-year working visa approved in early 2020, shortly before, well, you know. Despite their plans, Garry and Paidraic worried about travel restrictions and wondered whether they should wait to make the move, especially since they had until January 2021 to activate Paidraic’s visa.

But in May, they were both laid off from their jobs due to Covid-19. The couple suddenly found themselves locked down in London with nothing to do. So instead of waiting, they opted to travel to Canada as soon as they had the chance. That way, they could settle in early enough to enjoy Toronto’s typically sun-filled summer.

The move: The couple booked the first affordable flight they could find, on July 15, giving them a couple of months to get their affairs in order. But in order to satisfy his visa requirement, Padraic still needed to find a job in Canada. So he sent out job applications and conducted Zoom interviews, while Garry started looking at Toronto rental listings online.

The couple originally wanted to start by renting an Airbnb, then evaluate their short-term rental options in person. In the end, they figured most Airbnb landlords would be unwilling to host foreign guests who had just arrived from outside of the country. It made more sense to find a short-term rental online and worry about getting a permanent place once they were out of mandatory two-week quarantine.

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The couple set a $2,500 monthly budget for rent and limited their search to one-bedrooms, which was all the space they needed in the short term. They wanted to find something downtown close to the waterfront and on the subway line, which would allow them to easily explore the city and attend viewings. Garry and Paidraic packed light, so they also needed something furnished, but, unfortunately, they couldn’t find many furnished downtown options within their budget.

In June, with their flight a little over a month away, things started falling into place. Paidraic was offered a job, and a friend of Garry’s offered to sublet them her one-bed, one-bath condo at Bay and Wellesley for six months, long enough for them to get settled and find a long-term living situation.

This couple moved to Toronto during the pandemic. They got a 500-square-foot condo for $2,100 a month

The condo was less than 500 square feet—not exactly ideal, considering they’d both be working from home for the foreseeable future.

This couple moved to Toronto during the pandemic. They got a 500-square-foot condo for $2,100 a month

But the $2,100 rent fell comfortably within their budget, and the condo was a short walk from the waterfront and Wellesley Station, which ticked a couple of Garry and Paidraic’s boxes. The unit even had a balcony overlooking Yonge Street.

This couple moved to Toronto during the pandemic. They got a 500-square-foot condo for $2,100 a month

The only downside? The place was unfurnished. But Garry and Paidraic figured they could order everything prior to their July 15 arrival. The couple spent early July in anxious uncertainty, with travel restrictions seemingly changing every week, but when they sat down on their flight, after making their way through the eerily deserted Heathrow Airport, they could finally relax. Upon arrival 13 hours later, the couple went directly to their new place to start their two weeks of quarantine.

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After spending their first night in a virtually empty and echoey condo, furniture deliveries started arriving the next day from IKEA and Structube. On their list: a small couch, a TV stand and a dining table, along with a few other essentials. Garry and Paidraic spent the next couple of weeks assembling furniture, watching reality shows and cooking groceries delivered by Instacart. But their saving grace during quarantine was the balcony, where they had coffee every morning and intimate dinners every night.

The outcome: When the couple emerged from quarantine at the end of July, their first stop was a Yorkville bar, where they celebrated on the rooftop patio with a large glass of white wine. Garry and Paidraic then explored the waterfront, stopping at St. Lawrence Market and any bar or restaurant that had a good patio. It was their first time experiencing city life since lockdowns began in March in London. The couple also started a summer tradition of visiting a different park each Sunday to get some sun while sharing a bottle of prosecco.

This couple moved to Toronto during the pandemic. They got a 500-square-foot condo for $2,100 a month

Before long, Garry was hired by a Toronto PR agency, which made using the condo as a shared workspace even more challenging. But the couple have developed a harmonious routine.

This couple moved to Toronto during the pandemic. They got a 500-square-foot condo for $2,100 a month

They’re careful not to disrupt each other’s work calls, and they’ve put up a screen on their bedroom’s glass sliding door so their bed doesn’t appear in the background when they’re doing Zoom meetings from the dining table, which doubles as their office. Realizing they didn’t urgently need something more spacious, they took over the condo’s lease in early November.

This couple moved to Toronto during the pandemic. They got a 500-square-foot condo for $2,100 a month

Paidraic plans to apply for permanent residency in 2021, with Garry as his sponsor. The couple are also saving up to buy a house in the GTA within the next 18 months. Paidraic is excited to start a new chapter on a different continent, although he misses his friends and family on the other side of the Atlantic. But more than anything else, the past seven months have given both of them an immense feeling of gratitude that they safely made it to Canada, where they can now start building a life together.

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