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Real Estate

We renovated a Markham townhouse during the pandemic. It just sold for $390,000 more than we paid for it

By Michelle Chan| Photography by Eunice Chan
We renovated a Markham townhouse during the pandemic. It just sold for $390,000 more than we paid for it

When my husband, Richard, and I got married in 2018, the real estate market was on fire. I was 25. He was 27. We both had good jobs: I’m a senior digital marketing manager, he’s an accountant. Yet buying a house seemed just out of reach, even in Markham, where we both grew up and wanted to live.

That didn’t stop us from looking. In 2019, while we were renting a townhouse and squirrelling away money for a down payment, we checked HouseSigma every day. We must have visited roughly 80 houses in Markham and Richmond Hill throughout the year.

It took up a lot of our time and energy, but we loved the hunt. Plus, it taught us what we liked: an open-concept layout, a warm and welcoming feel, a location close to our relatives with enough space to raise a family of our own.

In November 2019, we found exactly what we were looking for: an open and airy 2,000-square-foot townhouse in Markham with a charming cream-brick facade, four bedrooms and five bathrooms. We love to cook and host, and we could imagine ourselves there, having friends and family over.

Some of the finishes—like the dark wood cabinets in the kitchen—felt dated, but we figured we could fix that once we moved in. We offered $875,000 and crossed our fingers. But the seller declined our bid—clearly, they thought they could get more.

At first, we were disappointed. But, two months later, the house was still on the market, so we made another offer: $930,000. This time, they accepted. We were overjoyed. We thought we’d bought our forever home.

In the early months of 2020, we anxiously awaited our closing date. Something else arrived first: the pandemic. I still remember moving in on April 1. The roads were eerily empty. It seemed like we were the only people for miles around. As strange as it was, I didn’t mind the lack of traffic. It made for a much quicker move.

The pandemic ended up shaping our relationship to our new home. Holed up with nothing else to do and no friends to visit, we decided to spend our idle time sprucing up the place.

We started by hiring a contractor to install hardwood floors. Then we enlisted my dad’s help—he’s always been handy—to sand down the wooden staircase until they felt bright and new.

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We renovated a Markham townhouse during the pandemic. It just sold for $390,000 more than we paid for it
Before
We renovated a Markham townhouse during the pandemic. It just sold for $390,000 more than we paid for it
After

By the time we finished that project, we were on a roll. We started wondering what else could use a facelift. 

To update the kitchen, we removed the existing cabinetry, lugged them into our garage and coated them with white and navy paint, using an industrial spray gun. Then we made our own wainscotting to give the walls some personality.

We renovated a Markham townhouse during the pandemic. It just sold for $390,000 more than we paid for it
Before
We renovated a Markham townhouse during the pandemic. It just sold for $390,000 more than we paid for it
After

Our do-it-yourself renovations cost us $15,000, much less than we would have paid for someone else to do it. But it was exhausting. For more than half a year, it felt like we were working two full-time jobs. Five o’clock would roll around and we’d say, “Okay, time to paint.”

We renovated a Markham townhouse during the pandemic. It just sold for $390,000 more than we paid for it
Before
We renovated a Markham townhouse during the pandemic. It just sold for $390,000 more than we paid for it
After

Covid didn’t help. Not only were we forced to live and work amid the mess of an ongoing renovation, we also had to wait longer than usual for even the most basic tools and materials.

I still remember sitting in the parking lot of the Home Depot, which we visited almost every day, waiting for an employee to bring us a tiny paintbrush because we weren’t allowed inside.

We renovated a Markham townhouse during the pandemic. It just sold for $390,000 more than we paid for it

The renovation definitely tested our marriage. After a 16-hour workday, anyone can get grumpy. Because we’re not professionals, minor mistakes often felt like tragedies—it could take us hours to fix them.

But it also felt like couple’s therapy. Doing it together, we learned how to be patient with one another, and we realized just how well we balance each other out.

We renovated a Markham townhouse during the pandemic. It just sold for $390,000 more than we paid for it

Richard excels at budgeting and measuring (he’s an accountant, after all), while I’m more of a creative. I follow interior designers on YouTube and Pinterest, which helped me design the new rooms and pick out furniture and finishings once the big projects were done.

We renovated a Markham townhouse during the pandemic. It just sold for $390,000 more than we paid for it

In the end, it was all worth it. Just as we’d envisioned, we entertained friends and family at dinner parties and barbecues. We cooked elaborate meals in our sparkling new kitchen. We loved the space—all the more because we did it ourselves.

We renovated a Markham townhouse during the pandemic. It just sold for $390,000 more than we paid for it

But, in the process, we realized our “forever home” might not be such a great long-term fit. For one, it was a three-storey house, and we were already getting tired of lugging groceries up the stairs. We knew it would be even tougher with kids. Plus, we would have loved to have more common space to share with our future children.

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Then there was the fact that the housing market had not slowed down at all. Richard and I kept checking HouseSigma and noticed that houses in our area were selling well over what we’d paid just a year earlier.

By then, it was the winter of 2021, and we were in lockdown again, looking for something to do. So, in keeping with our DIY ethos, Richard decided to get his real estate licence—an intense six-month process of studying and online seminars. In the meantime, I started cleaning, staging and photographing the home.

In September 2021, we listed our house for $1,188,000. We had to move out of our house for a week because there was so much interest, with 50 showings in seven days.

Our first offer came in at $1,320,000. We gladly accepted, and the sale closed on December 1. Richard, now a licensed real estate agent, handled the entire sale process, saving us from paying the commission.

Looking back, I’m proud of what we achieved. Despite knowing virtually nothing about buying, selling and renovating homes just two years ago, we did almost everything on our own. It took a lot of hard work and perseverance, but it paid off. We sold the house for $390,000 more than we bought it.

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We renovated a Markham townhouse during the pandemic. It just sold for $390,000 more than we paid for it

We plan to use the profits to help us find our true forever home. For the time being, we’re back in a rental, scouring the listings every day. This time, we’re going to make sure we buy something that doesn’t need as much work. As much as I loved the renovation process, once was enough.


Do you have an interesting real estate story? Did you move to Toronto during the pandemic? Wait, did you leave the city during the pandy and come back? We’d love to hear about it: realestate@toronto.com

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