How A 30-Year-Old Journalist Bought Her $900,000 Toronto Home

Welcome to How I Bought It, where, each month, one Canadian shares how exactly they managed to buy their home. Our goal is to demystify the path to home ownership by talking openly about how people get there.
This month: A 30-year-old journalist with a joint $130,000 income
Location: Toronto’s east end, near Danforth and Main
The home: A 900 sq ft., semi-detached house with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. It was built in the 1940s, with new hardwood floors installed on the first floor and a kitchen renovation done 10 years ago. The second floor is in need of repairs, including renovating the bathroom, ripping out old carpet, and replacing the bedroom doors.
When I bought: June 2020
What I spent: $900,000
Downpayment: $300,000 (My partner and I contributed $150,000 each)
Mortgage payment: $2,500/month (split 60/40 between my partner and me, respectively, according to our income)
How I bought it: I’ve been aggressively saving to buy a place since I was 15. My parents emigrated from Italy in the 1960s and lived in basement apartments before building a comfortable life for our family, but I knew I’d be on my own financially after school. I put a lot of pressure on myself to save as much as possible at an early age. My first part-time job was at a movie theatre, and I took my first paycheque — which was $76 — and put half into my savings right away. That turned into a lifelong habit. 
When I started university in the midst of the 2008 recession, horror stories about graduating into a devastated economy with few job prospects scared me into doubling down on my savings. I was paying for school myself, so I lived at home with my parents and commuted in order to avoid going into debt. During this time I took all the birthday money and savings I put aside and invested it into a few safe bank stocks. I also worked two jobs: one at my student newspaper and one part-time job where I contributed a portion of my bi-weekly pay into the company’s employee share ownership plan. I worked for that company for eight years, so that small but regular contribution turned into a pretty decent sum of money.
When the pandemic hit and mortgage rates tumbled, my partner and I looked into whether we could afford a house. We found that, with mortgage interest rates sitting between 2 and 3% (these rates are now even lower), our monthly payment would be slightly more than the rent on our downtown condo (which was $2,300 month). Our downpayment was 30% of the cost of the house, which helped keep our payments low. We’re on a five-year fixed-rate mortgage
I’m also a big believer in having several savings accounts for different purposes. I have eight different accounts named for the goal I’m saving for. For example, in university I had accounts for saving for a house, travel, and school costs. Today, the accounts are property taxes, renovations ($100 per paycheque), emergency fund, and travel (between $50-$75 per paycheque).
Why I bought it: I’d been renting for seven years and was exhausted from dealing with unprofessional landlords. My partner and I decided that we wanted a place where we could feel settled, safe, and secure. To us, that meant owning a home.
A decent kitchen was a priority for us. I love to cook, so I knew we’d need a newer kitchen with updated cabinets, appliances, and plenty of counter space. (I knew we wouldn’t be able to afford the cost of a kitchen renovation.) The main floor of this house was updated 10 years ago, so the kitchen and living room have relatively new fixtures and hardwood floors, which was a draw. Something else we considered was how much the renovations for rest of the house would cost — we have an initial budget of $20,000 — and how much we can DIY. My partner is handy and we felt confident that we can take on small projects, like installing backsplash in the kitchen and ripping up old carpet, ourselves. But there are some big renos needed, especially on the second floor. The layout of the tiny bathroom needed to be totally retrofitted, and the plumbing had become crusty and clogged.
As city people who don’t own a car, this house’s proximity to public transit was another big selling point for us. 
How the deal went down: Our budget was tight for Toronto prices, so we created a spreadsheet to compare neighbourhoods and prices, and realized that Toronto’s east end ticked all the boxes. After a few months of shopping around, my partner found the listing for this home on HouseSigma, a real estate app, and sent it to our realtor. The spring pandemic lockdown was in full effect, so we did a virtual viewing and then set up a private appointment to tour the property with masks and gloves. 
We put in an offer that night and ended up being in the top two bidders of eight bids. We had to push to the highest limit of our budget to win the house, which made us feel uneasy at the time, but I’m so glad that we did it because we’re really happy with our little home.
What I wish I’d known before I bought: Before we started looking, I created a monthly budget to help me understand the mortgage payment, property taxes, and housing-related bills that I could afford without restricting my lifestyle significantly. We love to go out on weekends, travel at least once every year, and enjoy the odd dinner at local restaurants.
We knew that we'd have to cut back on that (you know, after the pandemic), but we didn’t want to pay to live in the city but not afford to leave the house. Seeing the numbers made me more realistic in the type of house we could afford and the lifestyle changes I could bear, and that made house shopping much easier and less disappointing. If you never see the tiny $1.7-million house in Little Italy that you can’t afford, then you won't feel the pain of lusting after what you can’t have. (At least that’s what I tell myself.)
Submit your How I Bought It here, along with any photos of your home. It’s completely anonymous, meaning you can be fully transparent.

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