I’ve been a part of some very lengthy property searches throughout the years.
Occasionally, the search takes a long time because the buyer isn’t really looking to buy, but thinks he or she is, and the search starts and stops, goes left then right, up and down, and eventually what’s purchased is nothing like what was first discussed, nor was the purchase in any way timely.
But more often than not, the buyers who take forever to seal the deal aren’t the problem themselves, but rather the market is.
I don’t have an official “record,” pe se, for buyer clients making offers, but I do know off-hand that I’ve had a couple of clients that took seven or eight offers before they finally found a home.
This happened once in 2014, and I wrote a 5-part blog series about it.
Here’s the first installment in case you’re interested:
Three years later, I had a similar experience with an unlucky couple who, through no fault of their own, bid on seven houses before they finally tied one up. So I repeated the series, which you can read here:
My wife and I started looking at houses in January of 2017, and didn’t move until August of 2018, so we had a rather lengthy search, ourselves. But as with every property search, ours was different. There are no two the same.
Having “lost” on a house in late-April of 2017, and having regretted even making a bid on that house in the first place, my wife and I now found ourselves moving on with life as the summer months approached, not giving much thought to housing.
The weather was better, and we were setting up the terrace at our condo.
Our daughter was six-months-old, so no longer just “luggage” as the saying goes, but she was starting to respond to us, and make expressions based on emotion or observation, which is always an interesting stepping stone.
Life was good, and life was easy, and part of that had to do with the property search being unofficially “on hold.”
We were planning ahead for summer, with our annual trip up to Huntsville for Canada Day long weekend (this would be the 4th straight year we had rented the same cottage, but the first with a baby), as well as a trip down to our family’s place in Idaho to follow in August.
An interesting thing happened when we were away over Canada Day long weekend. No, it wasn’t that we realized just how different “vacations” are with a baby (because it was only me that was caught off-guard, of course), but rather a house came up for sale in Chaplin Estates that was seemingly what we wanted.
This house was a decade-old version of the house that we wanted to build, back when we bid on that lot in February.
It wasn’t quite perfect. There was a room in the basement, under the built-in garage, that was only 4 1/2 feet high. I didn’t understand why the house was built like this, but I figured that at some point in a year, or ten years, if I wanted to underpin that room, we could do so. The kitchen and bathrooms might have been a little older than we wanted, but honestly, this had the layout we were looking for – minus my coveted main floor office. And with the market having cooled off in the preceding three months, this house was looking at “offers any time.”
2017 was the busiest year I’d ever had professionally (because every successive year is the busiest…) and with a new baby, my wife and I had spent a lot of time talking about the work-life balance, and “setting boundaries.”
For a decade, I worked seven days per week. It never bothered me, since I was young, single, in my 20’s and eventually 30’s, and without any dependants. My wife and I got married in 2013, and I kept the work schedule. She didn’t mind, and we still spent a ton of time together, since neither of us is the type to “go out with friends” twice a week. But once my daughter was born in 2016, I decided to take one of Saturday or Sunday off, every weekend. And if there was a quick appointment that needed to be done, so be it. But we’d have “the day” together, every weekend, from now on.
As for the “boundaries,” it was more about not dropping everything to answer the phone when it rang, every time. I could be sitting on the couch, listening to my wife pour her heart out, tears streaming down her face, and if my phone rang, it was, “Sorry babe – hold that thought, I gotta take this.”
It’s the business. It’s the life. And my wife knew and accepted this for the six years we were together, pre-baby. But was I going to drop my baby in the crib to answer the phone? Ummm, apparently not. Not anymore, so I was told.
When this new listing hit the market after Canada Day long weekend, and we were up at a cottage, taking the first week to ourselves since Christmas, my wife and I discussed heading back to the city to see it, and cutting the trip short.
I gave it a lot of thought, and I finally concluded, “We need boundaries. We can’t slave to this. We have to live our lives.”
And so we decided that if the house sold, and we missed our chance, then so be it.
We booked a viewing for the Saturday that we’d be back, and the week went on. We finished our trip, and it was awesome.
In the car, on the way back to Toronto on Saturday, my phone buzzed, and sure enough, it was an email from the listing brokerage: the house had been sold firm. Whether it was that morning, or on Friday night, it didn’t matter. We weren’t coming back early to see this place, and we knew the risks.
That was the last thought we’d have about a house for three-quarters of a year.
And as we had done previously, we just went on with life. We went to Idaho, had a great summer, the fall real estate market was busy, Maya had her first birthday, we spent time with family over Christmas, we went to bed at 11pm on New Year’s Eve, and eventually, the winter of 2017/18 gave way to the spring of 2018.
I was browsing new listings on MLS one day in May when I saw a house that looked familiar.
“This thing,” I thought. “I know I’ve seen this.”
I wasn’t sure exactly what was etched on my brain, but I was curious. I ran a history on the house and saw that it had been listed previously, twice.
“Ah, right,” I realized. This house was in an area that I had written off completely a couple of years back.
I remember going to see a house with a colleague of mine, which was odd, since I hadn’t been to an “Agent Open House” in about ten years. She dragged me along, and the younger version of myself made comments like, “I’m going to have backyard three times the size of this one. My son is going to run button-hook and stop-and-go patterns as I launch footballs at him,” I told her. “My basement is going to have higher ceilings, for my ping-pong table, ” I told her, as she nodded along.
The house I was looking at now was in the same pocket as this house, and I remember telling my colleague back then, “I would never live here. It’s too desolate. Like, what’s even around here?”
Now, in 2018, I was looking at the photos of this house, richly thinking to myself, “Well……I don’t hate it.” Oh, that’s rich.
My family and I were getting ready to go to South Carolina to see my wife’s cousins, and I had the day at my disposal. So I called my wife and said, “Do you want to go look at a house?”
“A house?” she said, as though she was completely unfamiliar with the concept.
“No, not like, to buy,” I told her. “Just, like, for something to do. You know, get the creative juices flowing again. Like that.”
“Okay, cool,” she said. “I’ll put Maya in the car and I’ll meet you there.” And with that, I booked a viewing, and headed over.
One of the listing agent’s team met us there, which I never really like, but she kept out of our way.
I remember opening the front door and immediately saying, “Look how small this house is, I can basically touch the back door from here.”
My wife scoffed, but I wasn’t being dramatic. Compared to that house on which we bid in April of 2017, this thing was a cozy cottage.
I didn’t like the detailing in the main floor office.
I hated the gas fireplaces.
The kitchen was way too modern.
The backyard was tiny. I mean, a 102-foot lot? Paaahlease!
The stairs did not feature wrought-iron spindles and oak banisters, but rather that awful glass that’s all “new-age” and stuff. Not my style, thanks!
“I don’t love this,” my wife said to me as we walked upstairs, and I knew we were on the same page.
The second level was nice, I’ll give it that. But all the vanities were about 6-8 inches too low. What was that about? Was this house designed by jockeys? It made no sense.
The basement was kind of cool, but it had features I didn’t like, and didn’t value.
We were in and out pretty quickly, but the trip wasn’t really a bust. I merely called my wife and brought her in here so we could start looking at houses again. We had to start somewhere, and since there was nothing out there that I liked, I thought we could just check this place out.
The weather was nice, so we decided to walk for a bit. Maya was now 18-months-old and walking, and she was pointing to a climber at a park about one block away.
We went and had ourselves a nice little time there at the park. I always get this feeling like I’m cheating at something, whenever I leave the office during the day to do something personal. It was a nice day. The sun was out, it finally felt like summer was on the horizon, and my wife was looking at me, smiling.
“This is so nice,” she said, as the three of us played on the swing.
“I really like that house,” she added.
I was nodding along, you know, in that manner when you have no idea what the person is talking about, and yet you find yourself nodding anyways.
“What house?” I asked her.
“That one,” she replied. “The one we were just in.”
“You like that house?” I asked. “We just walked through it, and we both panned every single feature of it.”
“I know,” she said, “But now it’s growing on me.”
“Now, like, when?” I asked. “Like, in the five minutes it took to leave the house, that we didn’t like, until this moment?”
She smiled, and nodded.
It was weird. I didn’t really take her seriously, but I will say that the half hour we spent in the park with Maya was great. I really, truly wished we could find a house someday that was in an area like this one, with a park like this one.
The next night was Friday night, so naturally I found myself drinking Crown Royal and diet gingerale alone after my wife had gone to bed, and I was doing an inventory on my sports memorabilia. In 2013, I got the urge to spend money on something that I wouldn’t really “enjoy” for many years. The greatest five hockey players in the world, and this is not up for debate, are Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, and Mario Lemieux (chronological order). I knew that one day, when I owned a home, I wanted to have framed, autographed jerseys of these five players adorning the walls of my man cave. I bought these in 2013 and then had them matted and framed, and they were stored in bubble-wrap in my mother’s basement ever since.
At 42-inches wide, plus room in between, I knew I’d need a wall that was almost 20-feet long in whatever house I purchased to properly display these jerseys all in a row.
Just for fun, I decided to look at the measurements of the house we’d just seen, simply as a litmus test.
It was too bad. The wall at the back of the basement was only 14-feet long. Ah well.
I sat there, looking at photos of the house, for quite some time. They had even staged the basement rec-room with a ping-pong table. How ironic, since my man-cave would one day have a ping-pong table.
The next day, Jenna, Maya, and I flew down to Savannah, Georgia, and drove through areas you’d only seen in movies, on our way to Kiawah Island.
We were there for four days with her family who live in Atlanta, and it was great getting to know them, since I’d only met them once.
The house we stayed in was gorgeous: right on the golf course, three storey, five bedrooms, and a really cozy family area. It got both Jenna and myself thinking about houses once again, although we didn’t discuss it; this was something we both only figured out once we were back from the trip.
Out for a walk on the first day, my wife said, “I’m still really thinking about that house! What do you think?”
I told her I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had thought about it, although I was really thinking about a house, not this house.
The house had so much of what I wanted, and I’ll be honest: it had been growing on me a little bit.
The area being sleepy, desolate, secluded, far from a “main drag,” or whatever you want to call it – this really didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. I mean, I’m very car-dependant as it is. When we were living in a condo downtown, of course we walked out for the proverbial coffee, or down to the St. Lawrence Market. But in a house, we weren’t going to have those same luxuries. And I thought back to the house that was “steps to Yonge,” and I was going insane trying to feel the goddam subway underneath my feet anyways!
The lot was only 102-feet deep, and no, I wouldn’t be able to put in a hockey rink or football field for my son. But considering I didn’t actually have a son, and considering there’s a park one block away, maybe this wasn’t so much of an issue?
As for the style, I wasn’t a huge fan of “transitional,” which is somewhere between modern and traditional. But the house was new, and what the hell do I know about style anyways? Perhaps this style was ahead of its time.
All the while, I wondered if I just wanted any house, and that’s why this one was growing on me.
But as the days went on, my wife was more and more excited about the prospect of this home, and that made me excited. She wasn’t excited to build a house, and while she loved the house that was steps from Yonge, she hated the second house on which we bid.
By the end of our trip, she was, true to the word, in love.
I took a look at the measurements of the basement again, and guess what? If we re-routed all of the wiring for the TV and speakers to the other wall, and moved the built-in console, I could get my 20-feet! Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “David, did you buy a house because it fit your five hockey jerseys?”
The answer is not “yes.”
The answer is……….”maybe.”
Maya was really difficult through that trip, and it just sort of put this bug in our ear that perhaps she needed more space. She wasn’t just walking by this point – she was running. Maybe a small backyard for the summer was in store?
We decided that when we got back to Toronto, we’d wait two weeks, then make an offer. This house was on its third listing, at its third price. It wasn’t going anywhere, anytime soon, so we figured we had nothing to lose by waiting.
The day after we got back to Toronto, I was in the car wash – I’ll never forget this moment, and my phone buzzed: there was a registered offer on the property. Call the listing agent if we were interested.
I called my wife and told her, and she said, “What do you think?”
I said, “I think we’re buying a house today. Let’s do it.”
Jack was in Montreal for the weekend, but he called the listing agent, who we both knew quite well, and he tried buttering her up. He called me back shortly thereafter and simply said, “Bring the money, Dave. She’s not giving you an edge on this one just because it’s for you. Bring everything you’ve got.”
Even though we were in competition, we still came in under the list price. The house had been on the market for five weeks now at this price, and I knew both parties would be under list.
I went to present my offer in person to the owners, and their kids were in the room. It seemed to be really sweet, really sincere, and really authentic.
I was surprisingly calm throughout this process. The market was very different from one year previous, and rather than being in a 28-offer, 8-offer, or 9-offer melee like the first three go’s at this, I was simply bidding on a house that had been languishing on the market for five months, up against another bidder, who I honestly didn’t think would come up to the list price.
And to be honest, folks, I did think the listing agent would give me an edge because I was buying my own house. Don’t shoot the messenger here, but when an agent is buying a house for him or her family, a lot of the time, the listing agent will “work with them,” as we say. If I was bidding against a 905, fly-by-night agent, the listing agent would be doing him or herself a favour by helping me out, strengthening an existing relationship, and getting more money for the seller.
Hate that. I won’t blame you. But don’t be naive either.
I sat in the waiting room of the brokerage, simply texting my wife to say, “I presented, it went well. Just waiting.” She said, “Keep me posted,” and that was it. Everything seemed so……..relaxed.
The listing agent came out from the back room, and approached me with a smile. Was this it? Was it really going to be this easy?
“Well!” she said with an even bigger smile, and suddenly I caught on that there was a “situation” or some sort of “here’s the thing…”
“I know this is for you and your family, so I want to help you out,” she said, as I weighed whether or not to believe her. “So if you can come up to this number,” she said, pointing at some handwriting on her stack of papers, “We won’t go back to the other people. Because you’re ahead, David. I’ll tell you that. But who knows how much they might come up, right?”
I thanked her for the honesty, and went outside to call my wife.
“This house is ours if we want it,” I told her. “We’d have to come up.”
Hearing the words come out of my mouth, I just sort of felt like this was a con. I don’t know why, but I found myself telling my wife that we should come up slightly less than what we were told, and my wife agreed.
So that’s what we did.
I re-submitted our offer, and we waited.
I could see the listing agent on the phone, and I knew she was speaking to the other buyers. I’ll never know if she really was going to give us the house, and not go back to them, but I’ll tell you later what I would have done, if I had it to do all over.
Twenty long minutes later, she came out with another smile; a different smile, and said, “Congratulations, David. You’ve bought an unbelievable house.”
What did I feel in that moment? Let me close my eyes, and try to put myself in that time and space…
In that order, if my memory serves me correctly.
I asked the listing agent if she could “play along” and I’d call my wife, and we did. I pretended as though she had just arrived as I was speaking to my wife, and then she said, “Congrats, you’ve got the house.” My wife was so happy, but so surprised. So unsure of how to feel, and what to say, and think.
“See you home in twenty?” I said, and all of a sudden, I realized just how serious this was.
We had just bought a house. And it was so easy. At least, compared to the process on year prior.
We got up in the morning, went through our days, signed some papers, sat in comfy chairs at an office, shook a few hands, and left. It was so easy. So simple. And when I thought back to the absolute fear and utter confusion I had experienced when bidding on that house in April of 2017, I realized that this time, we got the right house.
I was home by just after 6pm, and my wife was inside with our daughter.
“Hey,” I said.
“Hey,” she said back.
So calm. So easy. So unbelievable.
“We did it,” she said, almost asking, not telling.
“Yeah, we did,” I replied.
We hugged, and Maya smiled. I’ll never forget that moment, as long as I live. That was when I realized the next phase of my life was on the horizon, and while I was married, with a child, and in my mid-to-late 30’s, I still felt like a child inside. That “youthful enthusiasm” I described above was quite ironic, since I felt a childish joy when I found out we got the house, and within hours, felt like I had one foot out the door of a very long, very important phase of my life, and was stepping into the next one.
Looking back at this now, as I have done many times before, I’ll tell you what I would have done, if I had this to do all over: I would have paid more.
That sounds stupid, but honestly, I was so careless. Who knows what really happened behind closed doors, but who cares. I was asked to come up a certain amount, and I came up about 70% of that amount. In turn, I left the door open for the listing agent to screw me. If Jack were there, he’d have said, “Do you want the goddam house or not? When you’re drowning, and somebody extends their hand to pull you out of the water, do you tell them their hand is dirty, and ask for a rope instead?”
Jack would have never let me “get cute” with the price, as another wise man once told me; that man being my father.
When I bought my second condo, back in 2010, I was up against only one other offer. After the initial presentation, the the listing agent called and said, “You and another offer are neck-and-neck. You have to improve.” I did, but only by $5,000.
In the end, I got the condo by $1,200.
I remember telling my dad the story, and he said, “Boy was that ever stupid.”
I was so confused. I got this by $1,200! What was the problem?
“Don’t pretend you got it because you knew what the other offer was. You rolled the dice and won, but you got too cute. You almost lost the place over a few grand. Boy, would you have regretted that! It’s not worth it, buddy. If you’re gonna do a job, just go and do it. Get it done.”
He’s right. Absolutely right.
We sold that condo for more than double what we paid, so did it really matter if I came up by $5,000 or $10,000? So instead of “winning” by $1,200, I’d win by $6,200?
I was in that condo for eight years, and they were eight wonderful years. I moved in with my girlfriend, who became my fiance, and then my wife. I had my first child there. I grew from an early 30’s guy into and almost-40’s man. And to think I almost lost it because I was “getting cute.”
In this wonderful home of mine, today, I absolutely cringe when I think about “getting cute” with this house on offer night. It was so, so stupid. I’m embarrassed to even admit that I did this, and if any of you want to defend me, or defend the idea of “sticking to your price” or “having a budget,” don’t bother. It’s nonsense. We’re blindly throwing money, and if you want the goddam house, then throw enough to win. I can’t imagine a better home to live with my family for the decades ahead, just like I can’t imagine having married anybody else. Like I said: dating and house-hunting. The similarities are endless.
We moved into the house in August of 2018, and in typical “David and Jenna fashion,” we were unpacked within 24 hours. Obsessive-compulsive doesn’t describe what we are. I took eighty flattened cardboard boxes back to the condo and dumped them in the garbage room. And then went back again ten hours later. Topic for another day, but wow is there ever a difference with garbage and recycling in a house versus a condo!
Last year, Maya had her first Halloween, her third Christmas (but first that she could remember), and we celebrated her 2nd birthday here too.
Baby Boy Fleming will be born here in February of 2020, and while I shudder to think about being 54-years-old when he enters Grade-9, and maybe not as cool as I had hoped I’d be (my plan was to attend parties with him, and show him the ropes with the ladies…), I’ve been told that “fifty is the new forty,” so I’m pleased with the way mathematics has changed in the new millennium.
Over one year into the house, and we haven’t had any issues. I mean, other than the city of Toronto charging for garbage bins outside of what we already pay in property taxes, but that’s a topic for another day.
Oh – and I did get my jersey-wall in the man-cave after all.
My wife raised a bit of a fuss when I told her about the modest “renovation” needed with respect to the wires, console, and speakers, but I just made sure she wasn’t home when they cut through the ceiling to fish the cables.
What do you think?
“A man that collects, is a man kept busy, and a man not out looking for trouble.”
That’s what I tell my wife, and that’s why she doesn’t lose her mind every time I bring home yet another hockey card for the collection.
So that’s my story, folks.
Thirteen years living in condos downtown.
An 18-month-long housing search.
Four bids, four very different houses, in four very different areas, and God damn am I ever happy with how this turned out.
Thanks for reading, and for letting me share.
Have a fantastic weekend, and I’ll ‘see’ you all next week.