Writers do have a license to exaggerate, but, when I say that my partner and I looked at 3,489 house listings on MLS, the truth is hot neon pink.
Since April, we have combed every neighbourhood in Dundas, Waterdown and Guelph. In weaker moments, we (mostly I) looked at prospects in St. George, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Paris and even Dunnville (lakefront!).
I turned my nose up at Burlington because it was too generic. Kim put the brakes on my escalated searches in Westdale, the fancy-pants area of Hamilton. “Babe, it’s Hamilton! We don’t want to live there.” Kim grew up in Hamilton and I grew up in Brantford. I didn’t even breathe a word about checking out Brantford properties, so, we called it even.
Our initial MLS prowling was casual and happy-go-lucky. We cruised around Waterdown and Dundas, slowing down to marvel at houses that weren’t for sale—but ideally what we were looking for. The first two-storey stucco charmer (with a For Sale sign) was on Melville Street in Waterdown. It sold before we even had a chance to get a sneak peek at the interior. We kept tabs on a few Dundas properties and discovered Collins Brewpub and Detour Coffee Roasters in between. I was set in the critical beer and coffee department.
We didn’t become die-hard buyers until Kim sold her Bronte home in June, after just five weeks on the market. We’d heard and read horror stories about carrying two mortgages and come May, the real estate market was already beginning to flat line. Once we had the green light to buy, every morning coffee was downed in front of my laptop, driving around the MLS map. I considered commuting back to Toronto for work, and with some clever transit-hopping, I could probably do it from Dundas. Kim liked the prospects of having a sub-twenty minute drive to her job.
Fast forward to the end of July—and then the end of August. We hesitated in booking a planned trip to Iceland in the fall thinking the September market would be hot. We willed ourselves to consider a house in Morriston (which I had never even heard of), because it was a bloody gem. But, my pedestrian-friendly lifestyle would be void. The job prospects for me were relatively zero. Kim and I drank cheap beer on the deck of the token Morriston Chinese restaurant, reading our fortune cookie messages aloud. Mine alluded to buying the house (that we could see from the deck of the restaurant). I figured I could work in the kitchen and learn how to make those really tasty pineapple chicken balls once and for all.
Of course we loved the Morriston house. It was a jaw-dropper by all accounts, but, the annoying drone of Highway 6 traffic and the airbrakes of trucks at the only stoplight had me agitated in under five minutes. It’s not that we were being picky, but, noise pollution was not going to be tolerated—even if it was a really dreamy dream home.
I sold Kim on the idea of Guelph. It had all the pizzazz of the big city because it was a university town. There was Thai food, hiking trails along the river, a covered bridge just like the one in Bridges of Madison County, a bookstore with an arty movie theatre, golf courses galore (the way to my gal’s heart) and, c’mon—a donkey sanctuary(the way to my heart)! We spent a night at the swank Norfolk Guest House to fully immerse ourselves in the city. Could we live in Guelph? Yes! We picked up a 6-pack of the local Wellington Arkell Bitter craft beer. Kim adopted a donkey from the sanctuary for me for my birthday. It all seemed to be falling in place.
First there was the brick home on Tiffany. The stunner on Suffolk. The sweet serenity of the 1920s cottage on King.. The cozy spell of Powell. I was certain we’d be calling Guelph ours in no time. I was ready to ditch my massage therapy career for any kind of job at the donkey sanctuary.
We drank more Wellington Arkell so as to not jinx anything.
Tiffany had a suspicious bow in the exterior wall. Suffolk had a conditional offer seemingly overnight. The King cottage had nowhere for a hockey bag, snow tires, golf clubs or, overnight guests for that matter. Powell had a basement designed for Smurfs (and a dodgy foundation to boot) and a backyard that had a view of the adjoining neighbour’s sloppy carport and the unfinished siding of the adjacent house. Too close for comfort.
With our opposing schedules, Kim and I had to capitalize on our days off (which seemed to be falling every other week), madly texting MLS numbers to our no-holds-barred agent, Jane Gardner, to arrange viewings.
Kim took advantage of weekend open houses while I toiled in the spa, wondering—could this be the one? I gave her full permission to buy on the spot. I’d read enough about bully offers and bidding wars in Toronto Life and The Grid. HGTV Realtor Sandra Rinomato was our gospel. We knew we’d have to act pit viper-quick and go in with a killer offer.
Falling in love with houses (repeatedly) was like playing dodge ball with an emotional wrecking ball. We gave up on Guelph and decided to take off to Texas. We needed a house search sabbatical and the balm of a beach and some serious sunshine.
We’d been through over 20 houses and the cons of each sunk the shining pros. Yes, we were becoming disenchanted.
We joked about my near-career at the Great Wall Chinese restaurant. But, it was beginning to look like the most promising option. Kim reminded me that we had to stick to our guns and not sacrifice what was most important to us: quiet, privacy, personality, possibility. We wanted a home that was “us,” and my mom insisted that we would know. “Your knees will knock and your heart will stop.”
Kim was still waiting for the knocking knees. I amended my mother’s statement and suggested that knee trembling could be the sign too. Were we being too picky?
I started looking at industrial lofts—really gorgeous spaces with exposed brick and cathedral ceilings but no outdoor space and $600 monthly maintenance fees. Kim gently axed the lofts and a fixer-upper in the Grange in Guelph when we did the Google map street view. Unless I was eager to start dealing drugs, the hood was more grunge than Grange. Another gem was immediately shut down when we learned that a high-rise sat to the left.
There was always something. Barrie street had a pool (ugh, no and groan). A hot tub (even worse!).The Park Road one-bedroom in Dundas would be a bitch to re-sell (but, it was a magazine spread with a fairytale creek in the backyard). There was urea formaldehyde foam insulation. There were train tracks too close to the house. Bulldozers clearing the land for a new subdivision. Neighbours with a jacked up 1992 Tempo with no wheels in the driveway next door. Listings for $449,900 that still needed massive kitchen renos and bathroom overhauls. What, no shower? At all? Or, the house in Guelph with so much wood panelling it could have doubled as a sauna.
And, I’m not even addressing the state of “decor” in many of these listings. When was red carpet ever okay? Why have flowers thrown up on every wall in the house? Why the Pepto pink tiles on all surfaces of the bathroom? Why are you collecting rocking horses??
Kim and I can easily scare the life out of each other with some detailed accounts. Like the bathroom with eight light fixtures and Roman-esque pillars. Or the basement with the “tomb” at the end of it. Or the other basement with the dirt floor covered in mysterious tarps. The floors of the house on the hill in Dundas that tilted every which way but level. And, don’t even get me started on the knickknacks.
By October, we were ready to call the house hunt quits for the winter. We digested the idea of staying in my Annex apartment until spring—the market would kick-start again by the end of March. As Kim sleepily printed out another street parking pass, I hoped she wouldn’t have to slog from Toronto to Hamilton for work much longer.
And then, it happened, when we had really resigned ourselves to a spring market. We were going to visit Kim’s sister (who, lucky dog, looked at ONE house and bought it, just like that) in Ayr, and had decided to scan the nearby Cambridge listings to coincide with our visit. Maybe we could find a home on the Grand River? Why not Cambridge? We’d scoured everywhere else.
We booked a day of four showings and fell for the first one. The 1861 stone cottage had to be ours. The exposed stone, studio carriage house (with a tie-up on the exterior for the horses), deep windows, wide plank flooring, leather-wrapped granite counters and 12 -foot ceilings…screamed us. Kim was sketching designs for a kitchen island that night. I was already set up in the studio, sipping French press coffee and writing about St. Lucia. We could see our friends in the backyard, circled around the bonfire. Our joined family clinking glasses at Christmas as the golden bird emerged from our double-oven (Mom, you’ll do the turkey, right?).
For a week we mentally moved furniture in but reserved our excitement for the inspection. We paced back and forth to the FedEx on Bloor, scanning documents and agreements to our realtor. We drank wine until we got the go-ahead to pop the champagne.
As Laura Ingalls Wilder said, “Home is the nicest word there is.”
Editor’s note: Want to buy or sell a house in the K-W region? Check in to Jane Gardner’s site at Royal LePage. (ps. THANK YOU JANE!)