Why Selling Our Toronto Home To Be Mortgage Free Didn’t Work

Real estate is emotional. Why? Because a house is more than walls and a roof, it is a container for our lives, our families, our communities. As part of an occasional series, we’ve asked local writers to share their real estate and housing stories.

It was the spring of 2021 and homes in our East York area were selling so quickly that it seemed like the city was having one giant flash real estate sale. Just instead of discounts and promotions, homes were gobbled up by the asking for hundreds of thousands in record time.

We were hoping ours would be one of them.

We bought our detached barn style house with two floors and a generous backyard in 2007. It was small but fit our small family of three (and a dog) just fine – that is, until COVID-19 hit. In the early days of the pandemic, with no family in the city, I felt isolated. And with all of us working and learning from home, our cozy space now felt cramped. At the time, the world seemed to be returning to normal and I thought that if this was my new reality, I would like to be closer to my parents and siblings.

The timing just seemed right. We could take advantage of the insanely hot real estate market and move to my hometown of Winnipeg, where we could buy a house with the proceeds from the sale of our home in Toronto and be mortgage-free.

It seemed like a no brainer. Family (check), financial security (check, check).

We had spent the winter and early spring renovating our house — complete with new bathroom, kitchen, floor above and a fresh coat of paint. We listed the home on April 21, 2021 for $999,900, hoping to spark interest and perhaps spark a bidding war or bullying offer, a trend our real estate agent saw in the market.

We thought it would be an easy sell – with the pandemic at its peak, there were plenty of people wanting to escape their mid-air boxes in the center for more space in the city. We knew who our buyer would be: a young couple, a single professional or an empty nester.

As soon as the for sale sign went up, potential buyers started trickling in, but it wasn’t the rush we expected. Although my house was small and beautiful, there were glaring issues beyond our control — namely, size and shared parking.

When the offer night came, we had zero bids. We relisted the property for $1,125,000, thinking buyers were tired of the bidding wars and a higher price would make us more transparent about our expectations. Nearly two weeks later, my husband and I had “the talk.” He wanted to take it off the market and stay. I convinced him to stick with it for another weekend.

The next day we finally had an offer of $1,040,000 – much lower than our list price. After some negotiation, we finally sold for $1,075,000, which was still a big profit for us, considering we bought the property for $375,000. After renovations, remaining mortgage, real estate, and attorney fees, we walked away with about $650,000. That meant we could comfortably buy a home in Winnipeg for $500,000 and have a financial buffer for future renovations and savings.

This is where the story takes a turn.

I boarded a plane to Winnipeg on May 27 to find our dream home on the Prairies, with a large yard with a pool in front of me – perfect for all those family barbecues. I moved in with my mom and spent a few weeks searching and found the market riddled with many of the same problems as Toronto – record low interest rates, low inventory, and high competition.

The difference was price—homes ranged from smaller $300,000 bungalows to more modern $600,000 homes—and space. I remember running into one that just kept going. I could see the realtor’s eyes light up after showing me room after room after room, assuming the vastness would surely amaze me. We walked out to the backyard, and it was huge, with an above ground pool and hot tub. This was what I thought I wanted – a private space to entertain, play and relax. But when I looked out over the large space, all I saw was… work. And what would we do with all this space? We were a family of three and my son would eventually move. None of it felt right.

I started to think, maybe the saying is true. Maybe you really can’t go home. Then I called my husband and said something that I was sure would drive him crazy. “Hey, what if we stayed in Toronto?”

After a minor stroke, he agreed to search in Toronto.

Staying in meant a re-evaluation of our budget and priorities. It would not only mean that we have to say goodbye to our mortgage-free dreams, but that we have to take out an even bigger mortgage than we owed on the house we just sold.

We decided on a budget of $1.2 million and went shopping for a house that met our must-haves: it had to be relatively close to our eastern end, have parking, and be larger than the house we had previously.

After weeks of searching, my husband found a semi-detached house—anything detached now beyond our reach—in the Coxwell-Greenwood pocket, just southwest of where we’d sold our home. It was two minutes from our son’s high school and steps from restaurants, cafes and shops on the Danforth.

The house was old and dated, but it had good bones and potential, including a separate entrance to the basement, perfect for rental income further afield.

It had been on the market for a week and had a failed offer night when the sellers turned down the offers. It was listed at $1,129,000 and we offered $1,180,000, but they responded with a number out of our reach – $1,235,000 – so we walked out.

Three weeks later, after losing a handful of Toronto bidding wars, the semi-detached house was still up for sale and sellers were getting nervous. We decided to make a second, lower offer and ended up with a purchase price of $1,175,000 – $5,000 less than our original offer three weeks earlier.

Although I had seen the house via FaceTime calls from Winnipeg, I hadn’t stepped into our new house until two weeks after we got it. It was only a five minute drive from our old house, but it felt like a world away – the neighborhood had no space between houses and the house was much darker than my open and airy shed.

Still, the kitchen was large and beautiful, the front porch overlooked a tree-lined street that smelled of fresh flowers, and we now had an extra bedroom (perfect for visiting family and friends). I still felt peaceful to let go of my old house. It was time to move on—just a few blocks west instead of a county.

So, what has this experience taught me? Sometimes the grass isn’t always greener. I had visions of a big house with a big yard and a swimming pool, but when I was confronted with that reality, it wasn’t really me.

The truth is, it’s important to love where you live. At least it is for me. Could I have been happy in Winnipeg? Secure. I would best describe it as a safe, sleepy choice and, frankly, I wasn’t ready to take it easy. I knew if we moved to Winnipeg I would always wonder what could have been if we had stayed in Toronto.

While no one can tell what the future will bring, as I sit on my porch with my dog, Stanley, softly snoring next to me, for now I’m happily right where I am.

Rachel Naud is the founder of INBETWEEN magazine, a digital magazine for parents of teens. When she’s not working on her porch with her dog, Stanley, she likes to walk to the Danforth for coffee and croissants.


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