Housing: It’s not just about size, Gentlemen!?

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By Sabine Ehgoetz

Sabine Ehgoetz currently lives in Toronto where she works as a freelance journalist, foreign correspondent and translator. In December 2005 she will celebrate her first anniversary as a Canadian resident.

“We need more room!” I hear my husband say from behind a huge stack of books that he has been trying desperately to put away for the last hour. I believe this to be an easily solved problem and suggest a visit to IKEA. In fact, I can already see us returning with some new shelves for him and lots of completely useless, yet pretty home accessories for myself.

Shortly afterwards I understand the full meaning of my husband’s comment and realize that the weekend trip to IKEA is not going to happen. He doesn’t have some cheap, easily assembled shelving items in mind – he wants to buy a house! He even has exact preferences in mind. Size is what matters most to him. It should come with at least four bedrooms – one for us, one for guests and two for all his stuff (like computers and music equipment). It also should be detached, so he can make use of those things without causing too much noise disturbance to our future neighbours. And, of course, it should be close to the subway, come with a fireplace and have a finished basement.

I wonder whether he has also come up with any ideas on how on earth we would afford such a place. Quick research on the internet tells me that we are talking about roughly $400,000. No way will the bank give us a mortgage this large, I keep telling myself. I must admit that our current financial situation gives me hope that I will not have to leave our lovely rented condominium.

Since moving in a year ago when we came to live in Canada, I had started to feel really comfortable with “condo-life”. The regular quick trip to the gym downstairs before work was quite convenient and hanging out in the facilities’ whirlpool whenever I felt like it was more luxury than I had ever imagined. We are even able to play indoor golf or invite people over for a bowling party. Plus I have never felt safer than in this complex with its strict security staff and protective door systems.

What else could you possibly ask for? More room apparently, according to my significant other who finds quantity more important than quality. He proudly presents me with what he believes to be a strikingly sound financial plan. We would be able to afford a “fixer-upper” – an old, run-down place that could be easily transformed into a dream house with a little work. The handyman in him already pictures himself at his favourite Home Hardware store where he would buy lots of fancy tools for this home improvement task. I, on the contrary, picture myself 40 years from now – still living in a construction site and begging my husband to finally fix the staircase he had promised to address 39 years ago (unfortunately his work-weeks had just turned out to be too busy and he had really needed the weekends to relax).

Sure enough, the first listed property we look at seems like no maintenance had been done since the ‘70s. Luckily, our agent shares my opinion that those upper fixers involve a high risk and might end up costing us much more than we had intended. He also seems to be the only one who truly understands my needs and shows us beautiful, fairly new houses further outside of Toronto. For the same price of this worn down bungalow in North York with its orange-brownish carpets and wooden walls, we could own a mansion, including a pool, in Oshawa or Ajax. Who cares about the 40 minute Go-Train ride into the city each morning if I could make some people overseas envious by sending pictures of me in my own pool? In addition I would feel much safer there than in a house in the middle of the city.

Immediately I start to dream about our social life in a friendly neighbourhood that would allow us to leave the doors unlocked. But my suburban dreams won’t come true, as he dislikes relying on the Go-Train every morning. To be honest, I don’t really want to get up an hour earlier either or live far away from all my new friends in the city. One thing we agree on is that we need easy access to downtown. But does this really mean I have to move into a windy, mould-overgrown, giant shed with a leaking roof?

In the end, it is indeed the bank that comes to my rescue. Having lived outside Canada for years, my husband couldn’t provide a recent tax history. That means we would need ten, not the usual minimum of five percent down-payment – cash we don’t have right now. Therefore, home ownership plans are off the table for another year. A year which I will use wisely to convince him that we should rather buy a nice condo in the city, slightly bigger than our current one – along with some storage systems that would help him to organize his stuff.

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