September 08, 2014

School Daze

Back in June I received this facebook message:

“Absolutely!” was my reply. My second reaction was, “Uh, oh...a cottage.” 

I knew that this was going to be Christine and Mike’s first home and there are no shortage of articles warning potential buyers of the pitfalls of buying waterfront property. I did my research, looked at which lenders might consider 2 self-employed actors/writer, and then actually fund a rural property....the list was short. I won’t go into all of what I had learned from my colleagues and research but this ARTICLE gives a good idea of why lenders are not keen on cottages.

A few weeks later in a coffee shop on the Danforth, however, I would very quickly change my tune. With big grins on their faces, Mike and Christine slid their iPad across the table and said, “We’re thinking of buying THIS...”

on 1.5 acres of land an hour and a half outside of the city... 


Scrolling through the photos it became very clear that this was a solid, 4 season home, not a cottage, not a risk, and bloody GORGEOUS!

3 bedrooms, 2 baths, an office, full kitchen, and a lot of the original features of the old wood school house, renovated into a cozy home.

I mean, COME - ONAHHH! It looks like a magazine, but it wasn’t, it was Coburg. FULL DISCLOSURE, there was a moment there in that coffee shop where I thought, 

”HOWWWWW can I buy this TOO?” 

All of us now officially in LOVE with the property, it was time to get to work. 

This blog is not going to be about their numbers (and trust me, there was a LOT of number talk, trying to make them look awesome on paper - tricky for the self-employed, no matter HOW successful). I want to focus on their initial property journey, in their own words, and how they went from Downtown Toronto #Leslieville to the #coolestschoolhousepropertyever out in Coburg.


We rent an apartment in Leslieville, love the neighbourhood, and started looking for houses in and around that area in January. 

We were encouraged by some list prices that seemed within our budget, but we quickly realized that we weren’t going to be getting much more space than what we have now and we’d have to move further east or further north than we necessarily wanted. We were also not in a position to go much above asking in most cases, and bidding wars knocked us out of the running pretty quickly.

When we looked at the math, we realized that for what we thought we could carry per month, we could keep renting the apartment we love, in the neighbourhood we love, and buy a cottage – which is something that we’d been dreaming of having at some point down the road anyway. Getting out of the city with some regularity is important to us, but our jobs and family life make it necessary for us to live at least half of the time in Toronto. Picking up and moving for good is not really a practical option.

We started looking at cottages within about 90 minutes of the city. Lakefront properties we could afford were lovely but small, and often quite close to the neighbours. They were also mostly seasonal which wasn’t the scenario we were looking for.  

We decided to look for properties on an acreage instead of a waterfront, and a whole new world opened up. We discovered a gorgeous 3-bedroom home converted from an old one-room schoolhouse on 1.5 acres in the middle of farmland and forest, just northeast of Cobourg. Dream home. We contacted Marcia and were on our way.


We are self-employed artists. (Mike is a writer for TV and Christine is an actress - premiering a  film @ #TIFF14 today, no biggie) Our income is variable at best and, frankly, looks pretty terrible on paper.  

Mike is incorporated, which is fantastic for expenses and income tax and our daily lives, but awful when applying for a mortgage. (The reason self-employed people incorporate is to reduce personal income, but if your personal income is very low…… It’s hard to convince anyone you can carry a mortgage. Nightmare.)  

Our only saving grace, we’ve been told, is that we have good credit. Without it, there’s no way we could be purchasing a house – even one as comparatively affordable as this one is.  

Buying a property OUT of the city meant we were paying about a 1/3rd of what we would for a city home. 

We had been saving for a down-payment based on CITY prices $$$ (and knowing we’d need a stated income mortgage due to our financial circumstances, and that a sizeable down-payment would be required), so that meant we had a lot of money to put towards this down-payment (on a much cheaper home).

It was a stressful process, especially at the beginning when we were trying to meet our financing condition. We have never tracked down, scanned, printed, or signed so many documents in our lives. 

We needed forms and files and letters that the average employed person would likely never need. Old tax returns, letters of incorporation, proof that we have as much money in our bank accounts as we say we do, proof that that money has been there for at least 90 days, proof that the money in our RRSPs has been there for at least 90 days. 

And, because we were buying a rural property, proof that the water is potable, proof that the septic tank is up to code….. It felt never-ending. But, thankfully, it ended! And now the good part starts.


Buying something out of the city and keeping our Toronto apartment means we really do have the best of both worlds. We like the city, and we like the country, but we were never interested in anything in between. Now we can have a busy, bustling city life and a calm, quiet country life at the same time. Our kids can grow up as city mice and country mice, with museums and streetcars and farm animals and collecting firewood. And we have a small mortgage that we are likely to pay off far sooner than we would a Toronto home. 

The first year is going to be a huge learning curve (How does a septic system work? How long does a cord of wood last? What do you mean there’s no landlord to call when the stove breaks?), but it really feels like the right decision for us. We are very excited to begin the journey.

Christine + Mike 

I couldn’t be more excited if I tried for these city mice to claim their new identities out in the country. It was an absolute pleasure to help two more artists fulfill their property goal.