October 06, 2014

It's what's on the inside that counts

OCTOBER 10, 2014

Living in apartments for the majority of my life, my exposure to renovations, or any kind of house maintenance, was limited. Even at my grandmother’s house (where I lived for the first 7 years of my life) I rarely saw anything other than cosmetic improvements, and couldn’t tell you when the “breezeway” was ripped down, or if the shower wall (maintained with surgical tape) was ever fully repaired. I know that things were “done” but as far as I was concerned, they happened by magic and that was just fine with me.

When we finally began our house hunt in 2008, I did it, initially, on my own. As a rule, I don’t hum or haw about things and finding a home was no different. There was nothing romantic about it. We had a budget, my deal breaker list and I was going to stick to it:

• must be detached

• must have a driveway
• must be walking distance to the subway
• must have green space of some description
• must have good bones (beauty be damned)

I saw many houses that had been “improved” by paint, do-it yourself back splashes (horrible!!) and Home Depot Specials that, on the surface successfully pushed the prices up, exceeding the home’s actual value by at least $20,000.00. 

I knew that my husband was capable of building a house on his own, so why would I pay $20,000 EXTRA dollars to buy a house where the “improvements” would be ripped out the day we got the key!?


It would be the first house that I saw that I would come back to again and again. No improvements had been done since 1965 but it met all of the deal breakers on the list, including the price. When Mich saw it he warned me (in his cute, French Canadian accent)

HIM: “Baby, this needs a LOT of work. I don’t think you understand how much.” 
ME: “But is it possible?” 
HIM: “Anything is possible, for a price.” 

6 years later, good house bones intact, and still many improvements to be made (Oh God, the roof!!!) we know we made the right choice. As long as we were warm and cozy, we didn’t care what it looked like. We bought what we could with what we had; no apologies. Anything was possible as long as we were patient, and, so far, we have been... 

OK, I have not been patient about buying a NEW, GROWNUP, #Iam40yearsoldGODdamnit COUCH!!!


But other than that, as long as everything else is dry and maintained, I’m good to go. I can live with constant projects. I’m a wizard with a micro-fiber dust cloth and shop vac, and my guests could care less what the joint looks like as long as there’s food and wine.

Aside from storytelling, I do have a point to today’s blog, reminding you that it was written from the point of view of a:

• Self-employed artist (who saved and saved)
• married to another self-employed artist / contractor (who saved and saved)
• and now mortgage agent 

The things that should matter on your house hunt are not the shiny tiles, but the bones behind them, and what you can afford to do in the first 5 years to keep it:

• dry
• updated to code via initial discoveries in your home inspection
• warm
• cool
• standing

The colours of the tiles don’t matter (initially) but these things DO:

• roof
• driveway
• basement foundation
• plumbing
• insulation
• furnace
• wiring 

(Wiring is a BIG deal if your inspection finds knob and tube and lists it for your home insurer to see - it will need to be updated within 60 days of closing to get fire insurance. Have it negotiated off the price of the house, if you can. Depending on how much needs to be done it can be anywhere from $3,000-$10,000.)

Paying an inflated price for someone else’s weekend warrior improvements is a difficult challenge in Toronto. Especially if you know that you are going to pay someone else to rip them out once you move in. 

If you look at a house that has been improved, make sure that it has been done PROPERLY (not to be confused with BEAUTIFULLY) by a home inspector. There is a difference. And if you need to improve sooner than later, what does your financial timeline look like in comparison with the expiration date of potential problems?

I write the invoices for ALL of Michel’s RENO clients. I know how much EVERY reno has cost, and have seen, first-hand, the nightmares behind deceptively pretty walls and fancy fixtures. I assure you, there is nothing fancy (or inexpensive) about falling in love with the beauty on the outside instead of discovering the reno beast beneath.




Thanks for reading!!


note: all opinions expressed 
in this blog are mine in their entirety

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