Monday, February 15, 2016

Operation Empty Nest - The Great 2016 Real Estate War

The end is in sight for the crossroads period of my life. March 30, 2016. That's when we pull up roots and begin a new life in Toronto.

All the conditions for the sale of our Montreal home, and the purchase of our Toronto home, have been satisfied. Now it's all about wrapping up the basement renovation and packing. The renovation began before the offer to purchase our Montreal home came in, so we're committed to completing it. Now it's just a question of getting the paint out of the cans and onto the walls without making a mess of the floors.
It seems simple, doesn't it? It's remarkably easy to forget just how challenging this move was to set in motion.

Once the war is over, it's harder to tell the tale of your epic engagements than when you can still smell the spent gunpowder hanging in the air.

For those of you who have questions lingering from earlier posts or responses to readers' comments, I'll tell two stories. One is related to our sale, and one is related to our purchase.

The negotiation of a real estate deal is a mill. The process between the time when an offer is made, and when the conditions are fulfilled, is much like that crucial point where the grain meets the millstone. You can feel the immutable laws of economics grinding on you. Supply and demand determine price. There is no perfect price. If the deal is too easily done, or no deals are offered, there's something wrong with the price. You know the price is right when the seller and the buyer both wince, and surrender.

On both ends of our real estate war we were blessed with really capable brokers. In Montreal, Leigh Kenney was our spearhead, and in Toronto Taylor De Sa led our assault.

Leigh was actually in the Caribbean on a well-deserved vacation when the offer came in. Her trusted colleague Ryan Seniw held the fort for the pivotal final skirmish. Ryan's family name is pronounced "senew" as in "sen" + "new". If pronounced "sinew" it would be more poetic, because Ryan was sinewy and tough when it mattered most.

The experts say that your first offer is most likely the best offer. So when our purchasers, after having hammered out a fair price, sought to use the inspection report to revisit the price, I can tell you that we were feeling the heat of the battle exquisitely. With Ryan's staunch encouragement and expert guidance,  Susan and I ultimately decided to stand our ground and we simply refused to budge. Leigh returned on the day before the inspection condition was set to expire. The ball was in the purchaser's court. They might walk away if we refused to concede a satisfactory price adjustment.

The wild card was the basement renovation that was well underway, and that card was in our hand. We new the purchasers were motivated to buy.  Leigh concurred with Susan and Ryan: no concessions, do the deal or walk!

I wanted Leigh to see the renovation because much had been accomplished while she was away. If the purchasers were going to walk, how confident was she that the renovation would be the bait that would attract another offer we could live with? Leigh came in the front door at 4:00 p.m. and flashed her signature smile. "Sorry I'm late..." Then she looked me right in the eye, and dropped the bomb.

"It's done" she said. "Wha...?" I managed. "They're waiving the condition, the house is sold!"

And just like that, in the wink of an eye, in the space of a breath, the battle was over. I hesitated to declare that it was a victory because the war wasn't won, and more importantly, on the sale of our Montreal home, truly, both sides won. The purchasers are getting a really nice home, with a brand new basement, and we were free to buy something in Toronto.

How we got there, on two wheels, on a wing and a prayer, was the story I told here and here.

Susan and I got to Toronto slightly ahead of schedule at 2:00 p.m. the following day.  Harris (oh, you haven't met Lauren's boyfriend Harris have you, well here he is) and I wrestled the mattress off the car and up into Jonathan's spare bedroom on the waiting queen bed. And just like that, we piled into the car with Jonathan, Lauren, and Harris to meet with Taylor at 3:00 p.m.

So began the Toronto campaign.

It was going to be a down and dirty slog, Susan and I knew that. The Toronto market is a grim and desperate place for purchasers. You find something you can afford, you can't believe that anybody in their right mind would want to buy such a place, much less actually live there, and then multiple offers materialize and you're out-bid. That's what we were expecting.

The first round of condos we looked at didn't disappoint. Remember when I predicted that we would be up against staging designed to distract and confuse us?


There's that empty place setting.


And by the way, those apples are plastic!!! I mean really, just how expensive are real apples in Toronto?

That ploy was designed to get us to overlook that there was no room in the condo for an actual table and chairs of any size or description. Like not even a bistro table. A husband and wife could never entertain, and would be forever condemned to sit at the island, side by side on stools, and stare at the stove. Yikes!

So ended day one. To say that morale was low is not doing justice to Susan's mood. We had sold a castle, and our only prospect seemed to be a life in exile.

Saturday morning we had breakfast out with Jonathan before heading over to my sister's place. Joanne had volunteered to join our real estate army. Clearly we needed local reinforcements with knowledge of the lay of the land after Friday's first brush with the enemy.

At some point during our forays, Taylor turned her realtor's key in the door of a townhouse and we walked cautiously in. Standing in the vacant living room, we all witnessed Susan's reaction. It was like those stories of saints in the middle ages that the nuns used to tell us in grade school. Her expression was transformed, a light seemed to be shining on her, the glow of an aura transformed her bearing, she walked about the space as if on an unseen cloud. We all saw it. I was spiritual, really it was.

And that kids, is how Susan and I found our Toronto home.

But... it wasn't ours was it? Noooooo it wasn't. Our dream home in Toronto was being held hostage by homeowners who didn't give a rat's you-know-what about the heroes of our story and their intrepid band of real estate marauders.

Taylor knows the market really, really well, and she new we weren't yet in the strategic position we needed to be in. The search was not over, so we kept going.

Everything we saw was downhill from that first wonderful find. All too soon we exhausted the Saturday appointments. We compared notes and took stock. We had seen traditional condos in the south pricier end of the Toronto market that were in our price range but lacking in space, and we had seen some affordable townhouses in the more affordable market further north closer to the 401, also in our price range. I suggested to Taylor that we wanted to see some condos similarly situated in northern Toronto borough and still in our price range. My theory was that the same amount of money might buy a really nice condo in that same area. We agreed that would be our strategy for our Sunday foray.

Sunday morning our merry band of real estate warriors met again and set out to begin a fresh search. In no time we found a beautiful apartment, in a really nice building, with top-notch amenities, tucked away in a ravine on the north side of the area of Toronto affectionately known as Hoggs Hollow. When you say it, it doesn't sound like the place you'd like to live. Susan and I knew from the year we lived in Toronto when the boys were pre-schoolers that Hoggs Hollow was just dreamy. It took no time for Susan and I to peg this find as our number two choice. We both felt that if number 1 fell through, we would be very pleased to settle down in this gorgeous green little nook of the GTA. The remaining properties we saw did nothing to alter our perspective.

We called it a day, but not before commandeering the last apartment we visited, which was vacant, to hold a strategy session. Armed with the data from our three-day assault on the market, we agreed that we would make an offer on our number one choice: the townhouse off Yonge just north of Sheppard. It ticked all our boxes: spacious at two thousand square feet, two really nice indoor parking spaces, first class amenities, two excellent guest bedrooms, and a family room with gas fireplace on a third floor retreat with a skylight, a spacious entertaining space on the ground floor, and a second floor master bedroom suite that was simply perfect in every way. Our fallback option if we couldn't cut a deal on the first option, would be the Hoggs Hollow condo.

Taylor concurred with our strategy. She told us she had some homework to do. She had warned us of the Toronto mania for multiple offer bidding wars and the likelihood that the bidding, if it started, could drive the price out of range. She had a strong feeling that the seller for our top pick was not what she called a motivated seller. The unit was vacant and everything indicated that the seller might be inclined to refuse even an offer at the full asking price. Nuts I tell you.

We agreed to rendez-vous at my sister Joanne's house at 18h30 to confer one last time, and to launch an offer.

Joanne prepared a wonderful meal. It felt a little like that gathering of adventurers in Bilbo Baggins' hillside home in the Shire. We were, of course, an infinitely more attractive cohort, Susan, Joanne, John, Jonathan, Vicky, Andrée, Taylor, and I, but the mood was definitely a mood of adventure, of girding for a perilous trip into the dark gloomy unknown, with the real possibility that we might emerge safe and sound with a prize to treasure.

Taylor showed up just before 19h00. She was our Gandolf and she had un-imagined resources. In hushed silence we sat around the large dining room table, the lights soothingly dimmed, while Taylor laid out the plan.

We needed to come in with our best offer at the outset, leaving ourselves with just a tiny bit of wiggle room for a return salvo if the first wave of our stealthy assault didn't win the day. Taylor had prepared the offer on that basis. We were done with our briefing and strategizing by twenty to eight or so and Taylor headed back to her office to submit the offer.

Over the next few hours Taylor kept us in the loop as phone calls went back and forth between her and the seller's agent. At one point, the seller's broker asked Taylor for the mandatory form required before the seller can entertain multiple offers. In keeping with that request, the seller requested a further forty-eight hours to deliberate, beyond the eleven p.m. deadline we placed on the offer.

Taylor responded with what I can only call 'shock and awe'. She said to the seller's realtor that her clients were very serious with their offer, that they were determined to purchase a property, that there was another property that her clients were considering, that because they were from out of town, time was in short supply. Accordingly, if the seller planned to entertain multiple offers, they should tell us now, because our offer would be withdrawn. In keeping with our timetable, if the seller planned to decline or propose different terms, the purchaser would most likely drop this property and move on to make an offer on similar terms on the second property. Taylor reminded the seller's realtor that our offer was expiring firmly at 11:00 p.m. and would not be renewed. Shock and awe on a Sunday evening.

We waited, we chatted, we had tea and coffee, we told stories, we discussed contingencies, we looked at our watches, we waited for the phone to ring.


I kid you not. At 22h58 my phone rang. I answered. Taylor filled me in as all the faces in the room were turned to me. I adopted my very best poker face. I assumed that if I was successful, my body language was matter of fact, resigned, with a hint of disappointment. My audience looked concerned. I hung up.

"So...??" Susan said...

"OUR OFFER WAS ACCEPTED!" I fairly shouted it.

So ended The Great 2016 Real Estate War.

18 comments:

  1. Too much stress for me. You tell the story well and I felt like I was watching an episode of House Hunters on HGTV (though, seemingly, with less whining).

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    1. Richard, Susan and I are not whiners. We cry like babies or nothing at all.

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  2. Glad you got your #1 choice, I liked how you described her initial reaction to it.

    I hope to never have to move again, though the idea of a small second home to get away from Denver during the hot summer months keeps popping out now and then.

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    1. Dom, there's a reason people don't do this more often. The pain of tearing up your roots and moving to another city, in another state, province, or country, is really quite challenging. Have you ever tried to remove even a modest tree stump? There's a reason we call them 'roots' :)

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  3. Looks like you successfully navigated 2 tough real estate markets and survived. Congratulations. Now all you have to do is purge, purge, purge and then pack, pack, pack what's left.

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    1. Yup, that's the phase we are in now, purge, purge, purge.

      It lightens the load, and frees the soul. Every time we have to do this I try to remember whenever I see a piece of furniture, or a knickknack, or a souvenir... DON'T DO IT! WALK AWAY FROM THE STORE!!

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  4. I lively remember the same pain fighting our real estate wars: buying and selling our condo in Vancouver. It was so much easier to buy and sell in Calgary, and the process for our apartment in Germany was downright boring). Your story is very entertaining, but right now just thinking about going through the motion of real estate is stressful for me. Congrats to your new home. Another huge milestone achieved. I very much hope that you will feel homey soon.

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    1. Sonja, real estate transaction may be a piece of cake in Germany, but I remember the turmoil with getting your bikes on the road. That was epic.

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  5. Sounds like congratulations are in order ... trying to catch up. Welcome to Ontario.

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    1. Thanks Karen. It's been a long time coming, that's for sure.

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  6. Although I knew the outcome already, I was on the edge of my seat reading about it. The Toronto market really does feel like the Wild West sometimes. Thank you for your trust and kid words. ;)

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    1. Taylor, as they say, we couldn't have done it without you! You were amazing.

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  7. You know that Florida is part of Canada right? You could ride all year here. :)

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    1. Well it's true Rob that there are a few areas in South Florida where there are more Quebec plates than in some shopping centres here, but Uncle Sam and his Canadian cousin (Unca Canuck?), have been working very diligently in the last ten years or so to make snowbirds' lives a pure bureaucratic misery. There are ridiculously complicated formulas that need to be applied, just to determine the types and numbers of forms needed to be filed with the IRS, and God forbid you get that wrong, then you're in real doo-doo.

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  8. Only another 6 weeks or so. I am glad you two were able to come to an agreement on your first choice. Hope it is smooth sailing from here.

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    1. Brandy as I am fond of saying, from your lips to God's ears.

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  9. Home buying and selling is awful. Period. Sounds like you survived okay. I need to go read your previous posts, though. You know, how you got there.

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    1. Kathy, it's nearing an end. We're only now beginning to deal with the utilities here, and there. Somewhere in hell, I really hope that there is a special chamber of horrors for the bureaucrats who make up all the convoluted and stupid rules that are misery to comply with, when that's even possible.

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The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.