Finding the right place to live in Toronto (The Sharkhacks FAQ to finding your dream home)
Finding where to live once you move to Toronto is an art and a science. There are a few things that are crucial to where you live, and picking the right place.
Single and ready to mingle? or moving with your family?
If you are single then I highly recommend the downtown area for you. A bit pricy, smaller apartments, but you get to experience the city. You can always travel downtown and spend time, but who has the energy and time after a long day at work?
If you are a family then you need to stay away from downtown. AVOID. Unless you are a hipster parent who likes to walk everywhere, have no car, and you work downtown.
What does your ‘daily run’ look like ?
I’m a big fan of being optimal minimal and of Life Design. The best decision I have ever made in the last 5 years is living next to my office. In an awesomely strategic area.
- 5 minute walk to the office.
- 2 minute walk to a large shopping mall with Walmart, Canadian Super Store, whole bunch of stores.
- 2 minute walk to public transportation.
- Plenty of parking spaces to go around
- A park nearby
- Walk-in Clinic 5 minutes away.
- Library near by
- Gym 10 minutes away.
- Day care centre 2 minutes away.
Location location location!!
For me time is the currency of life, money comes second. By living in this location I believe that I have been able to save a great amount of time, and money, and have a great quality of life. It is not a sexy or upscale location but its pretty decent.
Time savings :
- No Commute : 2 hours saved.
- Nearby Daycare : ~20–30 minutes saved.
- Grocery run : ~ 20–30 minutes saved.
- Doctor run : ~ 20–30 minutes saved.
All in all this saves me on average 2.6 hours a day. This is around 13 hours / week I get back, to do whatever pleases me. Wondering what can anyone accomplish in 13 more hours in a WEEK.
But Wait!! this isn’t all.
Money Savings :
- No commute, shorter trip distances (Car Gas) : ~110 bucks / month
- Short distance to every day necessities : ~20 bucks / month
- Lunch at home (~10 bucks / day)
I admit I’m not a big saver when it comes to dining out, but all in all I think I’m saving around 200–300 bucks / month at least by living here. Wondering what would this money do if it compounds over the years?
But is it ever this simple?
I admit, it has been an awesome 5 years that I lived here. But it doesn’t always work out this way.
- Even though this location is amazing. The biggest issue is that there are no larger houses or condos larger than 2 bedrooms. (We will talk more about this later, but know this: if you are coming from a country where houses are large / huge, you better adjust your standard). My 2 bedroom is 1000 sqft that is less than 100 square meters!!!
- My wife and I happen to work at the same office. Wondering what would happen when we change Jobs and one continues to work in this office while the other moves somewhere else?
- What happens when my daughter needs to go to school instead of day care?
- How does this change if I really really want to live downtown and I love it and i would sacrifice 3 hours of my day just to do so.
Life is never simple.
Condominium (Condo) vs Townhouse vs House? What’s the difference?
- Let’s start with the definition of Condominium coming from Google :
a building or complex of buildings containing a number of individually owned apartments.
the system of ownership by which condominiums operate, in which owners have full title to the individual apartment or house and an undivided interest in the shared parts of the property.
- So a condo is really an apartment that you rent or own, but there are additional shared amenities that you share with every other apartment. These amenities typically include a Gym, Swimming Pool, Security Guards, Concierge, etc..etc..
- Condos are typically managed by a Managing company. This company operates the condo facilities, takes care of building maintenance, puts rules and regulations in place, hires security companies. There is also typically a building manager, and a maintenance person who is always around.
- Condo Owners pay something called Maintenance Fees. This is a monthly fee that covers all the fun stuff above (utilities, shared amenities expenses, etc.etc.)
- Condos have certain rules and regulations, and while owners are ‘free’ to do whatever they please in their condos. there are limitations and rules around shared facilities, and even balconies.. For example it is against the law to put a propane tank, or a propane grill on your balcony.
- Condos are typically small in size and range from a 1 bedroom, to 3 bedrooms at most. They are typically around or less than 1200 square foot / 111 square meters.
- There is something called a 1+1 , or a 2+1 , which means a Condo has 1 bedroom + 1 Den or 2+1 which is 2 bedrooms + 1 den. So what is a Den ? Excuse my language here, but the Den is kind of a ‘fuck you’ room. It is too small for it to be a room, may or may not have a separate door, you can sometimes try to use it for putting a dining table, or make it your office. But it is still kind of annoying.
- Condos typically have an overground, or underground parking for Condo owners. Every owner has the right to purchase parking space(s) when he / she buys her condo.
- Condos typically have a Storage locker, which is outside of the unit itself but you can use to put your stuff in there. seasonal stuff for example.
- Condos have a variety of heating / cooling / AC systems, common one is forced air. Where there is a building central system that heats / cools the air, but then additional heating / cooling and pushing the air into the unit is done by a pump in the unit itself. You are probably wondering why I am talking about this, since you are not majoring in mechanics? this has an impact on your utility bills. If building isn’t using forced air, etc. then you will pay for the entire heating / cooling when you rent a place. If you are buying you will pay for the entire thing.we will cover this when we talk about the buy vs. rent
- Hydro (Electricity) : Typically the building itself has a meter, and every owner or tenant has a sub-meter, that measures their consumption.
- Water is typically covered by the maintenance fees so a tenant does not pay for it.
- Elevators are typically shared by everyone. Usually there is one elevator designated to moving (moving furniture , in and out , etc.. ) more about this later in this guide.
What’s in the Box ?
Congrats! You bought or rented out a Condo, so what else comes in the Box ?
By default when you buy or even rent a condo some of the appliances and fixtures come with the unit. Typically the builder of the building negotiates deals and buys appliances in bulk for the condo, which saves everyone money. So the Fridge, Stove, Dishwasher, Washer and Dryer come with the unit, same with Kitchen and Bathroom cabinets. Also keep in mind that in most of the condos the closets are wall-closets. You don’t need separate bedroom closets.
Townhouses relate to Condos and are a bit different.
- A Townhouse is typically a multi-storied building, larger than an apartment, usually shares a wall with the neighbours townhouse, so it is not a ‘Detached’ house. it is typically attached to neighbouring homes
- There are Freehold and Condominium Townhouses , in the Condominium townhouses, the same rules above apply where the Townhouse owner owns his house and has access to shared facilities. Townhouse owner still pays maintenance fees and association fees. In Freehold Townhouses there are no shared facilities, and owner does not pay maintenance fees. He has to do his / her own maintenance.
- Townhouses are typically 3–4 bedrooms so typically bigger than Condos (apartments).
- Townhouses typically have no basement and are usually 2–3 stories high and they are narrow.
- Townhouses typically have over ground or under ground parking, just like condos.
- In terms of heating, cooling, hydro, water, appliances and cabinets, etc.. the same applies to Townhouses as Condos.
Houses ( Detached or Semi-Detached)
Houses are the largest of all of the above. They are typically owned by their owners and have no association fees. They can either be standing alone (detached) or there is a shared wall with the neighbouring house (semi-detached).
Houses typically have a basement and backyard, which they may or may not share with neighbours. They also have their own garage which may fit 1–3 cars.
While you don’t have to worry about snow shovelling , lawn mowing, and maintenance with Condos/ Townhouses, if you own a house you need to worry about these things. Additional expenses include Water Heater tank, and a security / Alarm monitoring system. Some of these expenses need to be paid by you if you rent, and it gets worse if you own. If you own you will need to do your own maintenance, re-roofind every x years, plus lots of misc. expenses. Which for me makes home ownership a nightmare!
So which area in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) do I choose to live in?
For our discussion, please consider this zone / area map :
- The first thing to consider is where will you work? I would choose an area that is closer to where I’m going to work. As I will have to travel there 5 days a week.
- If you have kids who are of school age, then you need to worry about public schools. Every area has one or more public schools, but schools have rankings, and different areas have better or worse rankings. You want to send your kids to schools with better ranking, so your choice of where you live would be also impacted by this.
- The third thing to consider is whether you are looking for Condos, Townhouses, or detached houses. Certain areas have more Condos, Town houses, while others are mainly ‘dedicated’ to houses. Downtown has way more condos than houses, so if you have a larger family, Downtown is the wrong place to live.
- Another factor is pricing and availability of homes. Pricing both in terms of buying and renting. Generally speaking, City of Toronto has the highest prices, the more North or East, or West you go away from the City of Toronto, the cheaper the prices and the bigger the homes. City of Toronto, Markham, Vaughan, Richmond hill are expensive. King , Witchurch-Stouffville , Pickering, Ajax, Brampton , Mississauga are cheaper and less crowded.
- How old is the place? If you are buying you need to care about how old the house/ condo is as well as maintenance and other factors. Even when renting some people, like me, prefer to rent a newer or renovated place. There is nothing worse than walking into a shitty place with dirty walls, broken outlets, crazy wall colours, and places where the designer was hung-over when he designed the place. I have seen one such place only Yesterday as I’m currently house hunting myself!!
- Rent vs. buy. Trust me on this, at least for now, do NOT buy. The prices are crazy right now, you don’t need a 30 35 year 1 million dollar mortgage. Condos are a scam and their maintenance is going to be much more expensive than your mortgage payment. There are a ton of things that are wrong with this market. Plus you are just settling down so for God’s sake don’t do it!!
How Do I find a place?
There are many ways to find a place. You can try to look for a place yourself, but I highly advise against it, specially in the beginning but in case you decide not to listen :
You can find plenty of places on Kijiji and Craiglist and deal directly with the owner, however I highly recommend you NOT go this route. Your rights and responsibilities are not protected, go the other option as it is also free to you.
I can write a book about what MLS, Realtor associations, Realtor.ca is, and why I hate this organized (crime) but long story short. There are governing bodies that control the buying, selling of real estate. There is a National one (CREA), a provincial one (OREA for Ontario), and local ones such as TREB. They own MLS which is a database of all listing of all real estate in the country. These listings are maintained by Agents. Which brings us into Agents. There is a whole bunch of real estate agent types. There are Sales people , there are brokers, brokerage firms, etc.. it is a long story, but you need to know 2 things for now.
There are generally buyer agents and seller agents in every real estate transaction. One representing the buyer / lessee / tenant. And another who represents the Seller / Landlord.
Typically buyer’s agent is free to the buyer. Seller’s agent charges the seller when he / she sells or leases (rents) a place to someone. Seller’s agent lists a place, by putting it into the MLS database / system. Buyer’s agent typically splits the revenue with the seller agent if there is one. Typically the fee of the agents who list a place for rent is ONE Month Rent.
Example : if a place is listed for 1800 CAD / month and the seller’s agent finds a tenant for one year, then the seller’s agent takes 1800 CAD. If the tenant is represented by an agent, different than the leasing agent, then the tenant agent and leasing agent split the fee. In this case tenant agent (who brought the tenant) gets 900 CAD, the leasing agent gets 900.
You can go to Realtor.ca and look for properties yourself, and contact the leasing agents directly , however these agents are pain in the ass to catch, very hard to coordinate showings and bookings with. You can do it, its not impossible, but why not get an Agent to work for free for you, to represent you, and take care of your interest. It is free to you anyways.
The Realtor way
You can find any random real estate agent anywhere and ask him to represent you. He would love to. Even though he does not make any money until he finds you a place and even when he does he doesn’t make a lot of money (compared to selling places). Agents work on the principle that now that he helped you, and if he did a good job, then when you buy a place then you will go with him and make him a lot of money. You can find them online too.
My preference is to use your connections to find a good referral. Ask your friends or people you know for recommending/referring a good realtor/agent.
When finding any professional I’d rather go by a friend’s word as opposed to anything else. Professionals include Bankers, Real Estate Agents, Lawyers/Attorneys, and Doctors.
When you start working with a realtor he will first try to gather information from you, what is your budget, he/she will tell you what you can find and what is realistic. You will talk about the areas, etc. then they will usually get your email address and will set you up in their system, which is part of MLS. The system will typically send you first a blast of all existing listings that match your budget, description, then it will send you daily emails with new listings that become available.
Here is an example of a home listing coming from MLS.
Putting an Offer Once you see a listing that you like, you will contact your agent and try to book a showing, to go see the place. Once you have seen a place that you liked, the next step is typically to put an offer on the place. Documents you need to have for putting an offer:
- ID document such as passport
- Proof of employment
- Credit score. This is a tough one if you are new to Canada, tell your realtor in advance that you are a new comer , so he could sort things out for you by notifying the listing agent.
One of the benefits of having a realtor working with you, who looks after your interest, is that they will put some conditions in the offer to your favour. Example including adding terms to make sure all utilities are covered by the owner (in case the listing doesn’t specify), adding rules in terms of if you can be allowed to break the lease (leave the house to move , etc.) , and other terms. A good realtor will know what terms to put in there.
Things to watch out for in the offer A very important critical piece of information that is typically covered in an offer is what expenses does the landlord pay vs. what things the tenant pays. If you see something unusual then consult with your realtor. A good realtor will typically help you put these things in your favour and will do so without you asking him.
Examples of expenses and sample costs (from my experience)
- Hydro (electricity) — Typically tenant pays this (CAD $ 50–100)
- Water — Typically Landlord pays this
- Gas — (Usually used in heating, etc.) — Typically Landlord pays this
- Heating : If heating is from a different source other than Gas/Hydro — Typically landlord pays this.
- Condo Maintenance fee — Owner / landlord covers this. As a tenant you don’t pay this .
- Appliance repairs : if your fridge or dishwasher broke down, it is typically the owner / landlord responsibility to fix at his expense.
- Water heater tank : if you are moving to a house or townhouse then typically there is a separate water heater tank that the owner rents. When you move in you (tenant) typically have to pay for this. Not always the case, but keep this in mind. (CAD $100)
- Lawn mowing and Snow shovelling: If you are moving to a house and townhouse this is applicable usually. More for houses than townhouses but double check this. this is around (CAD $100 / month) to get someone to do it for you such as a company) or you have to buy your lawn mower and or snow shovelling equipment or snow blower.
- Alarm /Anti theft and home monitoring system : this applies to condos and houses. Usually these places are equipped with an alarm system that you pay a monthly fee to activate. Sometimes the alarm system is optional. You choose if you want to activate it. In Condos I haven’t seen it activated by anyone I know including me. For houses, and depending on where you live it may be worth it. Tenant pays this, cost around (CAD $100).
Rights to represent When submitting an offer, the realtor will typically ask you to sign a right to represent. Which says that he represents you. This is fine, however pay attention to one specific thing.
Some Realtor out there are assholes. They might get you to sign a multi-year , multi-listing rights to represent, even before you doing any offers. This guarantees that you can go no where and cannot work with any other realtor other than them for a number of years. DO NOT SIGN THIS. DO NOT ACCEPT THIS. LEAVE THIS REALTOR AND FIND ANOTHER ONE IMMEDIATELY if YOUR REALTOR ASKS YOU TO SIGN SUCH AGREEMENT.
Another really good piece of advice is this.
NEVER EVER SIGN A PAPER YOU HAVE NOT FULLY READ AND COMPREHENDED 100%. Ask your realtor for help, go to a translator if necessary. Just MAKE SURE YOU UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING IN AN AGREEMENT.
Offer closing Typically in the offer you will specify a closing date for the offer and move in date. To close you will need some additional things to get.
- Bank Draft/ Certified Cheque with First and Last Month Lease amount. They insist it is a bank draft, or certified cheque to ensure you have the full amount. The realtors /brokerage will hold on to this cheque until closing and don’t worry in case things do not work out you can always get it back.
- Tenant insurance: Almost all leases require you to get a Tenant insurance. This typically covers any damages, accidents that may happen in the property while you live there. It typically also covers your belongings from theft/damage. This is a MUST have. From my own experience, even if it is not required, I recommend you still get one. Let me tell you a short story : once upon a time my toilet was blocked. I flushed it and left the bathroom. I was on conference calls all day, an hour later I hear a knock on my door. It was the building superintendent. He told me there was water leaking from my floor probably THREE FLOORS DOWN. We open the bathroom to see water flooding from my toilet seat. There was not lots of water, but the condos are so badly built that a water leak will typically flow quickly from one floor to another. THREE FLOORS down Damn it… They had to check the building for damage, and had to repair and repaint 3 condos below mine. The repair itself was around 5000 dollars!! thank GOD for Insurance. And by the way this insurance is really not expensive. It is typically 20–30 dollars a month. Where to get it ? Big banks such as TD and RBC have this, lots of other providers. Stay tuned for a more comprehensive insurance guide to be coming soon.
- Key deposit and other deposits: Typically there is an additional (Insurance) deposit that you pay. This is money that the landlord holds, and will return to you at the end of your lease/ when you leave. This money typically covers garage remote, condo keys, etc.. and range from 100 to 500 dollars that you will have to pay in certified cheque / bank draft.
- 10 post dated cheques: Besides first and last month, you will need to have in advance, for closing, 10 post dated cheques for the additional 10 months. You will NOT pay by cash or pay the land lord monthly. He really does not want to deal with you or see you. He will take post dated cheques from you in advance. and Cash them when they are due.
- Typically around closing date the owner will also ask you to move any utilities (such as Hydro) from his name to yours. This is a simple process but depends on who the utilities company is (such as Enercare) what you typically have to do is find the company phone number (or ask the owner to provide). Call them, give them the address, your information, and they will email you /fax you / mail you forms that you will use. Fill the forms and you are good to go. Additionally some of them may ask you to pre-authorize withdrawals of bills from your account. For this you need to have your bank account, and make sure pre-authorization is free to you. it is typically free. More about this in the Banking guide.
Cooling Off Period Generally speaking in north america there is a Cooling Off period concept. The concept is that there is a period where a consumer (buyer) has the option to change his mind about things he bought, specially big/ huge purchases, and that he can return whatever he purchased. This applies typically to houses and cars. In some cases your realtor may be able to put a cooling off clause in a lease, but this is rare. Typically it is done while you are buying a place, but rarely on a lease. Check and discuss with your realtor if this may be an option for you. This can be a nice option, in case you want to change your mind, find a different place, etc.. Not always possible though.
Sharkhacks guide to moving into a new place coming soon.
- Every day condo annoyances .
- Common Gotchas
- Setup your home utilities : Internet , Hydro, etc..
- Moving furniture in — your moving procedure — cheques , etc..
- Booking an Elevator.