It Happened to Me Toronto (a.k.a. Accordion City)

The Apartment Hunt, Part One

Two weekends ago, Wendy flew up to join me to go apartment hunting.

We’d spent a couple of weekends house-hunting, but the house-hunting

cycle — find a likely candidate house, look at it, wait for the offer

period, make the offer, get into a bidding war — is really tricky when

she doesn’t live in town. We decided to go for the rental option, let

her get familiar with the city and do the house-hunting after she’s

settled down here.

We went looking for rental properties in the

same areas we were looking to purchase a house: an area that

encompassed both Roncesvalles and the High Park area. These areas

represented a decent combination of good neighbourhood, bang for the

buck and closeness to both downtown and family. I’ve enjoyed my stay in

this lovely house in the lovely Queen and Spadina neighbourhood — the arrondissement that made me the Accordion Guy — but it’s time to move on.

Our criteria for a rental property were:

  • Located

    in the Roncesvalles or High Park neighbourhoods. Proximity

    to subway (or at least a well-served street transit route) preferred.

  • Rent in the neighbourhood of $1500/month (although cheaper is always good).
  • 2 bedrooms (one of which would serve as an office area).
  • 2 bath (a “one-and-a-half-bath” will do).
  • In-house laundry.
  • A look and feel suitable for a gentleman approaching his forties and a charming young lady who’s just entered her thirties.


both my housemates were leaving our current house (Paul’s spending the

summer in Europe, while Rob’s moving in with his fiancee) and since

Wendy is still quite busy at work in Boston, that weekend was our only

real shot at landing a place. That meant that we had to be very

prepared for house-hunting.

It took the better part of Thursday

evening to line up a dozen places that met our criteria, and I was able

to arrange appointments to see almost all those places that weekend. In

an attempt to impress Wendy, who’s the type who loves to plan

everything in detail, I prepared a clipboard, with a printed-out Google

map for each place we would visit and wrote notes indicating the time

of our appointment for that apartment, as well as all the known facts

about that place. (She was impressed.) I also took care with the

scheduling to minimize the distance between appointments and to give us

a chance to take a breather between apartments. I even arranged to

“pre-screen” some apartments on Friday afternoon before Wendy arrived,

in the hopes of either finding a must-see place or rule out the dreck. I found both.

Aside from the obvious one of

renting versus owning, there’s one major difference between

apartment-hunting and house-hunting: the variability. Because real

estate is an established and standardized industry with its own

practices and arcana, prices are more or less standardized. Once you’ve

narrowed down your search to a specific neighbourhood and type of

house, you know what you’ll get for a certain amount of money. Even

after only a couple of weekends of house-hunting in the High Park and

Roncesvalles areas, I can tell what a two-bedroom house listing for

$349,000 will have, versus one listing for $369,000 and one where the

asking price is $399,000. That’s because real estate agents have a more

or less standard methodology for pricing houses.

Rentals are

another matter entirely. In most cases, rentals are handled by

landlords, most of whom aren’t in the business of managing rental

properties, but people who hope to make some ongoing income off their

excess real estate. They’re not members of a continent-wide group like

Century 21, and their reasons for renting out their properties vary.

The quality of the places priced in the $1500/month area varied widely.


managed to rule out two complete dumps before Wendy arrived. Both were

owned by the same person and located just off Keele Street, in the

tree-lined residential areas between Bloor and Annette. The first one

was the worst of all the places I saw that weekend: a shabby hovel on a

street of decent houses. A pile of junk — presumably left by the last

tenants — leaned against the porch wall that wasn’t missing. I climbed

up a set of oak stairs (the only nice feature of the place) into the

second floor of the house, which while spacious, was a poorly-kept

living room, dining room and den painted salmon pink, with missing

baseboards, badly worn hardwood floors, and covered in grime. A little

more dingy and you could’ve shot the “shooting gallery” scenes from Trainspotting there.


house’s single bathroom was a large room, an obvious conversion that

also doubled as a laundry room. The washer and dryer were old, and the

dryer door handle was nowhere to be found. The grouting was coming off

the tiles around the tub, which sat glumly under a slanted shower

curtain rod that someone did a very half-assed job of installing. This

place was so damnably Soviet that I could imagine Yakov Smirnoff rehearsing his

lame-ass gags in this bathroom’s mirror: “Een Soviet Russia, toilet sheeets on you!”


upstairs bedrooms were on the third floor of the house, two large rooms

with arched ceilings. They weren’t as shabby as the downstairs, but I’d

lived in better places, even in the student ghetto surrounding Crazy Go

Nuts University.

“You might want to bring an air conditioner or fan for these rooms,” the landlord said, “it’s a little warm.”


was an understatement. I could feel the temperature gradient as I was

climbing the stairs. These rooms must be total saunas in July and


The landlord reached someplace odd to turn up the lights.

I took a closer look and found a dimmer — missing its handle,

naturally — mounted not in the wall, but in the door frame.

Closer inspectioned showed that someone, quite probably drunk or high,

had done a really clumsy job dremelling out the space into which a

dimmer was haphazardly shoved.

I decided to take a look at the

landlord’s other house. This one wasn’t as bad a dump as the last one,

having been painted by someone with functioning colour vision. This

house was better cared for, and the landlord has done a little more

work to cover its more obvious (and copious) flaws with a relatively

recent paint job and some cleaning. It was still a step down from the

places that Wendy and I were currently living in, and the washing

machine and dryer’s installation in the foyer at the upstairs landing,

complete with dryer vent spanning the width of the room at an angle. If

I wanted to live in the basement set of That 70’s Show, I would’ve asked.


landlord, eager to snag a tenant, gave me a few phone numbers to be

reachable, on the off chance that I suffered some kind of head injury

and decided to move into one of those hovels. I threw them away at my

first opportunity.

Next: Better places!

17 replies on “The Apartment Hunt, Part One”

I haven’t figured out why you aren’t staying at your current place but with far less people…

I assume it’s a financial answer.

I’d love to stay, but you nailed it on the head: rent is $2100/month, not including utilities. It’s workable for 3 working people, less so for two, and even worse if Wendy’s work visa takes a while to process.

Are you going to have any pictures to go with this topic?

Also, if the process is not already completed, some landlords are willing to negotiate on the rent, epecially if there is the chance of landing a professional gentleman approaching his forties and a charming young lady who’s still in her late twenties as tenants.


Next: Better places!

Thank goodness! Heh. Isn’t it weird we didn’t take pictures? I think we were just utterly overwhelmed.

Be warned, work visas for Americans moving to Canada and marrying Canadians can be HELLISH to obtain and take many months if not years… I know at least two people who have gone through it and had to survive on one salary for a year or two. Just FYI.. I can direct you to the immigration blogs of one of them if you like, she has a lot of good links and practical advice.

But I’m not applying for a work visa. I’m applying for a family class visa, which is entirely different. Please do not ask questions about this, I really hate talking about it, but please also do not worry. We don’t want to hear horror stories, we just want to get through it the best way we know how. Thanks. 🙂

Sweet, sweet Roncesvalles. Good call. Too bad prices have gone up so quickly in the last few years – my mortgage for a semi in that neighbourhood is less than $1500 monthly. But these days… a row-house across the street from me went for around $470-something. Yikes. Good luck!

🙂 Now you see why the nephews will be asking, one day, “Why did Cool Uncle Joey marry Strict Mean Auntie Wendy?”

Let me tell you about my apartment search experience. Few month ago I was looking for apartment in Pasadena (I got a new job). I checked ads, went to agencies which offered houses, but nothing was as useful as apartment for rent site which I found by Google. First of all, I concentrated to my needs (considered the area I would like to live, made a list of my top housing priorities, considered amenities and etc. ), created my own note-taking system and allowed my self time. I could eliminate apartments which didn�t meet my needs. I saved time and money. I found good and affordable apartment and I�m very satisfied with my new home. 🙂

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