Harsh & Alex: Purchasing In A Pandemic

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posted by Allyson Scott

Meet Harsh and Alex, newlyweds who were introduced to us by our friends Nicole and Tyler (thanks so much you two!). Planning a wedding and purchasing your first home are stressful life events at the best of times…now imagine trying to do both during a worldwide pandemic! This couple rose to meet the challenge, and somehow also managed to maintain their sense of humour along the way.

Harsh was born and raised in Mumbai, India, while Alex was raised in the Forest Hill area of midtown Toronto. They met in the MBA program at McMaster University back in 2015, when Harsh received an invitation to Alex’s birthday party. Unfortunately, when Harsh accepted, he thought it was a party for a different classmate, also named Alex! It was a happy accident, as they became inseparable friends for the next year, before starting to date in 2016.

Fast forward a couple of years, and they moved into their first rental apartment together at Yonge and Eglinton, close to where Alex grew up. “I did my undergrad at U of T, and was really only familiar with that one area of the city!” Alex said. They became engaged in early 2019, and started planning two weddings for 2020: one in India, and one in Canada.

Wedding photo courtesy of Harsh and Alex

Their late winter wedding in India was a beautiful success, but reports of the Covid-19 virus began to trickle in as they travelled to see the Taj Mahal in Agra. They arrived home on March 5, 2020, and soon realized they were going to have to postpone their June 13, 2020 wedding in Hamilton.

This was obviously a huge disappointment, and in addition to that, the pandemic meant that they could not visit Alex’s parents, who had moved to California in 2016. Those stresses, plus feeling like they were getting priced out of the market, made Alex and Harsh think that starting a house hunt might be a good distraction. “We were super bummed,” Alex said. “Last winter was hard.”

Harsh began doing research on the Toronto Life neighbourhood rankings website, since he was still very unfamiliar with the city. “It was really helpful in showing us which areas were safe. Sometimes we’d see listings come up that looked nice or were close to transit, but were in bad areas.” Before deciding to contact us, he and Alex walked around the Danforth at Christmas to get a feel for it. “I thought the neighbourhoods around the Danforth had character and charm,” Alex said, “but it was difficult not being able to go inside shops or restaurants because of Covid.” They also checked out Eglinton Ave West, another relatively affordable area for new buyers, but they were concerned about the LRT construction, and didn’t connect with the area the way they did with the Danforth.

Alex and Harsh talking about their journey © Allyson Scott

They reached out to Jody in January, and Alex said she asked a ton of questions. “I have no real estate experience other than going to look at houses with my parents when I was three years old. I remember my only concern being which houses came with the best toys!” They discussed the market, how to get set up with a mortgage professional, what to expect in terms of costs and timelines, and how the offer process worked.

Harsh was used to apartment living in Mumbai, but Alex was drawn to homes with wood trim and stained glass like her childhood house. They reviewed their list of “must haves” with Jody: a private parking spot, minimum 2 bedrooms, outdoor space, and not in need of too many renovations. And within budget of course!

“Once we started looking at places, Jody wasn’t afraid to give us her opinion. She would tell us when she felt something was overpriced, or likely going to sell for more than we should spend,” Alex said. “She also helped us realize the things we should be looking for,” added Harsh. “Without our parents here, and with no experience, we really didn’t know what to check!” Alex’s parents did make appearances via FaceTime at showings that seemed promising, but it was often hard to coordinate.

By February, they were already becoming familiar with the frustrations of the market. Most houses were deliberately underpriced to generate multiple offers, and then it was a matter of trying to guess how many buyers would come to the negotiating table, how high they would be willing to go, and whether other recent sales supported those prices.

Exterior of East York semi  photo © Toronto MLS system

One of the houses they tried to purchase was this semi-detached home north of the Danforth, listed at $899,000 with an offer date. It had 3 bedrooms but only 1 bathroom and an unfinished basement. It had a lot of charm, but also needed some upgrades (including very dodgy appliances). “Jody was really helpful in advising us what a ballpark budget would be for certain fixes, and told us not to lose out on a great house for cosmetic concerns. I had no clue what renovations might cost!” Alex said.

Living room of East York semi © Toronto MLS system

Kitchen of East York semi © Toronto MLS system

However, this home did receive multiple offers on offer night, and the price soared above what they all agreed the home was worth. Alex also had some reservations about buying a semi-detached house. “Not because of the neighbours making noise, but because I didn’t want to have to worry about bothering our neighbours!” she laughed. “I didn’t want to have people over, and then wonder whether we were being too loud!”

Another house they offered on in February was this cute detached property that was also situated well north of the Danforth.

Detached home north of The Danforth © Toronto MLS system

Everyone knew it was a long shot, because this one had two bathrooms, as well as a finished basement with a walk-out to a deck.

Upgraded kitchen with walk-out to yard © Toronto MLS system

It was listed at $1,149,000, and despite making a generous offer to compete on offer night, the home sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars more. It was becoming discouraging.

Ali took them out to see some houses in the area one particularly snowy night, and it was reinforced that they did not want to live on a main road (we looked on Mortimer and on O’Connor) where parking for guests would be a huge challenge, especially in winter. We also encountered some semi-detached properties with shared driveways and encroaching things like basketball nets and garbage bins, which made them really covet a detached home of their own.

Detached home in Woodbine Heights © Toronto MLS System

Jody had shown them this lovely detached property (one of 7!) on Valentine’s Day, listed at $999,900, but they all dismissed it as likely to go over budget based on recent experiences.

For some reason – likely because several buyers had the same thought – it did not receive any offers, and was just re-listed at $1,179,000 with offers now welcome anytime.

Renovated main floor with walk-out © Allyson Scott

Not only could we try to negotiate the price, but they would be in a position to also request the closing date of their choice – something that had not been possible in the previous situations!

Ali prepared an offer for $1,140,000, and wrote an introduction that included the story of their Covid-postponed wedding to tug at a few heartstrings. The sellers had wanted a 30-day closing, but we stuck to 60 days to give Harsh and Alex the chance to provide notice at their rental.

After some discussions with the listing agent, Ali was able to tell Harsh and Alex that the sellers would accept an offer of $1,150,000. We decided to submit an improved offer in that amount – and this couple became new homeowners!

Alex and Harsh in their new kitchen © Allyson Scott

Their new home is fully detached with a legal front pad parking space, 2 bedrooms upstairs (their cat Riley has one all to herself) and another in the basement apartment, a cute little home office space off the dining area, and an absolutely amazing back yard!

The main upstairs bedroom © Allyson Scott

Bi-level deck and shed in the back yard © Allyson Scott

Dining room with home office nook  © Allyson Scott

There was not much time to celebrate, however, because minutes after they got the call from us that their offer was accepted, they received a call from a friend in need of a ride to the hospital. He and his wife had recently arrived from India, and she was recovering from a broken ankle. She took a bath before bed, stepped out of the tub…and broke it again! Unsure of their OHIP coverage for an ambulance, Harsh jumped into action to provide a ride, and stayed with them until the wee hours of the morning to bring them back home.

“I stayed home and had a toast with the cat on the sofa,” Alex laughed. “Actually I uploaded all of the listing photos into PowerPoint, and played with paint colours for all the rooms. By the time Harsh got back home I had them all figured out!”

Alex and Harsh on their lower deck © Allyson Scott

While they were successful in purchasing a house, they were not successful in holding their Toronto wedding on the re-booked date of May 22, 2021. Since two years have passed since their original “save the date” cards went out, Harsh and Alex had new photos taken and sent out another round of cards with a plan to marry this fall.

We will keep our fingers crossed for you that the third time is the charm! Thanks so much for choosing The Jody McDonnell Team to help you find your new home!

One Response to Harsh & Alex: Purchasing In A Pandemic

  1. Pam McDonnell says:

    Great story. Well done team!!

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