Home Buying 101: Matching Your House to the Life You Have

Urmi Desai in Home Buying, Lifestyle

Malibu house

One way to measure the success of a visit with friends and family is the quantity of ‘in jokes’ that result (the poorer the quality, the better the time had by all). On a recent trip to L.A., one of our shared jokes became “so called” (SoCal, or Southern Californian) architecture, shorthand for “Oh, that? That’s my kitchen/bathroom/bedroom/gym sitting outside in the sunshine.” Given the Mediterranean climate they have to work with (dry sunshine, perfect light, cooler nights), it makes sense for local architects to spill their homes outdoors, where people live almost year-round.

In contrast, I wonder if our backyards and front yards may be oversized for Toronto's climate. Does our willingness to pay a land premium for a few months of locally-produced grass stains make sense, or would that premium be better spent elsewhere?

Snowy suburb

We are, the experts tell us, moving into “the middle years” of housing. This means that prices are expected to remain steady, perhaps even sag a bit, but also mellow out. The best advice tells us not to panic, but to plan stay in our homes for at least 5 years and to buy comfortably based on our core needs. Easy. But alas, the ancient Greek philosophers predicted that we’d have trouble figuring ourselves out and, as a result, make bad purchases all over town, as confirmed by a lunch hour trip to the Eaton Centre. Our purchases don’t reflect who we are as much as who we’d like to be combined with the kind of doomsday planning espoused by bearded men living in remote compounds. Though there is unlikely to be a single occasion in your life that will call for a severely bejeweled gym suit, it does not stop you from picking one up “just in case.”

In a similar way, perhaps our oversized dinning rooms don’t mesh with
the fact that the last time we hosted a 12 person sit-down dinner party
was when Uncle Bob convinced Uncle Ted that it was a great idea to
invest in Nortel. And with a climate more prone to sudden showers,
haven’t Parisians devised a more elegant and clever substitute to the
large backyard – the small, easy to escape, street-facing balcony?
(Montrealers have instead come up with tall flights of front stairs descending to the street, a charming way to teach the young how to ski.)

Snowy Montreal staircase

These thoughts have inspired me to pick up a 10-year old classic from U.S. architect Sarah Susanka: “The Not So Big House: A Blueprint for How We Really Live”, which questioned the way homes are built for us. Though I don't think size is our only (or primary) distortion, I am looking forward to learning what the 'Small House Movement' may have to teach us about living as we really are.

If you are currently home buying, it may be useful to modify and apply wardrobe streamlining tricks (check these out at the Get Rich Slowly blog) before you look at homes:

1) Use a pencil/iCal/Outlook/Excel (here's how) to make four 24-hour weekly schedules and label them Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer;

2) Honestly account for every hour as you live today - hint: sleeping and working normally takes most of your time;

3) Under each seasonal schedule, list out special occasions (parties you host, trips you take, guests you have);

4) Note overall trends and whether they change by season - when you want to relax, do you like to stay at home or go out? When you're with the kids, are you playing in your yard or attending karate/piano/Kumon lessons? Do you use your dining room to eat (as opposed to your kitchen) more than three times a year? Do you tend to ignore house chores and yard work?

5) Decide which spaces/rooms you are willing to pay a premium for, based on how you actually live your life now - lots of cooking and entertaining at home may justify kitchen upgrades, but not if you prefer going out, and of course, the smaller every thing is, the less you have to clean.

Urmi Desai is editor of the Move Smartly blog and is responsible for Realosophy’s
business development and marketing.
Realosophy Realty Inc. Brokerage focuses on
Toronto neighbourhoods to help their clients make smarter real estate
. Email Urmi

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