Now that the fun of our travelling was over, we were back in Toronto and it was time to find somewhere to live before the ‘fun’ of working started!
Rather than having a useful website like Rightmove, that allows you to easily search for properties and view photos, here you have to use Kijiji and Craigslist, which are more popular variants of the Gumtree style of website. We used Solas (as of February 2015, this website doesn’t appear to work anymore) which collates Kijiji and Craigslist listings and handily displays them on a map.
The issue with Kijiji and Craigslist is that you can come across some listings where people either don’t care or are retarded. For example, they don’t upload photos, they upload photos but have them all rotated the wrong way, or the property description reads like it has been written by a five year old. However, providing that you find something decent, you can then send the agent or property management a direct message to organise a viewing.
So we had a busy four days – trawling the internet for suitable accommodation, making contact and arranging viewings, and then travelling around looking at them all.
We found a lovely apartment on the outskirts of downtown. It was owned by a young family, who were moving to Montreal. Emma fell in love with it, due to its trendy and colourful interior and its location in the “cool part of town”, but sadly, it was just going to take too long for me to get to work from it. Perhaps the highlight of this one bedroom apartment though was how they had removed the door to a hallway cupboard and turned it into a baby bedroom!
So we eventually settled on an apartment in a different area that we are pleased with. It’s on subway and streetcar (tram) lines so it’s really easy to get to places, is a 2 minute walk from a Loblaws supermarket, is in a nice neighbourhood, and it still feels like it’s part of the city, without being in the hustle and bustle of the downtown core.
It wasn’t without issues though. Of course securing a lease in a foreign country where you have no credit record or employment history, only one of you has a job and you have no guarantors, is very difficult. We put up a good fight, digging out references from our agent who is looking after our UK property, our Airbnb reviews and showing them every penny we had, and eventually won having convinced them that we were trustworthy!
So what about those places that we didn’t choose? Well the majority we looked at were condos (condominiums – we know them as flats or apartments) right in the city centre, and boy did we meet some interesting characters and see some interesting places.
There was the agent who clearly had never even seen the property he was showing us before. He didn’t know which keys to use and had to ask the office where the communal facilities were located. There was a guy who chauffeured us between his properties (never get in strangers’ cars kids), and another who was racist – “oh you don’t want to live there it’s full of *$!%@ people”. We laughed nervously. Picking up on our apprehension, “oh, I’m not a racist!” he added.
Then there was the Chinese guy, ‘Hank’, who was a right ball. He looked young enough to be my son and giggled at most things. His parents back in Shanghai had blatantly bought him the property as an investment.
Finally there was the female residential agent, who had brought along her domineering commercial agent husband. She was useless, while he couldn’t work out which way was east or west (that massive lake next door is a fairly good clue you idiot) and showed off the views overlooking Toronto’s infamous Gardiner Expressway.
New high rise condos are springing up all over downtown Toronto, which is something of a controversial subject for many people. Apparently they are built on car parks which are sold off for millions of dollars. Maybe that’s a good thing as more people live in the city centre and less drive in.
However, these new condos are very small. Some claim to have a separate bedroom, but in fact the bedroom is only divided from the lounge, dining room and kitchen by a retractable frosted glass screen! Another great feature is that almost all don’t come with a ceiling light in the bedroom or living room (presumably as a construction cost cutting measure), and therefore anyone moving in needs to bring lamps with them. We could start to see why we’d once seen a headline about Toronto’s new condos being the slums of the future!
Another issue with newest of condos is that Ontario/Toronto has laws whereby if the residential units are habitable, then residents can move in. This can be regardless of the fact that the rest of the property is a building site as contractors finish upper floors, the lobby and other communal facilities such as a swimming pool or gym. Meanwhile there might not be any carpets in the hallway and the lift still has its internal plywood protection in place!
Older units tend to be larger, but having been lived in, they come with their issues too. For example there was a girl who was turning her beige carpets a filthy grey, and had left a trail of coins across the floor. Then there was the property described as dirty, whereas in reality everything was badly damaged. This turned out to be the most expensive of all the properties we looked at too!
The ironic thing is that the agents all claimed that demand for these condos is high, and that we would need to move quickly to secure them. But it was them desperately chasing us for an answer in the coming days. Perhaps the downtown demand isn’t quite what they make it out to be.