Buying jeans online scares me. In quarantine, I bought my first home.
It drove me nuts and kept me sane over 70-plus days of isolating alone. And like everything else in the time of COVID-19, it was far from typical.
Here’s the backstory. I’m the product of a real estate family. My grandfather started a namesake Century 21 franchise in Ottawa in 1976. My parents, aunt and uncle all followed him into the family biz. Buying a place isn’t for everyone but it was always part of my “plan” — if delayed a handful of years by the skyrocketing prices of condos in Toronto.
I started dipping my toe in the real estate market toward the end of last summer. Saw a handful of condos, put an offer in on one last fall that didn’t go my way, upped my budget a couple of times because I’m too suburban to appreciate the merits of a studio and a Murphy bed — though some of the places I checked out deserve awards for ingenuity and organization.
By the time I returned from covering Blue Jays spring training in mid-March — a trip that was cut from two weeks to four days because of the coronavirus pandemic — I wasn’t sure I’d continue to look. My experience wasn’t as gruelling as I’ve heard it can be in this city, but I began to think I might spend the money I’d saved travelling, or maybe I would purchase an investment property in a cheaper market.
They say these things happen when you least expect it. That couldn’t be more true in this care.
I was serving my 14-day quarantine after being out of the country when my dad sent me the listing for my new home, a one-bedroom condo in midtown. The owner of the property was also the realtor — and longtime family acquaintance. She showed me the unit over WhatsApp, allowing me to be virtually nosy by opening every cupboard and closet in the place.
I loved it immediately. I’d heard of people placing an “offer unseen” before — and thought those people were nuts. And then, in a global pandemic, I became one of them. And I got it.
The offer was conditional upon me seeing the unit in person. The day my quarantine ended, I walked the five kilometres from my long-time rental to the new place. After getting the key off the concierge — and thoroughly wiping it down using Lysol wipes, along with every handle or elevator button I touched — I opened the front door and thanked the universe that I still liked it.
Buying my first home in a pandemic wasn’t the momentous occasion I had envisioned. I kept the news relatively close to my chest. People were suffering physically, emotionally and mentally: it felt wrong to celebrating. There was also fear of judgment or that the deal might fall apart given the precarious nature of today’s economy. Some of the friends and family I did tell were wary: “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” was a response I received on more than one occasion.
Practically, if you’re going to purchase a home in a pandemic, I suggest buying a printer and a scanner: You’ll be making many trips to Staples’ curbside pickup, if not. Selling furniture on Kijiji is a trip, especially when you waste your last Lysol wipe cleaning a bookshelf for a pregnant woman who professes not to believe in coronavirus. The courier who drops off your packing boxes might tell you moving now is a “stupid” decision — don’t let it get you down. When the lender needs a last-minute document that won’t be easy to source during a pandemic, it doesn’t necessarily mean your deal will fall through.
But until you get the final confirmation, a Harvey’s burger, milk shake, onion rings and apple pie might help dull the stress.
It’s not all nerve-wracking. At times, the move felt like divine intervention. Packing, sorting and dismantling furniture gave me a purpose while on my own. Instead of dreading weekends, when I wouldn’t have work to occupy myself, I got ready for the move.
For all the tasks made trickier by the pandemic, I discovered a resourcefulness I didn’t know I could manage. And it forced me to hire movers instead of plying my friends with pizza and beer in exchange for their help, which — no offence to my well-meaning friends — was the best decision I ever made.
The housewarming party will have to wait, but my closest supporters talked me through the hard moments, celebrated the exciting moments and sent screwdrivers in the mail when the hardware stores were closed.
The tears flowed when my lawyer emailed to say I was a homeowner — my mom has the FaceTime screen shots to prove it. It took a few minutes to get the words out, which is rarely a problem for me.
I won’t have learned a new language by the time this pandemic is over or mastered the art of sourdough. I may be avoiding real estate stories about falling market prices for a while. But — for better or for worse — I’ll always have a story about that time I bought a house online in a pandemic. That’s got to count for something.
Laura Armstrong is a Star sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @lauraarmy