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The Humiliating Reality of House Buying

By Michael Murray | Think Pieces | February 4, 2011 |

By Michael Murray | Think Pieces | February 4, 2011 |

“Are you sure this house isn’t haunted?” I asked.

“No, no, it just needs a little TLC is all.”

“But this room is so much colder than all the rest, and I swear to God, I can hear a little girl’s voice, lilting, as if singing a very sad and homicidal song.”


Our real estate agent, wearing her stiletto-heeled downtown shoes, leaned into the crawl space/ office, and listened.

“I guess it could be from one of the girl’s suicides, but I think you’re just picking up on the humming of the Hydro Towers. I don’t think this place is haunted, it exudes an almost neutral energy. Look, if you’re fussy about these things you should just get a priest to come along on the home inspection, okay? And Michael, what you and Rachelle have to understand is that it’s a seller’s market, and if you want to buy, you’re going to have to make some compromises.”

“The kitchen is wallpapered with tinfoil,” I commented. “It hurts to touch.”

But she just hurried off to the leased BMW that she’d left double-parked, ” You snooze, you lose, sweethearts!”

Standing near a rotted and mysteriously swinging front gate, I turned to Rachelle, ” She doesn’t know shit about ghosts, that place is haunted! We should fire her. She’s a knob and tube! We need a ghost-sensitive real estate agent!”

Rachelle patted me on the arm. “The backyard is nice, you can fit a garbage can out there which is a great feature. We should make a bid.”

We don’t know what the hell we’re doing.

Regardless, the notion of home ownership is so deeply embedded in our DNA that in spite of the fact that we can’t actually afford to buy a house in “downtown” Toronto, we’re still going to try to do it. It’s like we’re hoping to defy the laws of economics and then be awarded some sort of genius grant.

That would be nice.

I won’t bore you with all the arguments (that I don’t really understand) for and against pursuing this delusion, but will simply say that this process of buying a home feels a lot like being one of those victims on a Japanese game show.


In microseconds, scuzzy dives are being snapped off the market at 15 percent more than asking. Naturally, this is creating a sense of panic and desperation in all would-be-buyers, sending us zooming across the city, careening from one shitty property to another in a heightened state of anxiety. This results in a series of spastic and impulsive auctions for properties.

Let me tell you a little bit about auctions.

They make you do really stupid things.

At the first auction I attended— an antique sale of some sort— I ended up bidding on a bayonet. I had never wanted a bayonet in my life, but the environment made me so excited and competitive that I convinced myself I must beat everybody else to ownership of this bayonet.

I will use the bayonet to fluff pillows.
The bayonet will hold toilet paper rolls.
Opening mail will be easier if I own a bayonet.

This was the nature of my thinking.

It’s infectious, this, like some sort of virus, and at the same auction my friend Steve, whom I had considered savvy in these matters, paid $300 for a box, like one you’d find on your dad’s desk that contained stamps and Visa slips. And later, when the auctioneer pointed at another friend, Candace, and yelled, “Sold!” after she made a stupid bid on a bowl, she hung her head sighing, “Fuck!”

This is what buying a house in Toronto is like.

Our realtor, knowing our bottom-entry situation, told us we should “follow the gays and the artists,” in order to find the next affordable and emerging part of town. “Trust me,” she said,” I know lots of gays and they’re all migrating to Little Congo, it’s going to be THE area to live in two years.” She showed us the newsletter she’d printed off on her computer. “Buy in Little Congo, be a part of the revitalization of Toronto!” it enthused.

As I am attentive, I did some research on the area and found that the infant mortality rate was on par with many other parts of the city and that it was a mere 30 minute walk to the subway. Also, trying to get a feel for the vibe of the area, I looked through the “Missed Connections” section of Craig’s List hoping to see what sort of street culture was taking place there:

Beneath the overpass

It was daylight, and I think it might have been Friday. You had pretty decent teeth, were sporting a big, bushy beard, wearing three toques and talking to yourself. I wanted to know what you were saying, but was too shy to ask. We should meet in the park sometime.

At Japhet’s Grocer

It was a Tuesday night and you were wearing pink hot pants and a parka and were distracting the cashier by telling him a story about how you weren’t going to pay for his stale licorice. As you were doing this, you shoplifted three chocolate bars and some batteries. I was standing in the line behind you and saw that you had excellent technique. I’d like to see you again so I could show you my excellent technique.

In front of Coffee Time

You were driving a mobility scooter with a Hamilton Tiger Cats flag on the back and I was having a butt by the alley. I accidentally spit on the sidewalk in front of you, and you called me a whore, but still, there was something tender in your voice.

Although Rachelle and I were a little bit reluctant, we decided to follower our realtor’s advice after she told us the Little Congo was becoming a hub in the film industry, having served as a location for a gritty cop drama co-staring Mickey Rourke.


The area itself could best be described as a kind of industrial scar, like a place where a plane had crashed a few years ago. As we walked toward our prospective new home a man wearing acid wash jeans and a confederate ball cap hissed me, ” spicy meat, spicy meat!”

I did not know what this meant.

“Just keep walking,” our realtor said.

I looked at the her, ” When you said this area was becoming a magnet for gay culture, did you mean Jeffrey Dahmer gay, or fashionable, graphic designer gay? And the artists, did you really mean vandals?”

Rachelle squeezed my arm, which always means for me to be quiet.

The house our realtor led us to was large and had one broken window. It boasted an open, concrete layout, a basement that could easily be converted into a Rec Room or a guest area once it had been drained, and what looked like blood on the kitchen counter.

“Does it come with the light fixture?” Rachelle asked.

Our realtor nodded, “Oh yes, of course! The light fixture really adds the WOW factor to the home, doesn’t it!?”

“I like how it’s protected by a little cage,” I added.

“I think we can work with this place,” Rachelle said to me, “I like converted garages. We should probably offer $15,000 over asking. No conditions this time.”

I nodded, ” You’re right, we could throw great parties here without worrying too much about damaging the place. Let’s do it! Let’s bid to win!”

And then, just as our pitch of excitement was rising, our realtor got a call. Turning to us, irritated, she said, “I told you that you have to act fast in this market! This home just sold. It’s probably for the best, though,” she muttered, “as you would have had to strip the lead paint yourselves.”

Michael Murray is a freelance writer. He presently lives in Toronto. You can find more of his musings on his blog, or check out his Facebook page.

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