20 May 2011

Buying a House the 1950s Way

In case you missed it, we bought a house! Eeee! We currently own the condo we're in (which we need to sell on the double, yeep!) but the process of finding and bidding on a house was nothing like our previous real estate experience. If there's any truth to what's in my magazine collection it was nothing like how they bought homes in the 1950s either.


Within the May 1959 issue of Better Homes & Gardens is a four-page document called "The Smart Way To Buy A House" that covered all the things someone should do and consider when purchasing a home. The act of buying a home in the 1950s apparently also involved going elbowless and bending one's arms like Mr. Tickle:

Who needs arm bones when you have property? Not us! Hurrah!

Anyway, this document went on to explain all the important things a 50s housewife (and her husband. Buying a home without a husband? Insanity!) was to consider when making a real estate decision. The article suggests that it is a careful process that took a fair amount of time, involved lots of sit-down meetings that you wore a hat to, and was a rather even-paced affair.

In other words, nothing at all like our last few days. We were in no big rush to find a new place, but the timing was pretty good - our mortgage term is up this summer, interest rates are low and while we love our home and location, a bit more space (especially outdoor space) would be nice to have. And so we ventured into the dogfight that is Toronto real estate.


Now, it's not that we weren't systematic, clear and reasonable in our thinking. It's just that things move much faster and prices jump much quicker and homes are sometime that much older (with weird rooms, funny inspection notes and unexpected features). You have to really get your head around the fact that a small and dank home will still go for a half million dollars. I know - it's nothing compared to homes in New York and parts of Europe, or even parts of Vancouver, but dude! One place we looked had a lot size of only 20' wide sold for over $600k. Ugh. The Toronto market is pretty healthy, so bidding wars and multiple offer situations are common, so if you're dead-set on a place, it's easy to get all emotional and nutbagged and start thinking you need to pay way more for it than you're able to. We didn't get that bad, but we sure were involved in a few offers that planted the seeds of crazy.


So like the image above suggests, Patrick and I sat down, put all our money in little stacks on the table and figured out our budget. In reality, our money is really just electronic data; X number of dollars showing in this account, Y number of dollars in that account. In fact, I can guarantee you that I have more Canadian Tire money than I have bills in my wallet at the moment.

Anyway, the advice they gave in 1959 is actually pretty smart - to take what you can afford each month - add a few zeros to the end of it - and that's the mortgage you should apply for. This is of course nothing like what the mortgage lenders are willing to give you today - which is roughly three to four times your household annual income. Patrick and I are fortunate and comfortable but by no means are we rolling in the money. Anyone who thinks freelance writing is a fast-track to wealth is off their ass. But even though we don't make that much, if we actually got as big of a mortgage as we've been approved for, we would be so incredibly house poor. I'd become that person who goes into McDonalds just to steal ketchup packs and napkins, hits up the drugstore and uses their display sample make-up to get ready each day, and we'd have to get dial-up Internet. Of those things, the latter is easily the most dehumanizing.

With finances established, we then got a sense of the neighbourhood we could afford. With homes being as expensive as they are, it was a choice between Shitdive Drive, Crackhead Valley or Scarborough. Just kidding - we would never consider Scarborough.

Ok, so our neighbourhood choices really weren't all that bad - but they were definitely areas that when I first arrived in Toronto nearly 11 years ago as a spry, young 20-something, I probably wouldn't have been too wild about. But now as a 30-something looking to buy a house? Areas near Dufferin and Dupont and a few spots that crossed the DVP (the big leap!) looked like mecca.


You know what I think has changed the real estate game forever? Google Street View. It is the most amazing tool ever to get a sense of some areas, and more importantly, spy on the people that could be your neighbours. We've declined seeing some places just because of what the Google car happened to capture on its fateful drive that day. Even though a part of me thought, "Hmm, that would make for some good blogging," the idea of living next to people who stand on their street while wearing a Tyler Durdin-style bathrobe was too much of a turn-off to ignore. I mean, if you're willing to wander around looking like that (and not be Brad Pitt), you're probably not too far off from being the guy who goes door to door asking if we have any cigarette butts he could have (True story: A friend's neighbour once did this, because he liked to roll his own cigarettes from the dredges of butts he'd find on the street. When he discovered our friend was a smoker, he'd come by now and again to see if he (the crazy dude) could have the butts. They came to an arrangement where our friend would leave his butts in a jar on his porch that the neighbour could help himself to. Is that classy, or what?).

The Searchlight Homemaking Guide had some additional tips when it came to finding the right neighbourhood:

Under the strange title of "Freedom", the guide warns about moving next to a glue factory. How much glue were people in the 1950s making that this needed a specific warning? As modern life would have it, we actually considered a condo in a building that is a former glue factory. Oh, how our 1950s contemporaries would have mocked us. Whatever, 1950s jerks, enjoy your asbestos siding.

The advice also suggests looking into the school district. As we're sans children, this isn't a big deal to us, but should we ever have crotchfruit kids, I looked up the school they'd have to go to and the rating it was given:

We dun learn yer kin real good at Chester. Hyuck, hyuck! We dun gots ourselves a libary 'n everythang!

So ... homeschooling it is.

Once you've narrowed down your budget and ideal locations, "The Smart Way To Buy A House" suggests using their rather extensive checklist to determine your needs and wants that you'd then compare to what the home you're considering actual offers. The article provided three pages of these checklists, about the overall home and each room, to review. An example of this is below:


They even had a sub-heading of "Working" - and for a glimmering moment I thought that they already had the foresight in the 1950s to consider that people might work from home and need a decent den or study area for those purposes. I was wrong:
Ah, right. Women's Work. And Men's Work. I especially like that they suggest that "When you want to sew or mend, will there be a cheerful, private place?" I can see why they would suggest this; My attempts to hem pants (which may or may not have eventually involved me saying "fuck it" and grabbing a stapler) truly did require me to "go to a happy place" so as to not scare my husband away.

But do you think we turned to this long list of criteria and thoughtfully checked things off when we were doing our actual home hunt? Hell no. With the market being busy and people crawling on top of each other at open houses and scheduled showings, we were more like, "IS THIS PLACE GOOD OR IS THIS BAD? DECIDE NOW." Nearly every place we went to had a set offer date, so there wasn't a whole lot of time to mull and dawdle and nit-pick over how "pleasant" and "cheerful" each room was. It was more like being a sniper - you have a limited opportunity for a given home - and you either pull the trigger or you don't.

Working at a gay newspaper those years ago has truly ruined me. I can't see words like "cruise favorite neighborhoods" or "take the family car and cruise" without thinking of men roaming around open houses looking for anonymous sex with other men. Actually, I have a weird feeling that does happen.

But - anyhoo - in our own way, we did "cruise" the hoods. We mostly did all this with our intrepid real estate agent, who has got to be the most assertive, strategic driver I have ever met. She could make a killing teaching a course (preferably to cab drivers) on how to get around Toronto the fastest way possible without getting in a head-on collision. Finding side streets, turning around on a dime, magically never hitting a light, parking in tiny spots - it was all very exciting. And of course, she's just as great and assertive and strategic at the actual job of finding, buying and selling homes - because, hey, success! The place we eventually got was just our third offer, which is actually pretty good for Toronto. Most people we know who got a house in the city had to go through the process five, ten, even twenty times before landing a deal. So three? I'll take that!

And soon it will be time to pay for this all:

Inflation makes you a little sick doesn't it? Even with inflation factored in, the cost of the $20,000 home in their example would still only cost $148k today. And our home price? Well, let's just say the deposit that I had to supply with our offer was more than the final house price mentioned in that article. Yah. Of course, incomes have drastically risen since the 1950s, but there's a part of you that still wants to sob.

But it was worth it. I think. I hope. And come mid-July, we'll be attempting to do this with our limbs in front of our very own home:

7 comments:

Karen 12:37 pm, May 20, 2011  

I'm sorry - but I'm howling about the school you'd have to send your kids to. "Hyuck, hyuck." LOL. And the Scarborough reference! So Toronto of you. LOL.

Anonymous,  3:05 pm, May 20, 2011  

I just love it when you show bits of your 1950s magazine collection!!

simplify411 7:18 pm, May 20, 2011  

Thank you for the guffaws - you always come through for me! Crotchfruit is going to stick with me for a while!! LOL

Kat 6:33 am, May 21, 2011  

Hi! I'm Kat - been reading for a little while, only commenting now :-)

Firstly, massive congratulations about the house! Google StreetView has influenced where I rent, too.

I love the 1950s tips. Whoever wrote those articles would probably be horrified to know that I earn (a lot) more than my boyfriend, and even more horrified that I work in construction... I know sometimes it's a struggle even for my grandmothers to deal with the world in 2011. Makes me wonder what I'll be thinking in 2061!

Anonymous,  8:46 pm, May 23, 2011  

Love love love all your posts! I've discovered you about 3 weeks ago when someone posted about your 50's housewife experience on Whattoexpect.com. Thats right i'm a mommy and reading your posts is sooo good not only for quick laugh in the morning but also to keep my sanity:)
Please sign a book deal asap can't wait for more 50's housewife stuff.

Ok this has officially evolved into a crazy fan rant, which was not my intention, especially since I never comment on blog usually but this goes to show how grear I think your blog is:)
Your dedicated-checking almost daily if there's a new post-reader from Europe.

Adiba Alam 3:45 am, February 13, 2017  

Your home reviewer might just possess an amplifying glass and measuring stick, however be guaranteed, he has present day instruments to give something to do for you, and they may look like something out of Star Trek.
Tampa home inspection serices

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Need words? I'm a Toronto-based freelance writer who injects great ones into blogs, websites, magazines, ads and more. So many services, one lovely Jen (with one 'n').

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