Real Estate Saga: Part I

In June of 2006, Carrie drove by a sign in our neighborhood that said “large loft for sale” (well, it probably said “A Vendre: Grande Loft” or somesuch) and had a phone number. She called the agent to inquire. It wasn’t very large by our midwestern standards. But the agent inquired — how big of a place did we want? When she told him 2000 square feet — give or take — he became very interested. He came over to our place a few days later and we talked for awhile about our interests and anticipated price range. Thus began our search for Montreal real estate. I’m not sure why I didn’t blog about it as it happened. But now, I welcome you to a summertime series on the subject.

It turns out that wanting 2000 square feet in the city puts you in a patently bizarre market segment, or as a colleague at another university put it to me, “you might as well move out to the suburbs if you want that kind of space.” At one point we were looking at a 1500 square foot loft and the developer said “you won’t find that kind of space except for a converted industrial space or the 1st floor and basement of an old victorian.” Not wanting to live in the suburbs, and not wanting to live in a smaller space than we already had, we set out on our epic search of strange old spaces, weird nooks in neighborhoods, weird neighborhoods, places that were never designed to house people — or at least not us — and at least one space that is currently not fit for habitation.

Here’s the backstory:

The first place we ever owned was in Pittsburgh. By Pittsburgh standards it was a medium sized “detached” house. Montrealers will read the next sentence and weep: For $89,500 in 1999, we got 3 bedrooms, 1600 square feet, plus another 800 feet of usable space in the basement, a 2-car garage (more storage) and 2 porches in great condition, in a nice neighborhood not too far from school (though we did have to drive as public transit wasn’t great). In Vancouver, I’d bet the house would sell for 10 times as much. In Montreal, that configuration of space in that condition doesn’t appear to exist in the city limits.

When we moved here, we had no credit, and therefore no realistic opportunity to buy. Our then-new colleagues suggested all the usual neighborhoods (Pleateau, Mile End, maybe Outremont or NDG, St. Henri if we were adventurous). While they all had something to recommend themselves, we wanted a place where it was easy to get to work at a reasonable price and that wouldn’t make us feel cramped after living in that — what I now realize was — large house. In the end, we rented a 2000 square foot apartment (huge by Montreal standards) a bit east and south of the Plateau. There is much that is great about the place. It’s great for entertaining, not far from school, and has been a comfortable space for guests and for us to get our work done. But we’d never planned to stop owning. Carrie reminded me that when we signed the lease, we told the landlord we’d probably eventually buy something. As time passed, we missed owning, for all the bourgeois reasons I suppose, and wanted to explore other neighborhoods.

As my friend Derek says, we are at that stage of life where talk turns easily to real estate and babies, because that’s what people are up to. Since we’re not having a child, you’ll have to endure a bit of this. Especially because there’s nothing like a series to get a blogger’s creative juices flowing.