How to Find Your Dream Apartment: Apartment/Condo Hunting in Downtown Toronto

Anyone who has lived in Toronto or looked for places downtown knows that the Toronto real estate market is, to put it lightly, a bit insane.

If you’re new to the process of looking for a place in the city, here are two key ideas you need to be aware of: places are expensive, and places go on and off the market fast.

 

When I started my apartment hunting journey last spring, I was super intimidated by the process, but I’m hoping my stories/tips can help you in your pursuit of your dream apartment…I definitely found mine. If you’re a student or new renter downtown, then this post will probably address some common questions you may have. However, please keep in mind that everything I discuss in this post is my opinion and based on my experience….I’m by no means an expert on real estate…there are many other places on the web for you to find that kind of content.

The big debate: Condo or Apartment? What’s the difference?


CONDOS

When my roommate Andreia and I first started looking for places, we originally started looking at condos. We ended up getting a realtor and, upon giving her our budget and desired location (preferably in walking distance of University of Toronto campus), had our first day of viewings shortly after. As a little side note, we started looking for places at the end of June/beginning of July with the intention of getting a place for August or September. If I were to go condo-hunting again, I’d probably only seriously start seeing places mid-July.

One thing I quickly learned about apartment hunting in Toronto–which I’m sure is the same for most major cities— is that you should only start booking viewings  a month (or two max) before the date you want a place for. For example, if you’re looking for a place in September, it really makes no sense to go for viewings in May because most of the places on realtors.ca or condos.ca are going to be landlords looking for tenants who are ready to move in ASAP.

I spent a few months checking listings 2-3 times a week so I could get familiar with what kinds of places Andreia and I could realistically get with our budget, and I noticed in that time that condos are only on the market for a limited amount of time—honestly, if a place had been on the market for longer than a  couple weeks, I immediately would start to think that there must be something wrong and/or unappealing about the unit (i.e. location, price, furnished, building, size, dirty-looking, etc, etc.).

We were on the hunt for a 2 bedroom condo, which isn’t cheap in downtown Toronto. However, the benefit of a condo is that they usually have security at the front door (which, for two single young girls, was very appealing to us), amenities, washer/dryers, and are generally going to be well maintained because each unit is owned by landlords versus apartment buildings that are typically owned by a single person/group/company (more on that later).

It was difficult for us to find a 2 bedroom in our price range, so we started looking for a 1 bedroom + den and didn’t find much luck with that either. Dens are tricky because some condos have dens that are pretty much the size of a regular bedroom, and others—a majority of the time—have dens that can realistically only fit a small desk and chair

The one condo Andreia and I did end up falling love with was a new 2 bedroom condo that was right within our price range, close to campus, available for September 1st, and had been on the market for only a day. Score!! Our realtor immediately started filing up the paperwork but, just as we were about to put in the offer, we found out there were three other offers ahead of us. *cue the sobbing*

Realtors are not allowed to tell each other exactly what the offers are, but our realtor got the impression that not only were these other offers ahead of us, but they were also offering more money a month and/or willing to start paying sooner than September 1st. The chances that we’d get the place were practically non-existent. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t feel a bit defeated, but the experience did teach me some valuable lessons about condo hunting:

  1. Don’t fall in love with a place until the lease is signed with your name. Until your name is on the dotted line, even if there is a verbal agreement, there’s always a chance you could loose it.
  2. Make competitive offers. If you really love the place, you got to bring out the big guns…offer more money a month, offer to pay sooner, write a letter to pull at the landlord’s heart strings, offer your first born child (haha, kidding…..sort of). Since Andreia and I had a pretty small budget in the world of Toronto-Real-Estate-Land, we didn’t have much room to budge on the price so that put us at a bit of a disadvantage. For example, my realtor told us she once had a client who paid a full year of rent upfront—that kind of offer is impossible to compete with.
  3. If you’re condo hunting, getting a realtor is the way to go. Since the market moves fast, it’s so convenient to have a realtor doing the dirty work (i.e. paperwork for you), plus there’s no cost to the tenant….there are many other articles written my much more knowledgeable people that can explain the detailed pros and cons of using a realtor for renting, but based on my experience, I’d recommend it.

After about a month of condo hunting, Andreia’s dad ended up driving past an apartment building advertising available 2 bedroom units. Although it wasn’t a condo, we decided to check it out anyways. That place ended up being our new home (I’ve included my apartment tour video in this post in case you want to take a peak)….but let me rewind a bit.

APARTMENTS

Apartments are generally cheaper than condos— it’s the reason many students in the Annex area rent apartment units because they can be more affordable in the city. My opinion on apartments is a bit mixed. Although I have a great apartment experience in the building I’m currently in, I would say apartments are more of a hit or miss downtown, and that I’d HIGHLY recommend checking out a place in person before committing to it. The additional benefit to looking for apartments is that, unlike condos, you don’t put in an offer…generally it’s first come, first served. Now, that’s not to say that they don’t go fast—because they do—but you don’t have to deal with the stress of putting in an offer and waiting for a verdict.

My biggest tip when it comes to apartment hunting is to just spend a day calling apartment buildings in the area you’re looking at and go visit any units the building(s) have to show you. Come prepared with checks, credit scores, etc. so that if you find something you like, you can sign right away. If you’re a student, I’d also recommend bringing your parents with you because it shows the person who’s showing you the unit that you’re serious—thankfully I had my mom and Andreia’s mom with me when we came to see the place we live in now, and having them there gave the manager enough confidence in us to give us a couple of hours to discuss the decision before signing. Since Andreia had to work that day, it was great to have that extra time to talk with her on the phone and get her opinion.

The first apartment Andreia and I looked at was near campus and had been a unit we had seen photos of online. It wasn’t anything glamorous, but it looked clean, the price was good, and thus we were obviously interested….let’s just say, the apartment itself was completely different than the photos in the worst way possible (and that’s me putting it nicely). Additionally, the building had a funky smell and looked, generally all around, very run down. I didn’t feel safe in it and the manager of the building seemed like she didn’t really care about the property aside from the fact that she needed tenants. No bueno.

In contrast, the building I’m currently in is run by the nicest people and, although the building is dated, they have been slowly renovating all of the units over the past few years (which shows a high level of care that they have for their building). And get this….the rent is cheaper than the “yikes-worthy” place Andreia and I first saw…crazy, right?! I get a lot of questions about how much I pay for rent downtown, and even though I don’t wish to disclose the actual amount, all I’ll say is that we got really lucky and found a place below our budget. If you are open to seeing as many places as you can, eventually you’ll find a place that works for you and your budget too 🙂


Where should I look for a place in downtown Toronto if I’m a student?

If you’re looking for more affordable places, the Annex (just north of Bloor Street West) is a great place to look for apartments…you’ll also get the added bonus of tons of food being around you. Za’s Pizzaeria is a new favourite of mine! There’s also apartments on College that are worth checking out as well.

For condos, your best bet is probably around the Bay & Bloor area. The closer you get to Yorkville (the east side of Bloor), the more expensive it gets, but there are condos in that area that are within a reasonable price point. If you’re willing to have a bit of a commute, there’s also an area called Cityplace (more south of campus, towards lakeshore) that my realtor told me many students live in. For me personally, I don’t think it’s worth being that far from school and having to rely on streetcars– but if that’s not a concern for you, then perhaps it’s worth checking out.


Tips for searching for an apartment with a roommate…

  1. Have an honest discussion about what you’re each wanting to pay. If you have two completely different price points in mind, it may not be realistic for you to live with each other unless one person(s) is willing to pay more than the other.
  2. In addition to price points, make sure you communicate, before looking for places, exactly where you want to live. You could get as specific as drawing an area on a map, or as general as being within walking distance of the subway….but make sure you’re on the same page so you avoid confusion in the future.
  3. Don’t judge a place before you see it in person. Apartments and condos can look very different in pictures than in real life, so go in with an open mind and a healthy dose of skepticism.

 

I hope this answered some of the questions I know many of you have about my apartment hunting experience and apartment hunting in general in downtown Toronto. I won’t lie, I found the process to be incredibly stressful, but I also feel like all of this knowledge that I gained will make the next time much easier—so hopefully it was of some assistance to you.

If you have any more questions, feel free to ask in the comments, send me an email, or reach out on social media….all of my links can be found on my “contact me” page.

Caitlin Da Silva

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