Boom Times in the Big Smoke


It’s Boom Town for realtors in Toronto these days. 243,400 houses were sold last year, and as of April of this year, the average residence in the city had a starting price tag of a cool $921,000.

378 East Sept 2016My old house in Scarborough, which we sold last July, was re-sold twice more by speculators before the year ended, each time jumping another $100K or so in price. It’s now been demolished and rebuilt as a monster home. I wouldn’t recognize the place, they tell me.

Fine by me. We sold, we moved, and I can barely remember the person I was when I lived in my big, old bungalow. Turns out it’s great not to have the onus of house maintenance, and the constant waiting for the next expense to drop. Renting, after 30 years of owning, may not lend the same sense of autonomy, but it also comes with a lot less responsibility and chores.

Taxes can be a burden on the home owner as well, since your residential tax is based on current value, not what you paid for the place at the time of purchase. If you lucked out in the eighties and bought your dream home for around $100,000, you might be considering a second job just to keep the taxes paid and the utilities flowing.

hawkstone-manorGood ol’ Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins has his big estate, Hawkstone Manor, up for sale. Again. He tried to sell it for $14.9 million back in 2013, and failed. But it’s up again, this time listed at $4.3 million. If it goes to a bidding war, which is not out of the question, he could still get closer to the $10 million mark.

From the Toronto Star, April 2013:
“It’s a $100 house on a million-dollar property.”

The nine-bedroom, five-bathroom home is really only notable for the lifetime of memories that line its orange living room walls. A buyer would likely bring in a bulldozer.

But the house sits atop a rare piece of prime Kawarthas real estate — 165 acres gently sloping down to almost 4,000 feet of waterfront that, on these sought-after shores of the Trent-Severn Waterway, can go for $5,000 a foot.”

The Order of Canada recipient is 82, and not in the best of health. Whatever the final price, he and his wife will be able to cash out big and find somewhere a lot cosier to shelter them in their golden years.

sold over asking. jpgAnd that’s the ideal situation to be in, in the market right now. If you’re selling and have to purchase another place in the city – good luck to you. They want ridiculous money for so much as a garage, without a house attached. It’s madness. Tiny bungalows, like the one I’m renting, list for $800K and sell for over a million.

And when the interest rates rise in a bit, it’s gonna be even crazier. How can the average person buy so much as an entry home in the city, without a family income somewhere in the $300K a year range? It’s nuts. Rock, meet hard place. Rock musicians … move to Hamilton.

Funny thing, though, about this real estate madness – with hundreds of thousands of properties changing hands in the last two years, there have never been more paper millionaires minted in the city than it’s likely seen in it’s history. scrooge_mcduck

Not just millionaires – multi-millionaires. If you’re one of those lucky enough to have pretty much retired the mortgage, and are ready for retirement yourself, you could be walking away with more money than you ever dreamed you’d have. (Not me, I hasten to add – we did alright but didn’t hit Scrooge McDuck status. We’re barely McDucklings. We’re Ova McDuck, if anything.)

Barring a lotto win, which is unlikely, since I keep forgetting to buy a ticket, I’ll probably spend the rest of my days in rental properties, of decreasing proportions. Part of me would love to be a home owner again, but the rational, sensible part of my brain is quite comfortable with letting someone else worry about the roof, the septic tank, and the tyranny of ‘keeping up with the Jones.

I’m liking this downsizing, says the unrepentant hoarder. I’m liking trying to fit everything that once overflowed a 4000 square foot sprawler into this teensy tiny, less than 1000 square foot bungalow. It’s given me the chance to actually sift through all of these souvenirs and memories, and sort the metaphorical wheat from the chaff. I’m culling the hoard. It’s great to tear willy nilly through the detritus, and toss out the junk. It’s fun to put boxes of odds and ends on the lawn, under a big sign that says ‘Free!’ and watch cars screech to a halt, their drivers eager to find some little treasure to haul home.

1 800 got junkIt’s really heartening to go through all of the boxes of clothing, shoes, books, craft items, and linens, choose what can be redistributed within our family and friends, and then pass on the overflow to people who will appreciate what we’ve donated. There are so many who have so little, while others have three of everything. Distributing some of my bounty to those who can use it liberates my home AND my heart.

I didn’t need three apple corers. In fact, I have never even used one of them, not even once. Ditto the cherry pitter.

For the first time in my life, I’m no longer buying stuff ‘just in case,’ or with a view to some future purpose, because my future is now, and I want to be present.

I’m happy for those who are selling their properties for a tidy profit. I’m happy for those who are finding their dream homes. I worry about Torontonians who missed the real estate roundabout, and are now trying to find something affordable to rent. But this is all going on around me, and like you, I have very little say in what the Toronto of tomorrow will resemble.

Owning a home is not for everyone. It’s a very nice thing, and can certainly be wise and profitable in midlife. But when it comes time for retirement, home ownership is more like an anchor around your neck, keeping your proverbial boat stuck in one place. To enter new waters, you’ve got to haul up that anchor, and unfurl the sails, letting the fresh breeze take you somewhere new and exciting.

Avast, me hearties … I’m bound for uncharted shores!

 

The move that would not die …


I’ve been pretty much off the ‘net and the grid for the better part of a month. Call it ‘interesting times,’ but dang, I’ve been keeping busy!

Farley on chair March 2017When we sold the house last fall and moved into a suite of rooms, it was with the fervent hope that we could stay put for a while. But it was not to be … a girl needs her kitchen and her ‘things’ around her, and my poor cats were traumatized by the presence of another cat in the residence. It was all too much.

So, come spring, we were once again looking for a ‘soft place to fall,’ with limited success at first. (see https://bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2016/11/13/mrs-parker-and-the-9th-circle-of-hell/)

It took a lot of shoe leather, a lot of inspections of possible living spaces, an incredible amount of rejection, and finally some canny wheeling and dealing to secure a place for June 1st. With several weeks to go before the move, we set to packing up and preparing for the move.

Ha! As if! No, once again, life insisted on getting in the way, and suddenly I was in the middle of not one, but two, musical opportunities, both of which had to be rehearsed and ready to go right around the time of the move.

hair flyer May 2017And with all of the stress around packing and moving, rehearsing a reunion of the cast of the musical “Hair,” and the putting together of the Segarini Riddock Band to debut today (Sunday June 11th) for a dear friend’s memorial/wake, my health decided to take a left turn, requiring a stream of doctor’s appointments. With rehearsals literally every second day, I was a tad pressed for time, but I handled it all with grace and … oh, who am I kidding?

Much sweat, fear, pain, exhaustion, and pressure to perform, while juggling all of the stress and strain leading up to the move.

I was a mess.

Hair ensemble in song May 25 2017On the plus side, the Hair gig was a joy on the day. The original Toronto production of the musical Hair began in 1969, and ran for a sold out 52 week run. The Tribe, which included original cast members Paul Ryan, Clint Ryan, Kid Carson, Frank Moore, Jim Peters, John Stainton, Harriet Teear, Amber Wendelborg James, and Shelley Somers, was filled out with vocalist Debbie Fleming and myself for this incarnation.

The Tribe are amongst the finest people you could ever meet – good hearted, fun, and generous with their time and their talents. Under the excellent creative direction of Dylan Bell, we rehearsed an acappella arrangement of some of the most famous songs from the musical, aided and abetted by the vocal group, Retrocity. We had a rocky start to the exercise, and lost a few of the cast along the way, but by the time 8 pm on May 25th rolled around, the Tribe was ready and raring to go.

And so, I found myself on stage with nine of the original cast members of the Toronto production of ‘Hair” at the Jane Mallett Theatre in the St Lawrence Centre, in front of an audience of 450 happy hippies. You can see the entire production here:

With that production under my belt, it was time to crack down and prepare for the move. No, I’m kidding again. Now it was time to see more doctors for more fun with pointed instruments. (Spoiler alert: I’m fine. No worries) THEN it was time for the move.

We’d downsized radically prior to leaving the house in the fall, but now we were going to have to divest of even more ‘stuff’ if we were going to fit into a tiny, two bedroom, bungalow in the Upper Beaches.

By now, you know I’m kidding if I say we got that all taken care of before it was time to load the van.

It was madness.

242 Bingham move june 2017Everything was everywhere, and on top of that, whatever boxes I’d carefully set aside to be safely brought to the new place by car, somehow wound up on the truck and under hundreds of other heavy boxes.. And so I spent another week in flip flops, unable to find my shoes … or my orange clogs … or my hair dryer …

We had intended to lay carpeting before moving in the boxes and furniture, so as not to scuff the floors. The best laid plans, however, resulted in the carpets being laid willy nilly through the house, nowhere near their permanent destination, and promptly buried under heavy cartons and furniture. To free the carpets meant moving hundreds of boxes, over and over again and a tad to the left, as rugs were found, taken outside to be soundly beaten for having been led astray, and then dragged back in to the house, where the same hundreds of boxes were then moved, over and over and a tad to the right, so that the carpeting could be laid properly.

242 Bingham walk thru June 11 2017It is Day Eleven of the move that will not die, and we are still tracing a crooked path through an obstacle course to get from the front to the back door.

It will be okay. We will sort things, move things, toss things and donate things. It will be okay.

242 Bingham desk June 11 2017But right now, it’s a rat’s nest. Here’s my view from my desk chair.

Could be worse. Was last week. But for now, I must get dressed and ready to join Bob Segarini, Craig Riddock, Peter Kashur, Bruce Chapman, Kid Carson, Kevin Jeffrey and Annette Shaffer, for today’s remembrance of Super Roadie Dave Bailey.

bailey wake June 11 2017Please join us if you can – it will be a rockin’ sendoff to a good guy gone too soon.

 

With No Direction Home


When we first sold our house, worrying about finding a space that would be safe, affordable, and have amenities nearby didn’t seem like such a big deal. Really, we reasoned, how hard could it be?  I, for one, thought that our biggest problem would be agreeing on location.

Wrong.

welcome to the jungleSince our search for housing has begun, I have passed through all the stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I now accept that my entire life is on hold, and that I will be a quivering mass of anxiety and frustrated tears until this home hunting issue is resolved. Or one of us kills the other.

I had no idea that so many of the baby boomers who had dutifully bought their suburban homes during good times would all be taking advantage of a seller’s market, with an idea of moving back into the city where they could enjoy their golden years. The hive mind’s plan was to sell before the real estate bubble burst, find a little place to squat until the madness calmed down, and then decide what to do next, secure in our gains and pensions.

Our lovely little bungalow was snapped up, and flipped again within the month. A friend just sent over a photo of it being demolished. East Ave demo Apr 2017As glad as I am that we are now ‘Former Scarberians, ‘ I did feel a pang at the sight of the rubble.

What we did not fully comprehend was that as the price of real estate rose, so did the greedy little hearts of landlords seeking to cash in on square footage. We’ve had rent control in Toronto for decades, but that only covers units built (or occupied) before 1991. The easing of rental controls was meant to encourage new rental units to be built, but was not acted upon – in the decade between 1996 and 2006, 95% of all new housing built was private residential ownership.

But having committed to the house sale, we established an east end home base, with an eye to sorting ourselves out before finding a ‘forever home.’ Unfortunately, when your stuff is in boxes, in storage spaces, and scattered to the winds, a sort of inability to move forward takes over … when you don’t know where you’re going, you can’t see any road ahead. Easier to lie back in the poppies like Dorothy than to sort through hundreds of cryptically labelled boxes to find the potato masher.

Toronto subway systemWe made up a wish list of what we could and couldn’t accept in housing. Accessibility to amenities, shopping, libraries, etc was priority number one, since I don’t drive. So this palace had to be close to the subway line, and roughly west of  Woodbine station, and east of Ossington station.

High rises were just out, right off the bat, after hearing countless horror stories about tenants battling cockroaches and bed bugs. Low rises were a low priority – still so much noise and too many neighbours!

A three bedroom would be best, a large two bedroom acceptable IF there were separate dining and living rooms. Parking would be great, street permit parking would be considered. A little back yard for the cats, or at the least, an enclosed balcony, was also on the list.

We established a maximum monthly rental cost  that we could comfortably afford, with the knowledge that rental costs would inevitably increase yearly. If we needed to include utilities in the costs, electrical heating could not considered if we were to be able to afford both heating and eating.

Oh, how the Gods laugh, when humans list what they will and will not accept!

housingOur first forays into the rental world were fun and interesting. Thirty years of home ownership had us lulled into a false confidence. Hours were spent burning out corneas, sifting through Kijiji, Craigslist, ViewIt, and countless other rental sites. We were ready and willing to explore what was out there.

Preliminary research done, it was time to inspect what was available. We saw apartments, condos, tiny houses, and lofts. We looked above stores, under stores, and at underground parking.

And every time we’d find something that was either ‘just perfect!‘ or ‘close enough to be almost perfect!’ we’d be scooped by some other renter frantically trying to avoid homelessness. Everything, it would seem, was fair in apartment hunting … lies, bribery, tantrums …

evil landlordLandlords today are the Gods of the past. They can drive a grown man to tears, never mind a small French girl. They are merciless. They can not only demand more private and confidential information from you than your doctor will, they can gleefully skip over rental/tenants agreements willy nilly, banning everything from smoking, to small pets, and cooking smells. They can demand thousands of dollars in certified cheques be handed over, before they’ve even looked at your 11 page rental application.

It is to weep.

Over and over, we’ve been told, despite having responded to an ad only two hours old, that there were several people who’d seen and applied for occupancy before us. Our impeccable credit ratings meant nothing, if another applicant fanned a wad of cash in front of the landlord, and agreed to pay hundreds more than the stated rental price. It is back to the dark old days of ‘key money,’ and laws and legalities be damned.

living in a boxI no longer look forward to viewing living spaces, nor do I mentally dress them in my mind. I have no reason to expect that finding anything more than four walls and, hopefully, a roof, await me. To quote an old Monty Python sketch, I’m beginning to realize that I may soon be living in a cardboard box in the middle of a busy street. In the game of apartment hunting, I have had my tenant heart broken.

When the hunt for a home resembles the worst of the Wild West, it’s a lose/lose game for both the renter and the rentee,. Those who finally win a place to live at any price feel no joy in the victory, no loyalty to the landlord, and no need to be a responsible tenant, if that success has come at a cost that will prevent them from enjoying the rest of their lives.

10 worst tenantsNor does the temporary flush of money, money, money help the landlord when he discovers that he’s rented to someone willing to cough up the extra dough so that the space can be turned into a grow op or a crash pad for six other friends. Good luck evicting bad tenants .. that’s one place where the law not only comes down heavily on the side of the resident, it’s actually followed to a fair thee well. Your squatter may be around for a very long time.

Setting aside the morality and ethics of rental wars, there’s an impact on society at large.

demoralizedAnyone who falls through the cracks, economically, is hopelessly disenfranchised in this battle. Kids in college, or right out of college coping with short term employment contracts, or gawd forbid, unpaid ‘internships,’ are right out of luck, along with the disabled, the elderly, the vulnerable, and those who don’t pass the scrutiny and whims of landlords. Demoralization and often, homelessness, loom in their futures.

When greed rules the markets, lawlessness runs rampant. We cannot balance a Trumpian  ‘smart business practices’ fallacy with a failure to acknowledge that Toronto‘s historically low vacancy rate of 1.3% will have a negative impact upon the social and economic success of the city. Short term gain is never the equivalent of what can be achieved by long term, responsible, financial planning that takes into account the needs of all of a city’s inhabitants.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting to hear if we have been chosen for an apartment that, while not ideal, ticks a few of our wish list boxes. But I’m also getting ready for yet another ‘go see’ of a space that could be made into a cozy space for two to curl up in.

We’re lucky – we have options, although it often seems that our options keep narrowing, and the lines we drew around what is habitable keep getting redrawn. How those without those options will cope is beyond me.

Wish me luck.

Don’t Get Around Much Anymore …


Ach and oy vey! This house move is cramping my style, big time. Haven’t been able to get out to a lot of events, because time’s a ticking, and there’s only so many hours in a day. I’d like to say I’ve become more selective in my outing choices. But the truth is, moving and packing is a bitch. There just isn’t any time to gallivant around.

But let me tell you about two recent events I did manage to squeeze in. Both were wonders in their own ways.

Kensington Market Jazz Festival

molly johnson jazz.jpgA few weeks ago, I was having lunch with friends in the Market, when Molly Johnson came bopping along. Molly may be a Canadian icon – a singer, songwriter, broadcaster and philanthropist  – but that day she was a woman on a mission, distributing posters and postcards to the local shops, in aid of her latest project – the first annual Kensington Market Jazz Festival. It was the first I’d heard of it. When I asked how I could help, she asked if my friend Barbette and I would volunteer to handle door duties at some of the gigs.

Could I?  Well – time is tight – so, one gig was all I could commit to. And what a gig! The first act of the night at The Boat was an up and coming sax player. Alison Young. She and her quartet performed a strong, solid set. Loved it! She’s got a record coming out soon. .. and you should buy it.

A quick pause for the cause .. ran into Eric Alper hanging at the venue next door … and then we were on to the second set.

I’ve always considered The Shuffle Demons one of Toronto’s seminal acts, combining jazz and street wisdom in a playful, theatrical fashion.  And hot damn! Really good players.

So  I was thrilled to do door for the guys. Richard Underhill is, amongst other things, a past mayoral candidate. He’s a smart dude, a good dude, always on the ball. And a hell of a band leader.

As we took in the dough at the door … and it was very well attended, so we were kept very busy … I heard Richard say to his wife, “Just try to video our entry.”

I warned Barbette … we were in for some FUN!

And sure enough, The Shuffle Demons made an impeccable entrance, coming up The  Boat’s stairs in full regalia, tootling their tootlers, dancing with jin jinglers tied on to  their heels  They blew their hoo hoovers, they blanged their tar tinglers …  you get the drift.

It was just the start. Two hours later, I was exhausted! I had sung along, screamed along, danced along!

rox-barbette-richard-underhill-shuffle-demons-sept-17-2016-smaller-pic

I had a very good time.

Bohemian Embassy Redux

(all Bohemian Embassy artist pics are courtesy of Sue Peters, with thanks!.)

Friday past – An evening of memories, poetry, and wonderful song!

Way before I hit the Big Smoke, an actor/writer/poet named Don Cullen had staked out a turf he called the Bohemian Embassy.  You may also remember him from his 20 years as a regular on Wayne and Shuster.

His Bohemian Embassy was a place where musicians, artists, poets, and those with a theatrical bent, could come to test their fledgling wings. The Embassy moved around a bit, first appearing on St Nicholas Street, from 1960 through 1966, and then reappearing at Harbourfront, from 1974 to 1976.

Couldn’t happen today. We’re too busy converting our history into condos.

But back then, oh, it could. And it did happen.

bohemian-embassy-sept-2016-don-cullenDon Cullen was the Pied Piper of Possibilities, of that first break,  when the world was wide open to the new. New music, new sounds … whatever could be dreamed up, this was a place where it could be showcased.

The memories flowed from the speakers .. of the days when a young Margaret Atwood could read her first scribblings to a rapt audience; where Milton Acorn and Al Purdy found a place to showcase their poems;  where Lorne Michaels practiced his directing; where players as diverse as Gordon Lightfoot and Klaas von Graft could hone their craft, while Bob Dylan, famously, was denied a spot on the roster.

Several luminaries were unable to join the gathering, held at the Toronto Library Yorkville branch, including John Robert Columbo, Sylvia Tyson, and Ms Atwood herself (though she did send a beautiful floral bouquet, with a sweet note, signed “Peggy.”)

But those who came, and entertained us, included our hostess Linda Goldman (who also helped fund the reunion,) Mr. Cullen himself, Chick Roberts (The Sinners/The Dirty Shames,) Klaas von Graft and Beverlie Robertson (The Chanteclaires,) Judith Orban, Joanne Crabtree, Owen McBride, Sharon Hampson (Sharon, Lois and Bram,) Keith McKie (Kensington Market,) Riverboat performer Dede Higgins, poet and author Robert Priest, musician and satirist Nancy White, and Terry Jones and David Woodhead of Perth County Conspiracy, accompanied by Nancy Solway, and Bob Cohen.

And each one showed that the faith, and the talent that Don Cullen had seen in them, so many years before, had not been misplaced.

There was that old Yorkville hippie spirit in the room, as performer after performer trotted out their memories, talents, and affection for Cullen and the venue he created. Nancy White’s rendition of her song, “Popular Don Cullen,” had the audience joining in wholeheartedly, as did so many of the other performers’ classic Canadiana and folk offerings.

bohemian-embassy-sept-2016-keith-mckie

Keith McKie’s songs were  ethereal and timeless.

bohemian-embassy-sept-2016-perth-county

Perth County Conspiracy’s mini set was simply beautiful – the harmonies were sublime.

 

bohemian-embassy-sept-2016-robert-priest

 

And poet Robert Priest did not disappoint, as he read the first poem he’d written and debuted at the Embassy, and concluded with a new poem on social injustice that had the audience howling with laughter. Priest’s writing is sublime, and his reach wide. As a songwriter, he co-wrote (with Nancy Simmonds) the international hit, “Song Instead of a Kiss” for Alannah Myles.

I went to this event expecting a nostalgia fest, centered on a time before my own. Instead, I was enthralled, touched, invigorated, and thoroughly entertained by each of those who came to give of their time and their hearts to the “Popular Don Cullen.”

And now … back to packing up my world … if you need me, you’ll have to dig me out from under the hoard …

 

Rosemary Solway, Bob Cohen,Yorkville , Nancy White, Keith McKie, Perth County Conspiracy, Robert Priest , Nancy Simmonds, Alannah Myles.