House hunters make personal pleas in hot markets

Classified ads, leafleting, letter writing and door knocking are just some measures that desperate house hunters are resorting to in hot markets like Toronto and Vancouver, where prices are shooting sky-high and supply is running low.

Real estate shortage forces one shopper to consider standing on a street corner to entice sellers

Kate Whyte shows an example of a sign she contemplated holding on a street corner after she couldn't find a home to buy for her family of three in North Vancouver. (Kate Whyte)

In competitive housing markets, Craigslist isn't just for home sellers. Frantic house hunters have also taken to the classifieds website.

"URGENTLY needed ... 3 plus 2 bedroom house to buy in pickering, ajax Whitby areas," someone posted on Aug. 23, searching for a home in the Toronto region.

"Wanted!!!! A small home," begins another ad posted just days ago, looking for a house to buy in North Vancouver.

Craigslist is just another measure, along with leafleting, letter writing and door knocking, that desperate home buyers are resorting to in hot markets like Toronto and Vancouver, where prices are shooting sky-high and supply is running low.

But in those markets, even the extra effort plus a million bucks may not get you what you want in time.

Please sell me your home

Kate Whyte almost got to the point where she was going to stand on a street corner with a sign stating: "Homeless: have $1 million dollars, can't find a home to buy. Please sell me your home."

She was nearing her breaking point. She sold her five-bedroom North Vancouver house in March for $1.3 million. Whyte, her husband Peter and her youngest child planned to downsize and buy a smaller house in the same area.

She had a maximum budget of $1.1 million, which she believed would be enough to find a good home.

But, says Whyte, the following month, house prices suddenly skyrocketed. She found little available, and what was available jumped in price thanks to multiple offers and bidding wars. One home she was interested in went for $178,000 over asking.

"June went crazy," recalls the 48-year-old. "I was shaking my head, saying we've priced ourselves out of our own neighbourhood. I said to my husband, 'We're screwed.'"

At wit's end

At wit's end, Whyte, who works in the film industry, launched her own advertising campaign. "I was worried there wouldn't be anything that came up in the market."

So she posted a plea on Craigslist, stating, "Have lost out on multiple offers and there is no stock available. We are a family of three with cash in hand needing to buy."
The poster that Kate Whyte plastered in desired neighbourhoods in her attempt to find a good home. (CBC)

She created a flyer with the same message and asked anyone with a home to sell or even rent in her preferred area of North Vancouver to contact her.

"I papered neighbourhoods," says Whyte. "I hung them in the community centre, I put them in the coffee shop, anywhere I could put a piece of paper."

She also went door to door armed with her flyers and her 10-year-old son. "I photocopied 250 [flyers]. I had two [flyers] left in my car when we quit. My son and I got an ice cream and sat down and said, 'That's enough.'"

"I had a lot of elderly people tell me I was crazy," recalls Whyte about knocking on doors. But, she adds, "I had a lot of people say they totally understood. I had a lot of people say they had done the same thing."

The incredible shrinking choices

In hot markets where decent homes go fast and desirable ones surge in price thanks to bidding wars, focusing only on posted listings may not be enough.

The benchmark or typical price for a detached property in Vancouver hit $1,141,800 in July, jumping 16.2 percent compared to the previous year. In Toronto, detached homes hovered just under $1 million, an increase of 13.3 per cent.

A shrinking supply of houses is helping drive up prices. In Vancouver in July, the total number of listed homes declined by a whopping 26.3 per cent compared to the previous year. In Toronto, active listings declined by 14.7 per cent.

Real estate economist Frank Clayton says that, due to the costs involved, municipalities are creating only a limited supply of land with the required amenities for new houses.

"The number of ground-related housing units that we're building today in the Greater Toronto Area is half the level that we were building 10 years ago," says the senior research fellow at Ryerson University.

With a growing population and many people's desire for a house rather than a condo, "there's a mismatch in the marketplace now between supply and demand," says Clayton.

Taking it to the streets
Ryan Thompson with Royal LePage Burloak Real Estate sends out letters to residents to see if they're thinking of selling their home. (Ryan Thompson)

Real estate agent Ryan Thompson says the shortage has also encouraged him to go the extra mile.

"The demand is so high and the supply is so low, if I just wait for something to pop up on MLS, I could be waiting forever," says Thompson, who serves the Toronto area.

These days, he sends out letters and sometimes even goes door to door, asking homeowners if they're interested in selling to a buyer keen to live in the neighbourhood.

"Before, I would randomly do it for tough clients. Now it's part of our weekly routine. We're sending out a letter [on behalf of a home buyer] every week."

Thompson, with Royal LePage Burloak Real Estate, says the extra effort has led to a few sales for clients. "It also brings out a seller that was on the fence, and even if it doesn't work for my buyer, it may be just what someone else is looking for."

Unfortunately for Whyte, her extra efforts didn't pay off in time — she only got one response from someone interested in selling a year from now. Facing a September deadline to vacate her original home, she ended up buying a house "sitting in the market that nobody wanted."

She paid $1 million for a three-bedroom fixer-upper that she figures will need $200,000 in renovations.

"It literally looks like a mobile home dropped on a slab," admits Whyte. "It's not your dream house."


Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Sophia Harris covers business and consumer news. Contact:


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