Three years ago, Melissa Hart thought she'd hold off on buying a house in Toronto, expecting the market would soon cool. Bad call. Prices have since skyrocketed, putting home ownership even further out of reach. Since January, the advertising project manager has been channelling her frustration through the popular blog FML Listings, where she dissects the most absurd real-estate ads in the city. She spoke to The Globe and Mail about buyer psychology, bogus selling features and why she won't buy in the 905.
You're saying now there's almost an addiction to the MLS listings. How often do you check?
It's an embarrassing question because the answer is ridiculous. It's multiple times a day. I'm always checking, to the point where I know what's new when I look at the map. I just saw one on, I think it was Degrassi, and it was listed a while ago for $900,000 and they took it off the market and it was back up again this week. And I remembered it. It's in my brain.
We all know the Yorkville penthouses and the Rosedale mansions sell for these astronomical figures, but what's interesting about your blog is you zero in on the tiny starter homes in Etobicoke or North York that are selling for $1-million.
That was the big problem. We weren't looking for anything astronomical, we weren't looking for a big house. We're looking literally for maybe a two-bedroom bungalow. We're not even looking in Forest Hill – we're looking in North York, maybe, or out east. But even those are $800,000. At that point you're just at a loss.
You've noticed certain phrases that realtors tend to use. Which are the ones that get under your skin the most?
The pot lights! The pot lights situation, have you seen? It's insane! I saw a listing last week that said, "House comes with 112 pot lights." They counted the pot lights, right? Do you really want pot lights that badly? If they do, why don't they just install them themselves? I just can't believe that agents are listing properties and these are the features that they're using to sell it. Sure, pot lights are a great feature but 100 pot lights [equals]10 exclamation marks [equals]$1-million, right?
It's the typos that bother me too. I posted one, the house said, "Close To Shcool." One school, and they also spelled "school" wrong. It's like, come on! I don't mean to knock all realtors – some of them are great – but there's ones out there [who]know it's going to sell so it doesn't matter to them what they write.
So which group frustrates you more: The realtors who don't really give a damn when they put these ads up or the buyers who get into bidding wars over these houses?
I think it's a double-edged sword because the agents are saying, "Buyer, you have to bid $100,000 over or you're not going to get it." And the buyer's, like, "What do I do? I really need a house and he's probably right, so yeah, I'll just do it." I think they're just pleasing each other. A co-worker went to an open house and was supposed to put an offer on the house and there was a big hole on the roof or wall or something and she was like, "Well, I'm not going to offer, it's not going to sell" and found it sold for $100,000 over asking the next day.
Do you ever hear from realtors or sellers behind the listings you post?
I'm waiting for an agent to e-mail me to say, "Take that off right now." But actually, I've got so many realtors and so many brokers e-mailing me and agreeing with me and saying, "Thank you so much for doing this, we really want to break open what's going on in the city and let more and more people know about it." It's an insanely positive response.
You seem to have a pretty specific hatred reserved for teardowns.
Oh man, they're the worst! You know why? It's because some of them aren't even being sold as teardowns but you know they are. The listing will be like, "Great potential for development. Also, landscaped backyard and pot lights." It's like, "Ugh, are you selling it to tear down or are you selling it to me to live? If you're selling it to me to live, why are you selling me a bungalow with mould in it that needs a new roof for a million dollars?"
Amid all of the snarkiness in your posts, you actually do offer nuggets of practical information. There's one post – you talk about how in many cases it's much smarter to buy a house that might need some renos rather than paying the big premium for the seller to do them.
I've seen a lot of houses in Leslieville that have been redecorated and are being sold for $200,000 over what they're worth. But don't forget you're paying land-transfer tax on that $200,000 extra and mortgage on that $200,000 extra when it's cheaper for you to just put a $40,000 kitchen in.
What do you think it is that really resonates with Torontonians when they read your blog?
My husband and I thought we were all alone in this. And then I started the blog and people started e-mailing me saying, "Oh my god, I'm so glad you did this. We've been in the same situation." I started to realize, it's not just us. There's hordes of people in the city who are feeling the exact same way. I just didn't think they had a voice. Because the voice goes to, "Oh, bidding war on this house."
Has it ever reached a point where you've thought, "That's it, I'm moving to the 905?"
A hundred per cent. We owned a condo in North York. We sold it and we were looking for a house in Richmond Hill. It was all we could afford and it was a beautiful dream house. After six months of living there, the commute was terrible and we're not suburb people. We moved downtown and just sold the house. We have to rent now.
This interview has been condensed and edited.