I get endless questions about our build process, so thought it would be interesting + informative to share a run down so far of our experience! Now that we’re about to start construction, it’s the perfect time imo to reflect on all of the lead up (all year and a half of it lol!). I also know that a lot of you are curious about costs, which makes complete sense if you’re considering undertaking a build, so I’ve decided to share on that too —
First off, we are building in Toronto, so that may be more or less than where you’re reading from but it’s definitely a pricier place to build right off the bat and has a lot of restrictions (as do most places in the GTA).
We started looking for a property while we were living in our last home (which we gutted and renovated, always with the intention of selling shortly thereafter). We thought it would take way longer than it did to find our dream property, and were prepared to do another couple of flips until then. But then Ryan showed me a property that he had seen and was like ‘this is over our budget, but it’s been on the market over a month’. I don’t know why I thought we’d have a shot, but I was like ‘let’s go see it’. So we did, the very next day, and made an offer that day. You have to move super quick in our market, even if it had been sitting which I think was maybe a result of that small blip during the first covid wave? We got it for under asking, for $10k over our max, but still an absolute steal (final price was 1.19M.. if you’re from Toronto, that will probably shock you for how low it is, but anywhere else you will be appalled lol).
I know a lot of people who hired an architect prior to finding their property in the build process bc they wanted their insight. We did not, and that’s not something we would do for any of our builds, but I think it just comes to down to your comfort level/expertise. Ryan finds all our properties himself, is very aware of the market and is very knowledgeable on the process. Either way though, it is super important to know specifics of what you’re looking for in terms of: specific area/neighbourhood, minimum lot size/frontage, and zoning restrictions for your area.
For us for example, that must-have list looked like:
– staying in south Etobicoke
– min. 50ft lot frontage (our lot is 80ft wide…a unicorn by Toronto standards, hence why we moved so quick)
– a big enough yard after any additions to fit an in ground pool
– a nice street (‘nice’ being based on the general vibe I got from the area)
– good school options
Once we did get the place though, we immediately started interviewing a short list of architects. I say interview because you definitely want to speak with each and see who you feel most aligned with because you’re going to be talking with them a lot lol. We created our shortlist through our own research and some personal recommendations. I recommend looking up the portfolios of all your options too, to see if their work is a match for what you’re envisioning. Other factors to consider are of course cost, reputation, response time and level of expertise. RE: cost, it can really vary anywhere from a few grand just for drawings, to tens of thousands for full service. You don’t even technically need to go with an architect for drawings, but for the scope of our project it was important to us. For us personally, we netted out somewhere in the middle cost-wise (~$50K), which included our drawings, obtaining permits (submission costs were additional, which I’ll get to), structural engineering and hvac specs. There was actually a firm I loved out west, but they had zero knowledge or involvement in the permitting process for Toronto, so it wasn’t a fit. Since I’m designing everything, we didn’t pay for that but you could definitely add that service if you wanted.
Now let’s talk permits – we knew when we bought our place that it was under Toronto Regional Conservation Authority (TRCA) jurisdiction (remember when I mentioned knowing about the zoning when you go to buy? this is why bc it will create a lot of additional costs), so that we were going to have other logistics/approvals that would be needed. That was another huge factor in selecting an architect firm because we wanted a team that had expertise obtaining those kinds of permits, and representing clients in Committee of Adjustment meetings. Committee of Adjustments is a governing body, made up of a handful of council members designated to your area, that review your build plans and any variances you’re requesting in a hearing to either approve or disprove them based on a variety of factors. A variance is anything in your build that is beyond what the City generally allows. Again, knowing your zoning is key here… we knew we were going to have to go to COA before we even finalized our drawings based on the size/height we were expanding to. We ended up having several other variances like the home’s existing set back from the road, etc. (so note, sometimes even to keep something existing you need to do this step). This hearing allows you to argue your reasoning of why your request should be allowed, and look to support from existing precedence in the neighbourhood, sign off from city planning, the TRCA, and others. It also allows any neighbours to chime with support or opposition which is WILD lol, and in retrospect was such a plus to having our architect speak on our behalf for the hearing bc Ryan and I would have been way too emotional lol. Worthwhile to note that these hearings used to be in person, but have been done digitally recently bc of covid. Ryan watched HOURS of meetings (they’re streamed online) to prep for ours.
To be honest, the big takeaway from the permitting portion of the build process that we didn’t expect is how freaking long it took to get TRCA approval. We knew we needed it as I mentioned, but thought it would take 4-6months max. and it took 9. That was the only real delay if you will in our planning process, so if you’re considering a TRCA controlled property, be prepared for this. It also is super subjective depending on the person assigned to your file so you could get lucky.
All of our permitting/approvals has cost us another ~$35k (& countless hours of time), and that included:
– TRCA review fees
– Soil engineer reports (mandated from TRCA based on our design)
– Arborist site visits
– Natural Ravine submission
– Zoning certificate submission
– COA submission fee
– TRCA report for COA hearing
– Lot grading certificate
– City demo permit
– City build permit
– Municipal road deposit
– Tree protection
A couple other things that come to mind off the cuff that were unexpected in our build process were the massive willow tree in our yard that we were planning to remove FALLING(!!) down on it’s own (huge cost to have it cut down and removed, but saved us some cost in tree protection and replanting requirements from the city), and how unspecific Enbridge is with timing. Essentially we have been waiting since we moved out of the house for them to come and remove the gas line, and they give you a window of 30-60 days. Not a problem if the home is vacant, but quite a problem if you’re living in the home, with a toddler and a newborn, trying to gamble that it will be sooner than later, so that moving into your rental isn’t premature and a colossal waste of money 🙂
But it’s fine, we’re fine lol. We literally just got word TODAY that it is happening tomorrow, so we can officially start demolition NEXT WEEK. We could not be more thrilled to start the next phase of our build process & see it all come to life!!
If you got to the end of this, YAY YOU. Appreciate your interest in our build process & please drop any q’s below that I didn’t address and I will get back to you!! Also, our build webisodes will be coming soon, so stay tuned for those!! xx