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Change in home makeover plans pays off for couple

You don’t have to look far these days to find a self-proclaimed real-estate junkie — especially with sizzling housing markets in Toronto and Vancouver. But Gus Skarlatakis’ passion for the industry goes far beyond an MLS addiction and a habit of crashing Open Houses.

The 39-year-old’s love affair began in 2008 during the six-month house-hunting process he undertook with his wife Christine, 38. It reached fever pitch in 2009 when he decided to quit his job as a teacher to throw himself into real estate full time.

“That entire buying process was so fun and natural for me that I was compelled to get into the business,” he says.

Seven years later, Gus owns real-estate brokerage Crescent Real Estate. He also heads a development corporation, project manages, represents clients at the Committee of Adjustment and offers property-management services. He’s also living in the five-bedroom dream home he built for his family, which has expanded to include sons Pedro, 5, and Luca, 1.

Like any home-building story, nothing ever goes exactly as planned, and this was the case for Gus and Christine. But while most unforeseen changes are usually headache-inducing and wallet-draining, the twists and turns of their journey worked in the family’s favour, especially financially.

When Gus and Christine purchased their first home at 49 Harshaw Ave. for $ 473,000 back in 2008, they intended to live in it for a few years and eventually tear it down and rebuild their forever home. They were attached to the quiet cul-de-sac off Jane St. between Bloor and Annette Sts., filled with kid-friendly parks and young professionals raising families, just like them.

Christine, who works as a policy adviser for the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, cherished her seven-minute walk to the Jane subway station and the easy access to the shops and restaurants of Bloor West Village, not to mention the 1.6-hectare Lessard Park their home backed onto.

By 2012 the couple was quickly outgrowing their home, with a two-year-old and a baby on the way, so they decided it was time to put their demolition plans into motion. The curve ball came when, while they were securing permits, a bungalow two doors down came on the market for $ 460,000.

“It was just begging to be torn down,” says Gus of the bungalow, and adds his house was still fairly livable, and he’d been feeling a bit guilty over his plans to tear it down just because it wasn’t big enough for them.

Gus and Christine went to the bank, took a leap of faith and purchased 45 Harshaw Ave., as well, to become their new home. They oversaw the rebuilding of that home from 49 Harshaw, which they still own today as a rental property. Gus estimates their original home is now worth about $ 1 million, so their leap of faith has paid off.

The couple’s decision to tear down and rebuild rather than renovate or buy new is part of a growing trend in Toronto, where infill housing permits have been going through the roof in recent years. Ann Borooah, the chief building official for the City of Toronto, says building permits for infill houses have increased by 216 per cent between 2010 and 2015. On average, she says, Toronto residents choosing to tear down and rebuild spend about $ 604,000 on construction costs alone, excluding soft costs such as fees, demolition, land value, and municipal charges.

It took Gus eight months and $ 540,000 to build his family’s 3,300 square-foot dream home, a modern, energy-efficient, open-concept entertaining space with an abundance of natural light, thanks to large windows, sun tunnels and five sky lights. High-end fixtures and appliances, a second-floor laundry, nine-foot ceilings and a lower level that is a dream retreat for guests are just some of their favourite features.

Gus, who enlisted his stepfather’s help to build the home’s portico, wood framing and cathedral peak feature, drew inspiration for the home’s look and feel from his experience as a realtor, as well as the designer website houzz.com. The neighbouring home was also redeveloped, with the same design, at the same time.

“I view hundreds of homes every year and I can’t help but get a lot of great ideas. I even take photos for inspiration,” says Gus.

“This was designed for us to live in. We’re never going to leave. We love it,” he adds of his new home.

In fact, Gus and Christine were so anxious to get into their new home, they even secured a babysitter one night before it was finished back in 2013, just to have a sleepover test-run.

“We were just so excited, we wanted to sleep in it. We brought an air mattress; no furniture, just the two of us,” says Christine.

The costs of building their new home — which Gus estimates is now worth about $ 1.7 million — were kept under control thanks to his hands-on approach. “I loved doing it myself and being responsible for it. I sourced and negotiated with trades. I sought out referrals. It was a lot of work but it saved us money, was mostly fun, and taught me a lot.”


Facts and figures from a home rebuild

Some of the numbers Gus and Christine Skarlatakis encountered while tearing down and rebuilding their home:

Zero: Amount of movement on the house thanks to two-foot-wide concrete footings, poured six inches thick.

Thousands: Number of spreadsheet cells Gus used to keep track of all aspects of the project.

10: Thickness in inches of the concrete walls throughout the home.

$ 500,000: Approximate increase in value of the couple’s first house since they bought it in 2008.

40: Number of minutes it takes Christine to ride her bike from her house to her job at Queen’s Park.

$ 7: Cost of a tub of guacamole at Mad Mexican, one of the couple’s favourite neighbourhood restaurants, which helped get them through the building process.

100: Number of members of the Friends of Lessard Park Facebook group, which is full of the Skarlatakises’ neighbours and includes posts about activities in the area.