The East York couple were experiencing a five-year itch of sorts with their two-bedroom pad, and embarked on a quest to find a more spacious, three-bedroom house in 2014 for themselves and their daughter Ellie, then 1.
While they flirted with plenty of houses in their year-long quest, what they found in the housing market never lived up to their fantasies.
“We were very, very picky, and I think it became clear how picky we were when we started looking,” says Mike, 40, who works in digital marketing.
“Every house we saw we would have to sacrifice something we already had to get the extra bedroom,” adds Leah, 34, an environmental consultant.
The last straw came after about a year of looking when they finally saw a listing for a house that seemed to check all of their boxes. Unfortunately, by the time they called their agent, the home had already been scooped up on a bully offer.
“I was like, ‘all right, we give up!’” says Leah, who is expecting a baby sister for Ellie in November.
The Leons concluded there were more pros to staying than leaving, and opted to embrace the bones of their home and build an addition.
Leah says she was quite stressed initially about the prospect of such a major undertaking, having heard horror stories about renovations.
Thankfully their experience turned out to be positive. Leah credits Rovimat owner Rolando Pires for removing all of the stress.
The couple used an architect to draw up basic plans and get some pricing in the beginning. By opting to work with an architectural technologist/interior designer team instead, the Leons estimate they saved about $ 11,000.
Designer Andi Wheelband, co-owner of Two Birds Design, finalized the plans for the home after consulting with architectural technologist Richard De Oliveira from Re:Placement Design Inc. for any technical requirements.
Wheelband says the addition needed to keep with the other homes in the Upper Beaches neighbourhood, so they settled on grey shake siding, a gambrel roof and windows with plenty of character instead of a more minimalistic look.
The family rented a cramped one-bedroom bungalow nearby for the duration of the six-month project, but the short-term pain was worth it.
Now they have an extra 1,100 square feet — 200 square feet per floor, as well as the now-useable 500 square feet in the basement. Polished, heated concrete flooring was installed through to give the house a more modern look and feel.
While the revamped basement has a bathroom, bedroom and larger laundry space, the main floor boasts a spacious family room that opens up onto a new back deck.
The coveted third bedroom is on the second floor, and the couple have claimed it as the master bedroom.
The price tag for the undertaking totalled about $ 300,000 after all the fees and taxes. Leah says luckily there were no big budgetary surprises, except for a little extra spent on reinforcing the structure and installing a sewage ejector.
While their home was appraised at $ 685,000 in 2015 before the addition, comparable houses in their neighborhood are now going for about $ 950,000 to $ 1 million.
“We love this house,” says Mike. “It feels cheesy to say this . . . when we bought the house, it was all about being temporary. Now it kind of feels like we’ve arrived.”
Wheelband says the Leons’ story is a familiar one in Toronto these days, as more and more families are opting to build additions to the backs of their homes or add a third storey, saving the costs associated with moving in the process.
“It’s been keeping us pretty busy!” she says. “A lot of clients come to us with the same thing. They need more space but it just doesn’t make sense to move.”
The difference between architects and architectural technologists
One of the first calls people make before undertaking an addition or major renovation to their home is often to an architect, possibly unaware there is a less-costly alternative.
That’s what Mike and Leah Leon did when they set out to plan their two-storey addition, before the designer they hired suggested using an architectural technologist instead.
“Very few people know we exist,” says Richard De Oliveira of Re:Placement Design Inc., who was hired as consultant on the Leons’ addition. “You don’t always have to go with an architect.”
Since architectural technologists can be registered through the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and may hold professional liability insurance, they can arrange all of the permits through the City and also make sure all the proposed renovations meet building code requirements.
In De Oliveira’s case, he can draw up all the design plans, too, but since the Leons already had a designer, his fingerprint on their project was more technical.
While it depends on which architectural firm people choose, as well as the scope of their project, on average it can cost about a third less to go with an architectural technologist than an architect. The Leons estimate they saved about $ 11,000 by going this route.
De Oliveira says his company, which he owns with foreign-registered architect Erik Calhoun, has worked on more than 100 projects already this year in Toronto.
“The number of third-storey additions we’re doing now in the GTA because people can’t afford to move is incredible,” he says. “Also, a lot of people are adding apartments for affordability.”
Calhoun adds that while architects tend to be interested in larger projects, their company has focused on renovations or additions to houses, projects which are not complex enough in scope to require an architect.
Facts and figures