By Kelly Putter
As a self-described serial renter, Andy Stark thought home ownership was a tad out of reach for his family of four in the tony Leslieville neighbourhood of Toronto he currently calls home.
The 53-year-old George Brown College instructor had been thinking of taking the plunge into home ownership for years and now he’s ready to dive in. The only problem is his $190,000 down payment may not be enough to acquire the house he wants in the part of the city he likes.
Enter Toronto sales rep Lesli Gaynor of Royal LePage Burloak Real Estate. She’s been getting attention as a matchmaker for people who want to own a home but don’t have enough capital to do so on their own. The former social worker and restaurateur is now working to revolutionize old-school home ownership models by aligning wannabe homeowners with other likeminded folks. So far, she’s staged two events in which interested parties show up to meet others in a quickie meet-and-greet style that’s like speed dating.
“The fun part is it gets us thinking differently about property ownership,” says Gaynor, 53. “People are living differently and they don’t have to love each other to live together. There are benefits: you walk my dog and I walk yours, and you save 50 bucks a month. No one’s expecting dinner to be served or your laundry to be done, but there are also social benefits.”
Gaynor hooked up Stark and his family with a woman in her 70s who is also interested in a co-operative living arrangement. Besides their joint financial clout, both sides imagined added benefits to living together: she would have someone to look after yard work, for example, while Stark hoped she might fulfill a grandmotherly role for his young sons. And though the woman has since backed off, Stark is still hopeful.
“Lesli brought the idea to the table that we can co-own and we were copacetic with someone who would be a good fit,” he says. “In other parts of the world people are doing all kinds of creative things to own a home.”
That concept of co-ownership among non-intimate partners is the thinking behind GoCo Solutions, Gaynor’s own start-up. Her website www.gocosolutions.com offers advice on everything from getting started and finding partners to securing financing.
Gaynor fully understands the concept of co-operative home ownership as she co-purchased a home in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood 26 years ago with a girlfriend. A single mother at the time, Gaynor lived downstairs with her baby while her friend lived upstairs. The pair lived in the home seven years. Having an on-the-spot babysitter and not facing the scary and costly prospect of home ownership alone were two huge benefits for Gaynor.
“I’ve always believed in this communal approach,” she says. “Living that way made our lives better for that period of time. We had our moments and probably needed clarity around big financial issues like when the roof leaked, but all in all it was amicable and it was fine. We’re still close friends.”
Since taking on the role of real estate matchmaker, Gaynor has teamed up a few home-buying partnerships. A salesperson for just two years, Gaynor is getting about three referrals a week now as she establishes herself as the GTA’s go-to real estate expert of co-operative living.
“People are calling me up and saying I would like to talk to you about co-operative purchasing,” says Gaynor. “And while people are kind of desperate for real estate and improving their net worth and all that jazz, this is bigger than just wanting to own real estate. It’s about connection and people doing things outside of traditional boundaries.”
Communal or co-op living arrangements have existed in one form or another for years. Alternative living arrangements are what many single, divorced or widowed baby boomers seek as they grow old and reject the notion of large institutional retirement and nursing homes.
Caledon, Ont. salesperson Dorothy Mazeau plans to launch a type of service that matches likeminded folks looking for housing. Think The Golden Girls sitcom minus the Miami setting. The 69-year-old has lived in five different situations with both female or male friends and couples during the past 35 years since her divorce.
“My motivation to live this way was not primarily financial,” Mazeau says. “It was companionship. Even when I was in university, I shared accommodations with three other women. I think people depend too much on their spouse for everything. But community is so important also.”
Gaynor thinks buying with likeminded strangers is feasible given the prohibitive costs of housing in today’s real estate market and our innate human need for interdependence. It’s a concept that needs to be normalized, she says, adding that the finance and legal industries are starting to catch on. Meridian Credit Union, for example, recently launched its friends and family mortgage, which allows up to four people to be placed on title at no extra cost. And Duca Financial Services Credit Union launched its More Together mortgage in May, which allows up to six individuals on title.
Stark, meanwhile, has considered moving out of the city, but it’s not a plan he or his wife prefer. From Leslieville, he can ride his bike to work and his Ecuadorian wife needs to be near her city-based Latin American community.
“We want a place to call home and we’re willing to make concessions to make that dream come true,” he says. “This feels like a place to lay our roots.”