From the outside looking in, a mixer on a balmy evening in mid-June in a trendy downtown Toronto neighbourhood appears to be a social event like any other. Drinks are flowing and the conversations are too. But this one has a specific purpose: to help people who are interested in buying a primary residence with others, including strangers.
“Co-ownership seems to be on everyone’s mind,” Parimal Gosai, one of the event’s hosts, tells Global News. “Housing prices are increasing, inflation and gas prices too. People’s incomes have not met those increases for a long time in the city of Toronto and Vancouver.”
Gosai and his co-founder Lesli Gaynor created a digital matchmaking platform called Husmates, which launched in December of last year. It’s designed to connect people looking to co-own property together in the Greater Toronto Area.
“It’s like Bumble, Hinge or Tinder for real estate. It’s not a romantic dating app. It’s strictly for owning property together,” he explains.
Proponents of co-owning say the unaffordability crisis plaguing Canada’s most expensive housing markets has driven a surge of interest in shared ownership. What used to be a fairly niche endeavour is now becoming more commonplace as evidenced by new mortgage products and services designed specifically for multiple co-owners.
“The city has changed a lot in 15 years and we just simply can’t afford a home on our own,” he tells Global News.
He and his wife and young son are looking to purchase a property with co-owners. Their ideal scenario involves co-buying a property with another interested party who will live in the main house while they will build their own home — drawing on their background in architecture — perhaps a laneway dwelling, and share the backyard.
“We have great neighbours where we are right now but it would be even better to take that to the next level and have really close neighbours that you can rely on and they can rely on you,” says Kempster.
Being matched with a prospective co-buyer on Husmates is one thing, but meeting in person is a must before signing onto a purchase agreement and shared mortgage. So Kempster is mingling and hoping to meet a match.
Attendees also include lawyers, sharing their expertise on the legal ins and outs of co-owning, and construction and design experts, too, who have found new ways to create spaces within homes, designed for more than a single family under one roof.
Joanne Lam is an architect and founder of Picnic Design, with a quarter-century of experience under her belt. She tells Global News her firm is particularly interested in multi-unit residential projects in urban centres.
“We tend to think of one family, one house. But does it have to be that way?” she says.
She says the sharing model allows people to “have an intentional community built in your own house.”
Lam says the right design approach can be conducive to a more harmonious co-living experience.
“We understand that this is not utopia. We know there will be issues. But the idea is that we use design to make it intentional so you’re not just piling on top of one another,” she says.
The “housing crisis” is, in Lam’s view, a major driver of recent and more widespread interest in co-living.
“It’s not exactly a new idea; people have been doing it for years in different cultures. But what we’re doing is trying to bring that age-old idea into a downtown North American concept.”
Community living/separation anxiety
Gosai touts co-owning and co-living as an antidote to what some have dubbed a “loneliness epidemic.” It existed before COVID-19, but many feel it’s been exacerbated by the pandemic and its restrictions. He purchased his current home with his husband, his sister and her partner and he recommends it based on his personal experience.
“It’s such a huge relief to know that you don’t have to bear all the expenses yourself. You don’t have to go through the mortgage application yourself. You’re not in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt yourself,” says Gosai.
Kempster is hopeful that the increase in interest in co-owning also increases his chances of finding the right match.
“It’s very exciting to see that maybe the beginning of that movement is starting in Toronto, probably born out of financial hardship, but maybe that will grow and develop into something that people start seeking out because it’s interesting,” he says.