This 170-year-old heritage house across from Trinity Bellwoods has been on sale for $5.5 million for half a year. Why isn’t it selling?
Built in the 1800s, the house is located across from Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park in the heart of Queen West.
By Madison WongToronto StarThu., March 10, 2022 (4 min. read)
Sheltered by iron gates and trees, this Georgian-style, two-storey house with 10-foot tall ceilings almost resembles the interiors of homes people dream of from watching shows like “Dynasty.” Built in the 1800s, this spot has a 170-year-old history, and is designated a heritage property.
Over the years, the surrounding area has become the heart of Queen West, a lively neighbourhood of landmarks, shops and restaurants. This is also a hot area for home buyers, with listings snatched up quickly for millions of dollars.
But after being listed several times, 905 Queen St. West has been listed for sale for half a year and is expected to expire again come March 20.
Describe as a “jewel from the bygone age,” we speak to to David Sussman, a real estate agent and member of the Toronto Real Estate Board, to give us insight on why this hasn’t sold yet.
What is the history behind the property?
Heritage Toronto described the house as an important example of mid-19th century residential architecture and one of the earliest buildings still surviving on Queen Street West.
The home is also known as the John Farr House — named after the first buyer of the property.
In 1819, Farr, a businessman in England, acquired two acres of crown land west of Garrison Creek on the south side of Lot Street — now known as Queen Street West — and established Farr’s Brewery. Farr sold the brewery in 1858, but the family continued to occupy the house until 1905.
In the late 1930s, the property was purchased by Polish immigrants to be turned into a cultural centre. Until the mid 1990s, the house was used as a meeting spot for the Polish National Union of Canada.
A document retrieved from the Ontario Heritage Act reveals a 1990 letter from Toronto City Council to the Polish National Union that indicated they had decided to designate 905 Queen St. West as a heritage property.
After a couple more years, the property ended up in the hands of the Canadian Equity and Development Corp. and Metrosphere Building Corp., Star Archives show. The companies had proposed to “remove” the house but the plan was turned down by local residents.
Paul Anisman, president of Canadian Equity and Development Corp., acquired the house and got hooked on the restoration project, hiring the same crew that restored Osgoode Hall to fix up the house.
Property records show that the spot is currently owned by Manhattan Capital Corporation, whose developer is Anisman.
Why hasn’t it sold?
“The problem with these properties is you can’t do anything with them, which is why they don’t sell or they’re very difficult to sell,” said Sussman.
Generally with heritage homes, people are not able to change the facades and must get government permission in order to do so, Sussman explains. Sometimes, people can apply for grants to restore parts of the property but because of the heritage agreement, they are unable to change much or build on it.
According to Sussman, due to the designation, the property has been listed twice as a commercial unit and another time as a residential home.
“If you want to spend five and a half-million dollars, live in that cool neighbourhood and never do anything with the property for sure but (know) you also have to maintain it to the level (of) the historical committee,” he said.
Sussman notes that taxes are low for heritage houses in order to help people maintain the property but on top of the selling price, it can be a lot of additional money to consider.
What else could be done with the property?
Properties like this one are hard to sell, Sussman says. Because the city has the power to overturn it as a heritage site, they could buy it and use it towards creating a museum, park or even more affordable housing units, he adds.
“Heritage is cool and all but if nobody can use it, then what’s the point? … If they were willing to sacrifice that building or maybe keep part of it and build around it, you could probably put some affordable housing there,” he said.
“We have so many problems with housing in our city. Let’s open up some of the land and start building a little bit more and make it a little bit easier to build in my opinion.”
While Sussman notes the city is usually “hands off” on situations like this, he thinks there is opportunity for the city to work with the neighbourhood and come up with something new.