On a balmy afternoon in May, a friend and I leave the subway station in Rosedale, one of Toronto’s oldest (and wealthiest) neighbourhoods, to find a house.
The home was befitting of the neighbourhood — a traditional row house, it was multi-storied and the hue of crème fraîche, with an asking price of $1.5 million. Parked in front of it was a 2011 silver Jeep Patriot, in which a woman with cropped, brown hair sat waiting. I’d put on a nice blouse to meet her that day. (My friend, who’d correctly intuited that it actually did not matter what we wore, was in her gym clothes.)
The woman in the Jeep was Catherine Starkman. She is, and has, for the past 35 years, worked as a psychic consultant in the Greater Toronto Area. Our assignment? To go into the Rosedale row house, which was on the market and hosting an open house that day, and find out whether any ghosts were roaming the grounds.
In Toronto, all homes are expensive — something pundits have variously blamed, over the years, on speculative buyers, wealthy foreigners or Airbnb. When a home has a bunch of actual, covetable characteristics — like generous square footage, recent renovations, and easy access to schools, green space, and public transportation — it will almost definitely sell at an even higher price than homes that don’t have these things.
But what about spiritual activity, or lack thereof? Much like proximity to green space, compatibility between a home’s spirits and its living residents is critical to a tranquil home life, Starkman says. So, isn’t it possible that a home’s level of spiritual activity might also affect its ultimate selling price?
Our task, then, was a simple one: we’d attend a few open houses, assess the level of spiritual activity therein, monitor how much the homes sell for, and determine whether there’s a correlation to be found between their ultimate selling price and their degree of hauntedness.
Who can afford to be slipshod in this market?
11 Tacoma Ave
Listing price: $1,298,000
List date: May 1, 2018
We’re still standing next to Starkman’s car, which is parked on the narrow street (the house has no driveway), when she introduces us to the main spirit of the house, with whom she has already started communicating: a little girl.
“She’s on the porch right now,” Starkman says. “When we go in she’ll go in with us. She’s been sitting on the stairs.”
The house smacks of recent renovations. When we do climb the porch and walk inside, we’re greeted by white walls (pristine), high ceilings (rapturous), hardwood floors (gleaming) and the real estate sales reps, to whom Starkman quickly introduces herself.
“We’re not going to hurt anything or touch anything,” she tells the two women, handing them her business card. “We’re going to basically communicate with the spirits that are in the house.”
There’s a long pause.
“Holy shit,” says one of the real estate reps.
After agreeing, essentially, not to “make a scene” while actual buyers looked over the house, we make our way upstairs and go into the smaller of the home’s two bedrooms, which has a balcony overlooking a modestly sized, enclosed backyard.
“This was her parents’ room,” Starkman explains. The girl died young, she continues, possibly from an illness. But she had been very happy in the house, so “she’s not leaving. Whoever buys this house, she will be here — but she won’t bother them as long as they’re the right people.”
Starkman says that the spirit would prefer children, especially ones who like or even play music. Her father had played the piano. “This house should sell because it’s a beautiful house, but not only that — she wants somebody here,” Starkman adds. “She wants people to live here. But she wants children. And she says if she doesn’t like the people, they’re not selling this house.”
Starkman believes that a bid on the house recently fell through for this very reason, but when we asked the real estate reps, they could not confirm whether or not this was the case.
The rest of the second floor — which includes a master bedroom, a bathroom with two entrances, and ample storage space — seemed to have gone through the same renovations as the main floor. It is equally as new, and features the same vaguely French country finishes: whites and taupes, hardwood floors, louvered closet doors. Natural light seeps in easily.
We agree, repeatedly, that the space is beautiful.
“Let’s buy it,” I say. Both Starkman and my friend think this is a good idea, but we do not do it.
Status: Sold over asking for an estimated $1,414,948, after spending seven days on the market.
187 Inglewood Drive
Listing price: $2,998,000
List date: April 4, 2018
We pile into Starkman’s jeep to head over to the next house, a few Rosedale streets over.
During the ride, I ask Starkman whether she encounters spirits often. Yes, she says: “I read spirits everywhere I go.”
I ask her if she ever feels she needs to take a break from these encounters. “No,” she says, immediately. “I don’t use my own energy. I use energy from the universe.”
We arrive at the next house and park on the street again, even though there is a driveway this time that stretches along and around the side of the building, through a spacious backyard to an enclosed garage. We hover outside the car for a few minutes, as Starkman assesses the scene. Very quickly, she finds what she is looking for: the spirit of an old man.
“Basically, he says he’s not leaving,” Starkman tells us. “He’s staying here. I ask him why he doesn’t want to move on, and he says when the time is right, he will move on. But right now, he’s staying here.” The spirit tells Starkman that he had been very wealthy when he was alive, a piece of information that fazes none of us. His house, after all, was on the market for $3.4 million on the day that we looked at it, in early May — a price that had been re-set only five days earlier, from $3.85 million (the price has since been adjusted again to $2.9 million). Even given inflation, and the high levels of demand in Toronto, there is virtually no market in which a three story, 4,600 square foot detached house in a prestige neighbourhood, with six bedrooms and five bathrooms, does not telegraph “lots of money.”
The spirit is disappointed that the home’s current owners are leaving, he tells Starkman. “He likes the people who are in there now — he’s kind of sorry that they’re moving,” she says. “But he’s okay, he’s open to whoever comes in as long as they’re nice people. He says that if they’re not nice people he’s going to make their lives miserable.”
Oh no, I say.
“He doesn’t want any rich — I don’t know — I think he’s saying rich fluffs?”
We enter the house, which is decidedly darker than the last house: the sunlight streaming through the large windows could only travel so far. But, it is beautiful. The ground floor features a large living space, as well as a sunroom lined with high-backed, uncomfortable-looking chairs. There is, additionally, a spacious, open-concept kitchen separated from the dining room by counters. The kitchen looks out onto a backyard, where a grill and a hammock are installed. There is a grand piano in the living room, and, hanging on the wall beside it, a large painting of a grand piano.
As we circle the space, Céline Dion’s smash hit “Alone”, a cover, plays softly from a stereo. The spirit tells Starkman that he had lived in the house forty or fifty years ago.
We head upstairs, where we mistake a large room for the master bedroom, until we find the actual master bedroom, which has a four-piece bathroom (including a truly massive shower) and its own walk-in closet. Another set of stairs, half the width of the stairs that we had just climbed, led up to another story, in which were a smaller set of bedrooms that had likely been originally built as servants’ quarters.
Back downstairs, we tell the real estate rep about our assignment. She agrees that there is “a feeling about this house” — and it’s a good one.
“It’s a very warm feeling,” Starkman agrees. She notes that the spirit did not like the people who lived across the street — although she is not sure whether these neighbours lived there when the spirit was alive, or whether he was referring to current residents.
Status: Still on the market. According to Zolo, the price was reduced from $3,395,000 to $2,998,000 on Jun. 13.
1078 Bay St
Listing price: $2,995,000
List date: Mar. 26, 2018
The next day, I receive an email from Starkman while I am on the subway, on my way to the financial district to meet her: she is fifteen minutes early. “I only told them I am waiting for someone,” she writes.
When I arrive at the open house — a five story, 4,500 square foot townhouse on Bay Street selling for a cool $3.3 million (the price has since been adjusted to $2.9 million) — Starkman is sitting at the entrance, chatting with the real estate rep. She immediately takes me aside, and tells me quietly that there are no spirits present. Later, we realize that there is a church immediately next door to the condo, which may have absorbed much of the spiritual activity in the neighbourhood — there are certain places, Starkman said, that spirits prefer to haunt.
We decide to tour the condo anyway, under the guidance of one of the sales reps, Gabor. Gabor ushers us into a small elevator — because the condo has its own elevator — and we take it up and down, to each of the apartment’s five floors. The space feels decidedly less lived-in than the houses in Rosedale: the finishes and decor were sleek — hardwood floors and white walls, with unobtrusive touches of marble and glass — and also very new, but to the effect of sterility. It was curiously difficult to imagine anyone living there permanently, and, perhaps beyond a finance man passing through town or a bunch of extremely wealthy frat boys, anyone staying there at all. I suppose if I were a ghost, I’d find it preferable to haunt the nearby church, too. It has a little more character.
We say goodbye to Gabor, who is very nice, and walk over to our final stop: a condo a few blocks over.
Status: Still on the market. According to Zolo, the price was reduced from $3,295,000 to $2,995,000 on Jun. 17.
11 St Joseph St
Listing price: $625,000
List date: Apr. 26, 2018
The open house might be cancelled! Starkman and I stand in the lobby and wait for the concierge to make some calls. A couple enters the room and announces that they had just tried to enter the open house upstairs and found the door locked.
“It doesn’t matter if we can’t,” Starkman tells me, after this happens. “There isn’t anything here.”
After the previous day’s wealth of spiritual activity, I am vaguely disappointed, but it suddenly strikes me that all the spirits we’d encountered had been in houses. Were condos just immune to spiritual activity?
Starkman dismisses the notion. “It has nothing to do with that,” she says. She is suddenly alert.
“Okay, so what’s happened — because I was looking, somebody has shown up,” she says. “But they weren’t here. They’ve just shown up to say hello, so.” She laughs.
We walk outside, and the spirit follows us. Starkman begins talking to him.
“I asked him how long ago he died,” she tells me. “Fifty years ago. And I ask him why he doesn’t move on, and go into the white light and move on. And he says no — he’s having a good time. He said he didn’t have a happy life and he’s kind of having a good time now, so I ask him where does he actually live, and he said nowhere... He just sort of roams around wherever he feels like going.
“He likes to go to — he likes to go into the countryside because he likes the water, he says he used to live by the water. And he likes the water and he sometimes just sits by the lake.”
She adds, “He’s telling me to tell you that you’re very beautiful.”
I am pleased. But it is time to go.
Status: Sold under asking for $615,000. The condo spent 22 days on the market.