Posts Tagged With: buying a house

House Hunting in Prince Edward County: Chapter 867

We’re no real estate dum-dums. If you don’t follow me on Facebook, you are safe from the daily barrage of realtor.ca nightmares and daydreams. Kim and I have been steadily  house hunting and gathering for a solid year now, and have watched our max price budget steadily climb over $100,000 from where we started. We’ve physically been through over 40 properties now and tromped around a dozen vacant lots from Point Clark to Warkworth to Napanee to Tweed. Our hot zone keeps expanding to the far fringes of our desired forwarding address of Prince Edward County. But we keep coming back to it like boomerangs. Our homing instinct is obviously deep in the magma of the County.

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The County has everything we want from the Millennium hiking trail, enviable birding (there’s even a Birdhouse CITY near Picton), Sandbanks Provincial Park, Hinterland (Borealis Charmat Rose and saison beer), Karlo Estates (Gilmour Maddison and Quintus), Fronterra Farm Camp Brewery, reubens at The Agrarian, anything on the menu and THAT VIEW at Lake on the Mountain, the barn quilt trail, farmer’s market, Toronto expats, a speakeasy, people doing creative stuff, Black River Cheese Company, kayaking, lavender farms, heirloom tomato tastings, wassails, maple syrup fests, a parade of giant pumpkins through Wellington in October, lilac bushes, The Drake Devonshire, studios to poke around in, antiquing as a sport…you get the picture. We want to be a part of the thumping heart of it all.

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We are as flexible as a Rio gymnast. Yes, we want waterfront and trance-like sunsets. We want privacy, no neighbours, a few willow trees and a dock to tie up a canoe to. We want an open concept floor plan, vaulted ceilings and some shiplap to whitewash. We’re okay with minor demolition of a rose-coloured, gold-fixtured bathroom (because there seem to be A LOT of those). We’re confident we could trick out a dated kitchen (why did everyone love oak so much in the ‘80s?). Kim can build amazing things, I’ve witnessed this. The very black walnut-topped table that I’m sitting at right now for starters (and we’ve sold this table with the house, so, we’ll need a redux!) and I’m great at tool and beer retrieval.

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What’s disenchanting is this seller’s market. Meaning, we chose the perfect time to sell, but the absolute worst time to buy. I don’t get it. If you’re selling—you have to be buying, right? The County isn’t seeing Toronto bidding wars as of yet, but there are multiple offers and jacked up price tags because the pickings are so slim. We’re revisiting homes that have been sitting on MLS for nearly a year and questioning their merit. And, after touring such homes with door jams separating due to a shifting foundation, we see why they’re sitting. One farmhouse simply needed some fun house mirrors to top it off for a free vertigo experience. It’s like dating—there’s a reason some people are single (and why you don’t need a second date for confirmation). And, there’s a reason why some poor houses sit.

We’ve smacked our heads countless times (mostly on panelled walls, hoping the drop ceilings won’t drop)—like a few months ago, innocently walking to the end of a dock in Napanee—only to see the industrial stacks and towers billowing smoke across Adolphus Reach in Bath. Or, the Moira River house with neighbours who owned pet pigs. Or, the Thompson Point eye-roller with neighbours who have created a bespoke outdoor museum of tarped crap. Or, the Williams Lane lot with a trailer park in full sideways view and cattails so tall that you’d need stilts to see the water.

We’ve looked at churches, tear-downs, top o’ the budget Cape Cods, Kijiji listings, Picton Victorians, passive solar homes, new builds on Muscote Marsh, regency cottages, century homes, contemporary, shipping container conversions. Really, we are open to everything!

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The biggest heartbreakers have set the bar impossibly high. Like the lilac bush-lined Lee’s Lane cottage with Airbnb income potential—it had an offer accepted as we stood on the dock and sucked in the uninterrupted view of the Bay of Quinte (never to be found again). Or, the red brick Victorian on York—so impeccably finished and designed—but in the wrong neighbourhood.

Yes, we know, we know. That magical house is out there—we are patient people. But, it’s frustrating to see what $450K will nab you in any other area.

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1863 Grist Mill and cottage on Chepstow Pond $285K (photo cred: realtor.ca)

We’re not prepared to ditch our County dreams yet, but, we’ll admit to weighing out the options and shaking our heads at what we could buy in Bayfield or the Grey Highlands.

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Grey Highlands $390K (photo cred: realtor.ca)

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Grey Highlands (photo cred: realtor.ca)

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Trent Hills, $399K (photo cred: realtor.ca)

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Trent Hills (photo cred: realtor.ca)

Oddly, we keep hearing stories about friends who only looked at ONE house and that was it. Or, like Kim’s co-worker, Deb—didn’t even look at it and bought it. Our friend Michelle in Qualicum Beach, BC did the same thing—she saw the cabin online and had a friend in Victoria go scout it out for her. “Do you see me living here?”

Kim’s sister did the same. One house in Ayr. Our Uxbridge friends did the same (thank god, because it’s their barn that we are moving into). Though, their realtor made them look at one other farm before they put in an offer. Imagine!

And so our search continues. Standby.

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Adventures in Real Estating: Prince Edward County

A trip to Prince Edward County guarantees two things: an opportunity to restore the senses and wine cellar. This is where I’d suggest a scratch and sniff option for the screen—not only are there lilac bushes here–they are full-on forests of perfumed mauve goodness.

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Last Saturday, Kim and I thought we had locked in on our dream house. The price tag was palatable, it was waterfront and SUNSET-side! We were squirmy with anticipation and spontaneity. I had to jet to the spa for an afternoon shift and we had to make rapid decisions all within a ten minute time span. I phoned the realtor, threw my hair gel, camera and power t-shirt on the bed for packing and left Kim to sort out the other messy details of finding a hotel on a long weekend.

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Photo credit: realtor.ca

Typically in this blog space, I brag about the sunniest moments of our travels. There are glossy photos of our haute cuisine experiences and braggy bits about hotels with Aveda products, organic coffee delivery in the morning and warm chocolate chip cookies on the pillow and the like.

But this was the long weekend, and, with the smoothest of traffic, we still wouldn’t arrive until after 9:30 to the hotel due to my pesky work shift and the 300km in between. Kim was apologetic when she picked me up at Langdon Hall—“Sorry, only the Motel 6 in Trenton was left!” On the flip side it was just under $100 for the night.

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When I told my mom this, she said, “Flo always tries to get me to stay there—I really have to put my foot down.” It’s a bit shocking that $100 gets you zero frills in Canada. In Uganda you get matching plush robes, a hippo escort, a King bed and porters that will run ice and limes to your room at a whim.

At the Motel 6? You get a shower head at mouth-level. You can hear every motel guest tweet and fart. It’s indoor camping with the all the contrived privacy of nylon tent walls, a lumpy bed and pixely TV. Kim had flipped on the Raptors game and said gravely, “This is why high definition is so important.” I frequently try and suggest chopping out the extras on our Rogers cable bill but now I understood the magnitude of paying for HD channels. I thought I needed a new prescription or had tortilla chip salt in my eye.

I asked the front desk manager for wine or highball glasses instead of the in-room plastic beer garden-esque glasses provided (he found two, mismatched and more etched than anything you’d find for 10 cents at a garage sale). Kim was about to ask Hamid if we could switch rooms due to the high velocity air con unit running directly outside our room (picture a Stephen King movie—those hotels that murderers hole up in with the sliding patio doors and parking spot just outside your room). In the same breath a train sounded its horn and trundled past, causing us all to pause our conversation. The air con unit was the least of our worries. We were sleeping five feet from the tracks.

But, all that aside. We survived. How dare we moan about Motel 6 when we’ve slept in a jungle hut without a toilet seat (but, one was found, miraculously, though it wasn’t attached and was a bit dodgy in the night).

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Back to the true purpose: house hunting and gathering. Adventures in real estating continued! We opted to check out another listing in the County on Bush Lane. Could we really live on BUSH lane though? We’d be a punch line to so many jokes. Bush Lane was a quick bust though. It had a conditional offer on it, based on inspection, and, it was just too tiny and choppy. And bushy.

Onward to Napanee and the home we were crossing our fingers over. We queued up for the Glenora ferry (a free car ferry from Picton to lower Napanee) after a quick pint at the Miller Inn. It was a sublime moment—sunshine, lilacs and short sleeves. (*Editor’s Note: must return to Miller Inn for the 5-cheese grilled cheese with bacon marmalade. Kim eyeballed the sweet potato poutine loaded with brisket and local curds for a future visit).

So, the dream home turned into the nightmare home in one minute flat. We bumped along the woodsy lane, adrenalin percolating (So much for year-round access as promised by the realtor. That turned into, “Oh, some people live at the end of the lane and you probably just have to chip in a hundred bucks or something to get it plowed out.”)

First: THE JUNK. The property next to our proposed dream home was a tarp city. Various implements and crap were parked and rotting on the spot, or haphazardly tarped in sheets of blue and flapping orange. The cottage itself was listing and ready for collapse.

When the realtor wheeled in—with her husband! (“I told him it was a pretty drive along the lake and he should come along.” That’s when you know you’re in a small town. What realtor brings their husband on a road trip? I had a flashback to Dunnville days when a tow truck driver brought his three kids who were on March break to the call. I had to sit in my vehicle as it was towed into town while his kids rode with him in the truck).

I asked the agent about the neighbours. “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think they are here very often.” (No kidding). “But with these outbuildings, you wouldn’t even see them.” (Not selling it, sister).

I suppose if realtors were forced into transparency, no houses would be sold. But, hey, airlines had to start revealing hidden taxes and surcharges! Imagine how the realtor.ca site would be shaken if suddenly 360 degree views were mandatory. Trust me, Kim and I do our Nancy Drew detective work, zooming in on places courtesy of the aerials on Google Earth. But, you can’t always get a clear aerial on tarps.

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Photo Credit: realtor.ca

There were more weeds than gravel in the driveway. The front steps were ready to be condemned. Stepping inside, the realtor wrestled with a radio that was blasting heavy metal. The place smelled punky. Like unwashed hair. It was dark and filled with the most frightening collection of life-sized stuffed animals. And ships. The washer/dryer stackables were bedside. There’s no way you could even open them up without moving the bed—which was crammed in the 6×6 “third bedroom.”

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Photo credit: realtor.ca

We didn’t even look at the backyard or the lake. That’s when we both knew it was bad. We couldn’t see past the stuffed animals and peeling linoleum and paneling and smell. The husband helpfully suggested, “You gotta see past the furniture.” As he threw himself on the huffalump couch.

The agent scurried about and apologized for the seller. “He only uses this place in the summer, so he hasn’t had a chance to do a spring clean yet.” Why would he put it on the market then? Oh, and then she said this which made us both want to laugh: “Just so you know, there is an offer on it.” (It had been on the market for 12 hours and we called her bluff).

Offer or not, nothing was making that place pretty. We ignored her threat. of multiple bids.

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We looped north to Napanee proper, shaking our heads, mildly disappointed…and found lamb burgers and a stone butch lesbo-fronted blues band performing at the Waterfront Pub. Kim and I should start singing blues songs about real estate. We looked at the map of Prince Edward County and decided we’d hold out for Partridge Hollow, Pigtail Drive or Mosquito Lane. Over lagers from a nearby brewery in Bath, we fancied ourselves living on Petticoat Point, Doolittle Road or Limestone Ledges Lane.

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We carried on, with bedsores from too many kilometers in such a short span (900+) and the Motel 6 reasonable facsimile of a mattress. We stopped to re-fuel in “Welcome” at a gas station that sold homemade butter tarts, surprise bags for 25 cents, a brand new walker for $59 and local asparagus for $2.50 a bunch.

Somehow though, we were reassured. With a full tank and some asparagus, we realized that in these parts, anything is possible. Adventures in real estating continues.

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Buyer Beware: The House Hunting and Gathering Chronicles

House hunting and gathering is a dangerous sport. It involves incredible stealth, patience (especially when the wifi speed can’t keep pace), coffee (or, depending on the clock, wine), vision (sometimes X-ray) and the flexibility of a hot yoga instructor.

My parents are looking at properties too—which allows me to extend our search zone on realtor.ca to tease them with options too. Kim and I have honed in on Prince Edward County, Warkworth, Hastings, Trent Hills, Amherst and Wolfe Island and are open to an unexpected dream house on a tiny lake two hours from the airport in any direction, really. My mom? “We’re looking anywhere in Ontario.”

We’ve been chronically looking since last summer, but with reserve as couldn’t actively move until Kim’s official retirement. Which, is officially this Saturday—but, she will continue working until we have two sold signs (our current and future home/waterfront lot, airstream parking spot). Then the cork will fly out of the champagne bottle and we will move into our default setting: probably painting every surface, with headlamps on if necessary.

As we sift through listings, our greater fun has been in the shock and awe of the photos posted on the realtor.ca site. When they say, “buyer beware”—no kidding! Often it’s just a comical photo bomb of a cat or dog that is found in every room of the house, following the photographer around like static cling. Other times, the photos are a pure marvel. Despite a house’s exterior, inside is an open diary. A time capsule. Collections gone awry. Our greatest nightmare. Or, most often—a forehead-smacking, “What was the photographer thinking? Why would they leave groceries all over the kitchen floor?” I imagine the scene: “GET OUT! NOW! DROP YOUR GROCERIES AND LEAVE!” Did the home owner actually think, ‘Oh, what’s a few bags of groceries matter? People will understand. The house is lived in. What do they expect?’ Or, are potential buyers supposed to key in on that a grocery store is nearby? This is the vision I’m talking about.

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Here are some of our favourites, gathered over the last few months. All photo credit goes to Realtor.ca with kudos to the remarkable real estate agents who manage to sell such places without whiskey on intravenous.

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“Should I put the mop away, or do you think I should leave it so it will be in the photo?”

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Now here’s a stellar view. So practical. “Honey, let’s sit here in front of the railing and look at the ceiling.”

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The new buzz word: “Flex Room.” It’s not a man cave, but, if you like to drink Labatt 50 and eat pickled eggs while you spy on neighbours, we have a garage for you!”

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Find the cat…(it’s just like playing “Where’s Waldo?”)

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Find the cat, part 2.

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Vintage Dixie Cup dispenser, for a little Listerine, or a drink of water in the night. Who cares about a rainfall shower head or Japanese soaker tub when you could have this?

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If you have a demi-john collection, this house will suit your display needs.

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Look, it’s the very first treadmill and stationary bike ever made! Conveniently located beside the wine rack and armchair for post-workout recovery. (*Also note the faux port holes on the wall, to make your exercise room feel like a cruise ship!)

 

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Calgon, take me away! Like, far, far, far away.

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“Is my foot in the way?”

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Find the dog…

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Now here’s a DIY project gone wrong. “Honey, what do you think? If I buy a bunch of wooden spoons and make them into cabinet handles, will they notice the dated kitchen?”

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Question: How many people have had a concussion after innocently sitting on this toilet?

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Snacks, laundry and TV–all in one convenient space.

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For those who love diamond-print socks and sweaters, we’ve lovingly transferred the tasteful design to our ceiling!

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Does the carpet match the curtains?

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Our Journey As House Hunters and Gatherers

We’ve somehow become house hunters and gatherers. Obviously, after finding our stone cottage on the river in November of 2012, we went on a realtor. ca hiatus. The real estate site is like a step into quicksand. Hours later you can find yourself cross-eyed (and a bit tipsy–unless it’s morning, then most likely, hopefully, wired on caffeine)  and already packing virtual cardboard boxes.

PORT STANLEY, ON–not for sale, but spied upon from our beach towel

Our revised master plan is to find a knock-out property that will gel more with our retirement agenda–which involves winters anywhere but here, doing meaningful things. That’s the easy part–whether we volunteer at a sloth sanctuary or count migrating wildebeest, we first need to find a three season property that doesn’t have abandonment issues.

SHREWSBURY, ON $169,900 (we’re not sure if this has a roof or not–oh well!)

Yes, we love and adore our house and the sanctuary that we’ve transformed it into. But. This 153-year-old home is like a finicky supermodel. She needs lots of attention and manicuring. We couldn’t take off to walk the Camino de Santiago for two months without the perennial gardens turning into the likes of the Amazon. The boiler system simply can’t be shut down for the winter so we can document Zanzibarian sunsets from our hammock office.

THE ROCK, ZANZIBAR (probably the best perch abroad)

So, the search begins again, with a less frenetic pace and without the confines of work parameters and perimeters. Kim laughed at my range before–I had a mere 70km radius to scan then (to keep her commute reasonable. For me, as long as I was under the 10km mark, I could walk-run-bike to wherever I might find gainful employment).

ATHOL WARD, PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY $349,900

And now? We’ve already been combing the Saugeen Shores, Prince Edward County and townships we hadn’t even heard of from Wellington and Athol Ward to Bayham. We cruise the shorelines and rivers for listings. Often, Kim has already tucked into bed (a 4:30am alarm trumps my 10am wake-up call). I’ll leave an excited note for her to find in the morning before I cozy up beside her: “Oh my god, I can’t believe we’re moving to Amherst Island!” (Or, Selkirk! Arran Lake! Southampton! Keppel Township!)

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There is great hilarity to be found in looking up these tiny places on Wiki. Often the town’s claim to fame is an annual Port-a-Potty race down the main street. Or, a nail-driving contest. Or, it’s home of the world’s biggest deep-fried-pickle monument (I made that up, but surely there is one. Most likely in dear Nashville.

FORMER GRIST MILL, PAISLEY, ON, $1.2M

 

STELLA, AMHERST ISLAND, ON $184,000

Amherst Island gut job ++ $119,500

AMHERST ISLAND (gut job +), $119,500

What we’ve learned is that what you think is necessary in a potential area (coffee house for a Papua New Guinea bean supply, microbrewery, cheese shop, take-out Thai food, cinema) usually pales. Often those things are replaced by the unexpected–long walks on trails through the Carolinian forest, dew worm vending machines and the best butter tarts outside of grandma’s kitchen at Dee’s on St. Andrew’s. Having a backyard fire pit or hand-built pizza oven is critical though. And better yet, a wood-burning fireplace inside…

WAUPOOS ISLAND, $500,000

Moving from Toronto, all the glittery city spoils were within reach. Toronto has everything–except for what we have here. A full-sun backyard, indigo buntings, peaceful sleeps–even church bells sounding across the river. As I type this I can hear an osprey cry out as he zooms along the water behind our house.

I don’t need bookstores, necessarily. I’ve become a mad library lover instead. I thought I’d be at a complete loss without my go-to in the Annex– Queen Video. Ha! The library has loads of DVDs (even Sons of Anarchy), documentaries and indie flicks.

GALT, ON $389,900

I thought I would miss my weekly entertainment fill with copies of NOW and The Grid. For anyone who follows me on Facebook, you’ll know that there’s a lot of comedy to be found in The Ayr News, The Cambridge Times and the Waterloo Record. Between the “For Sale” and Personals ads, I’m set. Not to mention the listings for ham suppers and the Gay Paranormal Society ghost tours. I still don’t know if they are looking for gay ghosts or it’s just gay people who like ghosts.

ARRAN-ELDERSLIE, ON $285,000

Anyway. It’s obvious–Kim and I can live anywhere. I know this for sure. We’ve lived in 900 square feet, we’ve slept in our rental Suzuki in an Icelandic hurricane…a pup tent suits us just fine. We stay up to ungodly hours because we never run out of things to talk and dream about. We genuinely love and thrive in each other’s company–so, if our dream house is off the flight-path or wi-fi, bring on the remote. (And I don’t mean the television remote).

What we do like and need is a patch of grass (less than an acre), a place with a cool exterior–we can work magic with the inside guts. Something on the water (lake or river, we’re versatile) pointed west for serious sunsetting. Maybe a wrap-around porch–though Kim could build that in a pinch.  A church conversion would be awesome. A lighthouse would be better yet. And I’m a sucker for anything with a barn–even if the living space is an actual barn. And an attic loft? Complete swoon. Maybe there’s a vineyard nearby and we can offer picking and responsible sampling services during the summer months.

THE WAUPOOS ISLAND $500,000 MONEY PIT

 

ALLENFORD, ON (formerly known as “Driftwood Crossing”) $109,900

FORMER SCHOOL HOUSE, BRIGHT, ON $399,900

We know family and friends will migrate to wherever we end up. We’ve actually seen my parents more frequently since they moved two hours away–more than we ever did when they were just half an hour from us. My brother Dax will bitch about anything that involves public transit, but, he’s getting accustomed to hopping in a cutesy Fiat rental for a weekend to  get out of the 416.

PRINCE EDWARD COUNTY, ON $249,900

There are just so many dynamic, inspiring places to live in this world. If you’re bored, disenchanted, restless or the opposite– happy, flexible and simply eager for shiny new horizons more cohesive to your lifestyle and game plan…it’s time to enter the danger zone…realtor.ca

And share your finds! What’s important to you? Where do you need to live NEXT?

KEPPEL TOWNSHIP, ON (near Georgian Bay) $299,000

 

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When a House Becomes a Home

I have been to Home Hardware more times in the last month than in my entire life. It was the dreaded stop when we were kids, “running errands” with my dad. Every Saturday seemed to involve a haircut at Caesar’s barbershop (worst outdated magazine collection to date—TIME and Macleans equalled a double snore at age 8), Canadian Tire and/or Home Hardware and some transaction at the bank that took eons. We banked a lot of childhood time swatting at each other in the back of the Cutlass Supreme desperate for the errands to come to a wrap. We were usually handsomely rewarded for our patience though, in the form of Kentucky Fried Chicken 2-piece snack boxes or a split box of greasy George’s chip hut fries.
I still like to be rewarded for my patience, but, Kim and I maturely lean towards a cold beer after running similar errands and sussing out the next project on our domino To Do list that comes and grows with home ownership.
What I have learned in our 20+ visits in the last few weeks is that Home Hardware serves free, relatively decent coffee (with real cream not the powdered crap), every day. Saturdays, dedicated customers like myself (and even one-off customers who don’t even necessarily buy anything) are treated to free bags of hot and incredibly salty popcorn.
The sawmills that we have been frequenting in search of our ultimate tabletop lumber pale in the free beverage and snack department—but, the learning curve has been uncharted. I have talked to half a dozen dudes over the phone about socket depth, breadboard ends, claves and the durability of accoya wood versus Douglas Fir. Oh yeah, I’m well-versed in burls, veneer finishes, purpleheart wood. sap lines and matchbook applications for table tops.

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However, Kim is still CEO of the biscuit joiner and circular saw duties. I am the designated ‘holder-of-all’ and she suits me up accordingly in regulation ear plugs, safety eye wear if necessary and gives me a warning before a loud noise because she knows I tend to be jumpy. When I am not the holder-of-things I do double-time as the precise placer-of-things. I am routinely seen meandering room to room with various items: beluga whale vertebrae, a salt candle from the Siwa Oasis, a stack of National Geographics—searching for the “a-ha” position of the treasured items.
009We’ve massaged a lot of life back into the bones of this 150-year-old stone cottage. There were some long-neglected areas (ie. The basement that had historical 150-year-old cobwebs clinging to every joist).There was five pounds of dog fur in the freezer and clogged in the rads. Fifty-eight paint cans waiting for a trip to the dump. Old air conditioners, a dehumidifier that weighed more than a piano. All relics of the previous owner which we are slowly decimating in overtaking the OUR-ness of the house.

025The previous palette (derived from those 58 paint cans), which seemed initially liveable was deemed undoable once our stuff arrived. Cowhide does not pair well with mint. All our taupes and dark espresso wood looked misplaced. So, Kim and I went full-force in some unparalleled painting frenzy. One room forced us to do the next. The bubblegum pink and Thrills mauve of the guest bedroom was a no-brainer. The heritage blue of the master seemed too Grandma once our headboard and black and white prints were unloaded. The master bath was probably a pristine white at some point—but, we agreed, was now smoker’s yellow. Which was obliterated with a tasteful powder grey which led to the living room being repainted as well. While some friends saw a pleasing moss colour, I saw hospital green. Easter mint green. Ugh. Gone.

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The floors have been mopped, the drains de-haired, the faucets returned to their natural shine with the unnatural super powers of CLR, the inner organs of the rads have been de-furred, the insect collection dumped from the (indoor) light fixtures, the dangling webs swept from the impossibly high ceilings. By god, we even figured out how to hook up the flatscreen, the BluRay and the soundbar without a mass murder. The wi-fi even works. And, the pet bat that we had welcome us when we first moved in has flown to higher ground.
I have lived in many houses, but, this one is different. I want to know the inner workings of the boiler and the water softener. I want to read up on our fancy Frankie fire clay apron sink andhow to best preserve its finish. What will grow around our towering black walnut in the backyard? I find myself Googling stone home construction and “re-pointing” (which I thought was something we just did a lot as kids—blaming the other by “re-pointing”). I voluntarily read more about our pine shake roof and why it is a better choice than cedar. I’m subconciously grooming myself for a job at Home Hardware!

003I still feel like we are on some kind of outstanding holiday, relaxing at a really comfortable bed and breakfast while we plan our outings to the farmer’s market, debate the merits of Mexican or Thai for dinner and make note of local entertainment listings  in the paper.

At night we lean on elbows into the deep window sills and gaze at the shadows of the black walnut across our snow-blanketed yard. A yard! A real yard! Toronto doesn’t have yards. And, for Kim, her suburban backyard meant you always had a dozen eyes on you, a dozen dogs barking at you and two dozen yelping and screeching children interrupting your idyllic backyard fantasies. Our only intruder and pair of eyes now is a nervous rabbit who comes by like clockwork. And, my god, we can actually see the moon and stars now.
I thought I would have deeper pangs for Toronto and that bustly city life that had become my second skin, but, I don’t. Those pangs have been replaced by more intense nesting instincts, a big dose of nature and the wonderful balm that is “change” and “new” and feeling, finally, at home.

Categories: Home Sweet Home, The Kitchen Sink | Tags: , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Fine Art of Living in 700-Square Feet

When you live in 700-square feet and caramelize onions on the stovetop, your duvet will smell exactly like caramelized onions that night unless you close the bedroom door and wedge a rolled wet towel at the base of the door. Similarly, if you make butter chicken for dinner, there’s a 100% chance that later that night when you shower, you will step out of the tub Irish Spring-clean only to wrap yourself in a curry-scented towel.

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When you live in 700-square feet a gas fireplace can recreate Central American climes in about 13 minutes flat. In addition, for ultimate winter coziness, when you have seven foot ceilings, pot lights serve as head warmers. One can feel like a Swiss Chalet rotisserie chicken very quickly and easily.

With en suite laundry, when the buzzer signals the end of the dryer cycle, it’s parallel to being struck by a bolt of lightning. Originally designed for basement placement, Maytag dryer buzzers were set to a volume ample enough to alert housewives on the upper two floors of a home or half a block down the road—not ten paces away.

Living in such close quarters means that there is no secret Tostito eating—and a beer being covertly opened can be detected from any point within the apartment. Much like the heightened awareness a cat has with the electric can opener of yore—even when above-mentioned cat is three miles away, about to pounce on a woodland mouse– I run in the same fashion towards the sound of a bottle opener or chip bag. Natural wild instincts despite urban location intact.

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When you have 700-square feet in downtown Toronto, only 70 seems to be allotted to the kitchen area. This translates into just enough space for one Romanian gymnast to do a somersault. Two people in the kitchen galley at one time means bacon grease splattered on someone’s shirt, accidental knife jabs and random head strikes from freezer doors or each other.

In special cases, such as mine, a landlord can order a brand new fridge and request to have the fridge door mounted to open from the right side, to create more space, before delivery. However, at the same time, in special cases, said landlord can mis-measure available fridge space and order a fridge too large. This means that sometimes when you live in small spaces, the fridge door cannot open fully to the right due to a wall, even when two inches of the counter top is sawn off. This allows the fridge door to open 55 degrees instead of 90 which requires users to do serious lunging and intensive arm extensions to reach the back left corner. Luckily, here, beers are safe from shorter-armed people. Conversely, the Costco-sized Thai chili sauce bottle is safe from toppling and knocking over the 6-pack of Carlsberg like bowling pins.

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I could go on about the former fridge—how I had to shut both bedroom doors to drown out its moaning. It was a vintage model, tired of being cold all the time. In the dead of night it sounded like a half dozen hamsters were running in wheels to keep it in operation. The new fridge is a moderate improvement—we still have to jack up the volume on a movie to account for the background din of the fridge running. And, oh, how it runs. I have been half-tempted to unplug it during movies (and sleep) on several occasions.

When you live in 700-square feet there is no room for miscellaneous anything. One kitchen drawer is dominated by pots and pans stacked like Russian dolls. One drawer is crammed with the likes of Raisin Bran, panko, Schwartz’s steak seasoning, molasses and carefully arranged boxes of crackers. Everything must have a purpose. And sometimes, even with a definitive purpose, items like the Krups panini maker must reside on the shoe shelf. Sometimes, space hog dishwashers that eliminate valuable cupboard space, must be employed as full-time dish storage. All house guests were routinely told not to place dirty dishes in the dishwasher. “No, this is where we store all the clean dishes.” The previous arrangement before our epiphany was on top of the fridge. Which meant all the stacked square dishes and matching square bowls would have to be lifted off in one overhead military press-style manoeuvre to the counter below. Equivalent of 50 pounds and repetitive strain injury to supraspinatus muscle. Thank god for dish storage epiphanies.

More on storage: With two semi-fashionista people with a penchant for hoodies and jeans, closet by-laws have to be put into place. Such as (to an anonymous girlfriend): “No purchase of big, wool sweaters, regardless of how awesome they are until we move.” Kim has two that require a full dresser drawer. When we flew to Charlottetown, her sweater took up the entire overhead compartment of our Air Canada Boeing.

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Our shoes are already double-stacked, our jeans wedged to the closet ceiling. No jumbo-sized or double anything is allowed. Especially because the bathroom medicine cabinet height is designed for products that mice might use. Kim’s hairspray has to lie on its side, threatening to roll out and explode on the tile floors on a daily basis.

On top of all this, living below others (a couple who loves wearing their cement-soled shoes and doing laps each morning circa 5 am) means all sound must be kept to a minimum. Yes, it’s like living on a fun reduction. If the cement-soled shoe couple is home (and they usually tuck in around 9 pm), movies are at a whisper-level. Only high dramas with heavy dialogue (bonus for subtitled flicks) can be rented mid-week. Definitely no James Bond or Bourne Conspiracy-types until maybe Saturday night when we can start our movie performance earlier.

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Phone conversations are halted and scheduled for seniors hours. My sister has had to suffer because of it. She lives in the ideal time zone (Banff) for my night owl lifestyle (two hours behind Toronto-time), but, due to the sleeping couple above, I have to laugh silently and position myself practically outside the window and speak in hushy tones.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

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But, sometimes, after living in 700-square feet for two years, you buy a house that is double that size with no one living upstairs. Or downstairs. With a backyard to lounge in (not just look at like a caged budgie), a kitchen that could fit 25 minglers AND a team of somersaulting Romanian gymnasts, space for a dozen wool sweaters for each of us in several rooms, permission and encouragement for LOUD movies (positioned far, far away from the fridge that is remarkably silent—with a fridge door that opens practically 180 degrees), space for time zone-friendly phone calls that won’t disturb the other (where laughter can be laughed LOL-style and not held in like a fart), a separate pantry AND lazy Susan instead of one wimpy drawer, and, best? An en suite AND master bath for towels that will smell like Downy Mountain Mist not Patak’s butter chicken after dinner.
We’re ready.

Categories: Home Sweet Home, The Kitchen Sink | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Home is the nicest word there is.”

Writers do have a license to exaggerate, but, when I say that my partner and I looked at 3,489 house listings on MLS, the truth is hot neon pink.

Since April, we have combed every neighbourhood in Dundas, Waterdown and Guelph. In weaker moments, we (mostly I) looked at prospects in St. George, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Paris and even Dunnville (lakefront!).

I turned my nose up at Burlington because it was too generic. Kim put the brakes on my escalated searches in Westdale, the fancy-pants area of Hamilton. “Babe, it’s Hamilton! We don’t want to live there.” Kim grew up in Hamilton and I grew up in Brantford. I didn’t even breathe a word about checking out Brantford properties, so, we called it even.

Our initial MLS prowling was casual and happy-go-lucky. We cruised around Waterdown and Dundas, slowing down to marvel at houses that weren’t for sale—but ideally what we were looking for. The first two-storey stucco charmer (with a For Sale sign) was on Melville Street in Waterdown. It sold before we even had a chance to get a sneak peek at the interior. We kept tabs on a few Dundas properties and discovered Collins Brewpub and Detour Coffee Roasters in between. I was set in the critical beer and coffee department.

We didn’t become die-hard buyers until Kim sold her Bronte home in June, after just five weeks on the market. We’d heard and read horror stories about carrying two mortgages and come May, the real estate market was already beginning to flat line. Once we had the green light to buy, every morning coffee was downed in front of my laptop, driving around the MLS map. I considered commuting back to Toronto for work, and with some clever transit-hopping, I could probably do it from Dundas. Kim liked the prospects of having a sub-twenty minute drive to her job.

Fast forward to the end of July—and then the end of August. We hesitated in booking a planned trip to Iceland in the fall thinking the September market would be hot. We willed ourselves to consider a house in Morriston (which I had never even heard of), because it was a bloody gem. But, my pedestrian-friendly lifestyle would be void. The job prospects for me were relatively zero. Kim and I drank cheap beer on the deck of the token Morriston Chinese restaurant, reading our fortune cookie messages aloud. Mine alluded to buying the house (that we could see from the deck of the restaurant). I figured I could work in the kitchen and learn how to make those really tasty pineapple chicken balls once and for all.

Boo to the Highway 6 traffic that took this Morriston gem out of the running.

Of course we loved the Morriston house. It was a jaw-dropper by all accounts, but, the annoying drone of Highway 6 traffic and the airbrakes of trucks at the only stoplight had me agitated in under five minutes. It’s not that we were being picky, but, noise pollution was not going to be tolerated—even if it was a really dreamy dream home.

I sold Kim on the idea of Guelph. It had all the pizzazz of the big city because it was a university town. There was Thai food, hiking trails along the river, a covered bridge just like the one in Bridges of Madison County, a bookstore with an arty movie theatre, golf courses galore (the way to my gal’s heart) and, c’mon—a donkey sanctuary(the way to my heart)! We spent a night at the swank Norfolk Guest House to fully immerse ourselves in the city. Could we live in Guelph? Yes! We picked up a 6-pack of the local Wellington Arkell Bitter craft beer. Kim adopted a donkey from the sanctuary for me for my birthday. It all seemed to be falling in place.

First there was the brick home on Tiffany. The stunner on Suffolk. The sweet serenity of the 1920s cottage on King.. The cozy spell of Powell. I was certain we’d be calling Guelph ours in no time. I was ready to ditch my massage therapy career for any kind of job at the donkey sanctuary.

We drank more Wellington Arkell so as to not jinx anything.

Tiffany had a suspicious bow in the exterior wall. Suffolk had a conditional offer seemingly overnight. The King cottage had nowhere for a hockey bag, snow tires, golf clubs or, overnight guests for that matter.  Powell had a basement designed for Smurfs (and a dodgy foundation to boot) and a backyard  that had a view of the adjoining neighbour’s sloppy carport and the unfinished siding of the adjacent house. Too close for comfort.

With our opposing schedules, Kim and I had to capitalize on our days off (which seemed to be falling every other week), madly texting MLS numbers to our no-holds-barred agent, Jane Gardner, to arrange viewings.

Kim took advantage of weekend open houses while I toiled in the spa, wondering—could this be the one? I gave her full permission to buy on the spot. I’d read enough about bully offers and bidding wars in Toronto Life and The Grid. HGTV Realtor Sandra Rinomato was our gospel. We knew we’d have to act pit viper-quick and go in with a killer offer.

Falling in love with houses (repeatedly) was like playing dodge ball with an emotional wrecking ball. We gave up on Guelph and decided to take off to Texas. We needed a house search sabbatical and the balm of a beach and some serious sunshine.

We’d been through over 20 houses and the cons of each sunk the shining pros. Yes, we were becoming disenchanted.

We joked about my near-career at the Great Wall Chinese restaurant. But, it was beginning to look like the most promising option. Kim reminded me that we had to stick to our guns and not sacrifice what was most important to us: quiet, privacy, personality, possibility. We wanted a home that was “us,” and my mom insisted that we would know. “Your knees will knock and your heart will stop.”

Kim was still waiting for the knocking knees. I amended my mother’s statement and suggested that knee trembling could be the sign too. Were we being too picky?

I started looking at industrial lofts—really gorgeous spaces with exposed brick and cathedral ceilings but no outdoor space and $600 monthly maintenance fees. Kim gently axed the lofts and a fixer-upper in the Grange in Guelph when we did the Google map street view. Unless I was eager to start dealing drugs, the hood was more grunge than Grange. Another gem was immediately shut down when we learned that a high-rise sat to the left.

There was always something. Barrie street had a pool (ugh, no and groan). A hot tub (even worse!).The Park Road one-bedroom in Dundas would be a bitch to re-sell (but, it was a magazine spread with a fairytale creek in the backyard). There was urea formaldehyde foam insulation. There were train tracks too close to the house. Bulldozers clearing the land for a new subdivision. Neighbours with a jacked up 1992 Tempo with no wheels in the driveway next door. Listings for $449,900 that still needed massive kitchen renos and bathroom overhauls. What, no shower? At all? Or, the house in Guelph with so much wood panelling it could have doubled as a sauna.

And, I’m not even addressing the state of “decor” in many of these listings. When was red carpet ever okay? Why have flowers thrown up on every wall in the house? Why the Pepto pink tiles on all surfaces of the bathroom?  Why are you collecting rocking horses??

Kim and I can easily scare the life out of each other with some detailed accounts. Like the bathroom with eight light fixtures and Roman-esque pillars. Or the basement with the “tomb” at the end of it. Or the other basement with the dirt floor covered in mysterious tarps. The floors of the house on the hill in Dundas that tilted every which way but level. And, don’t even get me started on the knickknacks.

By October, we were ready to call the house hunt quits for the winter. We digested the idea of staying in my Annex apartment until spring—the market would kick-start again by the end of March. As Kim sleepily printed out another street parking pass, I hoped she wouldn’t have to slog from Toronto to Hamilton for work much longer.

And then, it happened, when we had really resigned ourselves to a spring market. We were going to visit Kim’s sister (who, lucky dog, looked at ONE house and bought it, just like that) in Ayr, and had decided to scan the nearby Cambridge listings to coincide with our visit. Maybe we could find a home on the Grand River? Why not Cambridge? We’d scoured everywhere else.

We booked a day of four showings and fell for the first one. The 1861 stone cottage had to be ours. The exposed stone, studio carriage house (with a tie-up on the exterior for the horses), deep windows, wide plank flooring, leather-wrapped granite counters and 12 -foot ceilings…screamed us. Kim was sketching designs for a kitchen island that night. I was already set up in the studio, sipping French press coffee and writing about St. Lucia. We could see our friends in the backyard, circled around the bonfire. Our joined family clinking glasses at Christmas as the golden bird emerged from our double-oven (Mom, you’ll do the turkey, right?).

For a week we mentally moved furniture in but reserved our excitement for the inspection. We paced back and forth to the FedEx on Bloor, scanning documents and agreements to our realtor. We drank wine until we got the go-ahead to pop the champagne.

And then, 3,489 houses later, we had found ours.

Home.

As Laura Ingalls Wilder said, “Home is the nicest word there is.”

 

Editor’s note: Want to buy or sell a house in the K-W region? Check in to Jane Gardner’s site at Royal LePage. (ps. THANK YOU JANE!)

Categories: Home Sweet Home, Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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