Posts Tagged With: real estate

88 Houses: The Arduous Journey to Find a House to Call Home

If you are a Facebook friend, real estate agent, bartender, Sobey’s cashier or brick wall, you’ve probably heard about our daunting search for a home. And when I say brick wall—it’s because we were hitting our heads against one for the last nine months. Longer, actually.

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Selling our little stone cottage in Galt on Facebook in August 2016 was easy. Finding a forwarding address became the arduous journey. Really, if we calculated the mileage that we clocked driving to and fro from the Frontenac to Tobermory, Kim and I probably drove to Tijuana, Mexico over 12 times.  We looked at 88 houses. EIGHTY EIGHT! You know that annoying school bus song? 99 Bottles of Beer on the wall? Well, imagine 88 houses, second verse same as the first.

DSCF5195Our storage pod is a distant memory. We’re not even entirely sure what we own anymore—but we do know that we did not thoughtfully bring our winter boots with us to Caberneigh Farm. Since August, we have been “barn cats,” sharing space with Olive the pig, eight horses, three chickens, and two real barn cats: Lucy and Freddie (one of which—Lucy– has decided she’s over the barn thing and has been squatting quite snugly with us.  A hidden camera would reveal her balled up on my jeans (yes, I’m still wearing pajamas at 1:30pm).

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Lucy, a former barn cat who was also looking for a home, like us.

We never anticipated that we would be living in a barn (but, it’s a seriously fancy one—with Netflix and wifi. There’s a pool table serving double purpose as my walk-in closet, an English pub-esque oak bar on one end, and a full-on view of the riding ring. Our front balcony view is a pastoral postcard with a bonus soundtrack: great horned owls, distant spring peepers and the wild telegraph of coyotes cutting the silence. Falling stars routinely drop like confetti in the light pollution free skies of the Scugog.

DSCF5303This is what Plan A, B and C were: we would find a house in the fall. We would move in just before New Year’s (for sure!) and make a lovely ham studded with cloves for our family on Christmas day. Christmas and my mother’s stand-in studded ham came and went. Real estate agents (we had about seven working in our favour, at every port) promised us that January 1st was going to mark the beginning of a lava hot market. The newspaper headlines and Twitter feeds have become repetitive. The market inventory is at an all-time low, houses are going over-ask and even though it’s a sellers’ market—sellers are afraid to sell because what the hell are they going to buy?

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So, January was a blow-out. Kim and I were on repeat. Wake, turn on laptop, gently nudge Cuisinart coffee maker switch to ‘on.’ Spend next three hours crawling through potential realtor.ca listings from Lake Erie to Crotch Lake to Devil Lake to where? It didn’t even matter anymore.

Unfortunately, this one wasn't for sale.

Unfortunately, not for sale.

We looked in Trent Hills, Campbellford, Prince Edward County, Napanee, Perth, Smiths Falls, Jasper, Verona (see what I mean? Where?), South Frontenac, Tweed, Cramahae, Tobermory, Meaford, Tiny (until we found out my ex had a cottage there a Tiny became too tiny), Port Albert, Port Franks, South Big Island, Grand Bend, Wolfe Island, Pelee, the Moira River, Meyers Island, Warkworth, Waupoos, Westport, Elora, Fergus. And, back. Then to Belize on one we-give-up night.

Just pick a place. We looked at a house or a chunk of property there.

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The start of our search in Prince Edward County in September of 2015. *This is NOT a typo. We started looking waaaaay back then!

We looked at old farmhouses, log homes, pan-abodes, contemporary builds, churches, container homes, passive solar houses, three-season cottages, cottages still vintage 1963 with avocado everything, paneling and shag. We started at a hopeful $300K and upped our budget by $200,000 in no time.

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*Conclusion: the problem with cutesy churches and old schoolhouses–they are always 10 feet from the road and ENORMOUS inside. ie. Ontario Hydro $$$$$$$

Every house hunting and gathering trip ended with exasperation. I looked for signs in the bubbles of our beer foam. I slept-in longer, hoping for an epiphany. Kim started designing house plans on serviettes and we actually sat down and crunched numbers with half a dozen builders. We couldn’t even build what we wanted because we couldn’t find land. The vacant lots either required a snowmobile or aqua-lunged Land Rover to get to. We put in an offer on one sunset lot in Prince Edward County for $189,900. For a sliver of steep lakefront. It was almost too quiet there though—we could actually hear the blood cycling through our head. Luckily, we were out bid, though we had visions of a Nordic Stark stacked container design in which we would live happily ever after, foraging mushrooms and asparagus while fermenting pine needles to make gin.

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Jasper, Ontario. We were nearly killed by 10,000 mosquitoes here.

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Gorgeous, but, truly the middle-of-nowhere unless you enjoy the company of cows. However, we are going to steal this horse trough/container garden idea.

There’s no need to go into all the disappointing details of the 87 houses that didn’t pan out. Just insert something—carpenter ants, pigs for neighbours (real pigs), a cemetery two steps from the back door, a heaving floor, junker neighbours with a tent city made out of tarps and dismantled cars…

Our most viable options looked something like this:

Reality was beginning to set in on affordable fixer-uppers.

Please note: vaulted ceilings

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Every day we gave up something on our wish list. Gone were sunsets. Gone was waterfront. Gone was our notion of living in Prince Edward County—the place we had funneled so much attention and affection for.

Our friend and family circle didn’t help matters. Kim no longer needed to be close to the steel mill and I could work anywhere with an internet connection.

We wanted so few things—but, we know the whispers were all about us being too picky. Is a golf course, microbrewery and library all in one 50km radius too much to ask?

We did not want to settle for generic. We did not want to be house poor or have to sacrifice spontaneous trips to Africa. Yes, we wanted it all, right down to the Japanese soaker tub and shiplapped walls.

This was actually somebody's garage near Black River--but, Kim quickly designed a 2-bedroom floor plan for us.

This was somebody’s three-car garage near Black River, ON, that Kim designed a 2-bedroom floor plan for.

Don’t even ask how many hours of HGTV we’ve consumed. Or, how many bottles of pre-celebration champagne we drank, so sure that the house we were going to see the next morning was the sacred one.

Until, finally, one unexpected day (in particular, March 29th) we unearthed the home we had been looking bleary-eyed for. It was in the Northern Bruce Peninsula! No wonder we couldn’t find it! After we had exhausted our viable options in Grand Bend and Bayfield that same week we began the online X-ray scan of listings again.

“Where was that place you loved so much last week?” I asked Kim.

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“Near Tobermory. I thought we ruled that area out though because it’s so far.”

It was far, but as close as we’d ever come to our vision. In fact, it was so convincing that we were ready to buy it over the phone. My reserved enthusiasm went 360 and the thoughts of going to check out this Northern Bruce Peninsula house. Where? It was 7km from Lion’s Head with had a farmer’s market, Foodland, LCBO, vintage café and Lion’s Head Inn pub. See, we’d be close to stuff!

I read further. The house was right on the 45th parallel—half way to the equator and half way to the North Pole! Yes, we had crossed off Tobermory because it was just so frozen and desolate in January when we went.

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OUR West Little Lake in the Bruce Peninsula! photo credit: realtor.ca

We wanted privacy, we didn’t want nosey parker neighbours. We wanted sunsets and a lake. This was it! Vaulted ceilings, the open floor plan, soaker tub, hardwood, workshop, garage…and, it was all in a designated Dark Sky Community! We’d be living in a UNESCO World Heritage site. I started looking up local birds and ferns (there are orchids in this area that grow nowhere else in the world).

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Vaulted ceilings, coves, transom windows, gas fireplace…check, check, check.

We phoned our agent, Ashley Barker, who we had kindly “broke up” with after our last trip to Tobermory. The Bruce Peninsula was back on our horizon. We had seen 87 houses to know that this was what we wanted. It had been on the market 10 days and the northern market was starting to thaw. “You should come see it soon.”

Kim and I went the very next day. It was slate grey skies and miserable out but the house had a glow of its own. We pulled up the driveway and knew. For the first time, it was better than the photos on realtor.ca

I didn’t even grab our camera (which I routinely did on our searches). I wanted to take it all in—and, I knew it was going to be ours—I could take all the pictures I wanted then.

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Everything we wanted, right down to the cupola. Photo credit: realtor.ca

We laughed about considering Tiny House Nation. We had just bought a 2750-square foot house! Four bathrooms?? It was bigger than we imagined, but it was everything—tucked in a forest of cedars and birch. A tiny dock positioned to take in the wide screen sunsets. No grass to cut. No master gardens to crook our backs managing like we did in Galt.

There was no exhaustive list of changes (though we will work some shiplap and cement counter tops into the mix) that would include blowing the roof off. It was bright and freeing…the kind of place you walk into and take a deep breath. Where you can actually feel yourself breathe easier. We walked around like those buyers on fixer-uppers shows that can only say, “WOW” and “Oh my god!”

88 houses later. We found our wow.

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Categories: Home Sweet Home, Retiring--Rewiring, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Best Places We Slept in 2016

Dear Diary: It’s been six months and a few days since we sold our darling stone cottage in Galt, Ontario. Since, we have taken up residence at the storybook Caberneigh Farms with endless thanks to our friends Nicole and PJ who had a fancy barn with wi-fi and vacancy. We are in good company with Scotch mint-sucking horses and Olive the pig as neighbours. We even have our own resident barn cats, Lucy and Freddie. We’ve been spoiled by a steady supply of just-laid eggs and jars of Caberneigh Just Hitched honey. We’ve been privy to Nicole’s custom velvety egg nog and crème brulee. And scotch-tasting sessions with PJ, but that’s another story. And doesn’t involve eggs, though a Scotch egg would be really good right about now.

Bonus: Kim has almost earned her 4-H badge, John Deere tractor license and chainsaw operator certification. In addition to pig hoof trimming, we’ve learned how to contend with preventing pig break-in and enters, and how to keep four cats and six dogs from becoming a circus act.

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What we never dreamed is that we’d still be without a forwarding address six months later. (Or, learning the fine art of chicken wrangling).

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We packed our storage pod strategically—but, without thinking that we might need to access such things as winter boots and hockey equipment. Oh well, winter is almost over, right?

In six months we have slept in so many beds and scoured Ontario’s waterfront lots from Tobermory to Perth to Prince Edward County and over a dozen lakes in the Frontenac. Coinciding with this magical quest: finding hotels in parts unknown. Some have been dreamy and a complete refuge with Calgon-take-me-away bathtubs to sink into while others could have doubled for serial killer-type movie sets.

Normally I round up the best places we have slept each year. It’s been an annual tradition that we have enormous fun ‘researching.’ However, this year it seemed that for every remarkable place we slept, there was a nightmare hotel to match it.

The  18% Cream of the Crop:

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Langdon Hall Country House Hotel and Spa, Blair, Ontario $310 midweek, $405 weekends

We kind of ruined ourselves by staying here. Yes, this is the same hotel I worked at in my previous incarnation as a massage therapist. To be on the receiving end of all the luxury is a marvelous thing. The grounds are not only manicured, but pedicured too. It’s like driving into a postcard. Deer tiptoe by, smoke curls out of the chimneys, and the brioche French toast with Earl Grey tea-infused maple syrup is like breakfast giving you a big hug. Langdon has its merits for all seasons, but staying on a deep freeze night in December makes the in-room fireplace the best balm.

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Suggestion? Pack a bottle of bubbly, get that fire roaring and order in the sumptuous $25 Wilks’ burger piled high with black pepper bacon and molasses compote and Smoked Majestic Henry Cheese. The crispy skin-on fries are served with an addictive mustard seed and thyme aioli.

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Be sure to sink into that gorgeous bathtub and prepare yourself for a rejuvenating sleep on a cloud.

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WHITNEY MANOR, Kingston, Ontario $179 HOT DEAL (reg. $275)

This was my birthday junket. A road trip around Wolfe Island, Stone City Ales and mac n’ cheese-stuffed grilled cheese sandwiches from MLTDWN (get it? Meltdown). And, this. The Murphy Suite–which is exactly the kind of place and space we want to buy.

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With exposed limestone, post and beam, a dreamy loft bedroom and soaker tub–this 1100-square foot suite is unforgettable. We wanted to lock the door and swallow the key.

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Suggestion: There’s a full kitchen, so bring all the fixings you need for the barbie and breakfast so you don’t have to leave until check-out!

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NEVIS ESTATES B&B, Perth, Ontario $175/night

After an extensive house hunting and gathering mission in the Frontenac, we were weary, soggy and starved. Our intrepid realtor, Barb Shepherd physically drove us to “Jenny’s Place” and introduced us. She insisted we stay there and skip the only other available option—the $189 standard Queen at the Best Western. She assured us we’d love Jenny, everyone did. Barb was right.

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As soon as we entered the Colonial heritage stone estate (c.1842), we wanted to curl up with cocoa and read Thoreau. Jenny is like your favourite blanket: warm, comforting, reassuring. She listened to our disenchantment with finding a house and rallied our spirits with her own story with a tap root deep in New Zealand. The house she has renovated with her husband is a true marvel, it really feels like a fun sleepover with a close friend. Breakfast is an elaborate affair and though Kim and I usually cringe at chirpy early morning convos with assorted guests at B&B’s, the two twentysomething girls we sat with were colourful and engaging. Between frying bacon and flipping fluffy omelettes, Jenny joined in on the story telling, knowing both girls well from long-term stays.

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The chatty equestrians were part of Ian Millar’s (hello Big Ben!) Millar Brooke Farm and were hotly anticipating competition at the Royal Winter Fair. As a just-out-of-the-oven loaf of brown-sugar crusted banana bread was delivered to the table, the girls told us all about ‘cribbing,’ a phenomena that is akin to crack for horses. By biting and hooking their incisors on a stall door or fence, they flex their necks, contract their larynx and swallow air, creating a gasping or grunting sound that is addictive.

So, stay at Jenny’s for the Jacuzzi and take-home slices of can’t-get-enough banana bread. AND, ever-changing but illuminating breakfast conversation with other guests. Book the local lumber baron’s room, The Senator McLaren.

PULLMAN G BANGKOK, Thailand $200/night

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This place has sexy in spades. It’s contemporary, it smells like warm vanilla pudding. It’s whitewashed and just oozes cool with a low thumping soundtrack, zebra skins, faux safari trophy heads, Foosball and craft Thai beers at the adjoining bar (25 Degrees Burger, Wine & Liquor Bar). The Pullman G is like entering a Miami night club. The elevators pulse with non-stop video of seductive pouty-lipped Swedes and, in another, bike tires spinning with playing cards ticking in the spokes. The floor-to-ceiling windows in the suite are the perfect front row seat to Bangkok’s sky-on-fire sunsets.

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The breakfast bar here was an oasis after two weeks in China, eating starchy boxed breakfasts of white things: cakey muffins, stale croissants and white buns. At Pullman G, the detox juices beckon. There’s a granola and yogurt bar with all the tiny fixings. Real muffins stuffed with good stuff. You feel like you’ve taken your body to the spa, just by eating breakfast.

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EL SOL AZUL B&B, Las Galeras, Samana 50 Euros/night (dependent on season)

There’s no reason to subject yourself to the oft-icky trappings of an all-inclusive in the Dominican Republic. Swiss owners, Esther and Pierre have been in the hospitality industry for 11 years. They have everything figured out and know exactly how to exceed guest expectations.

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El Sol Azul is just 150m from the sea and minutes to the ‘downtown’ but tucked away in a pocket of serenity. The property is a showcase of tropical flowers and trees– crown of thorns, star fruit trees even! Pierre tends to them daily, usually with their lovely dog at his heels. There are two darling cats that live on the property too–and Caramel, loves to tease with her cute walk-by strut.

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The thatched roof bungalow style suites are Robinson Crusoe-like, but, with all the amenities.

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Breakfast is stellar. The spread is huge and European with fresh baguette, cheeses, local juices and punchy coffee. In addition to the continental fare, you can order eggs, any style and they come plated with ripe avocado and tomato.

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The pinwheel of homemade jams really puts Esther’s breakfast at the next level! I asked her for the coveted banana rum jam recipe–I don’t even make jam, but, this will be the exception–it tastes exactly like banana bread in a jar.

2016’s Nightmare Sleeps

Stone Church, Perth, ON $79/night (not incl. breakfast)

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The historic Gothic stone church home advertised on Airbnb looked promising. However, if we could have smelled those photos, we would have avoided booking a night. We were the only guests, despite the odd presence of 18 toothbrushes in the cup in the bathroom. Kim’s first comment was: “Ew. Keep your shoes on.” Second comment, “We’re definitely not showering here.”

We arrived late after another house hunt in the area. (This was before we were aware of Jenny’s place). The neighbours had Chubby Checker blasting as they sat in their yard just feet away. The house was a six feet away from Chubby Checker and five feet away from the major highway. We had already eaten, thank god—though the invite was there to make use of the ‘shared kitchen.’ I opened the cupboards looking for a beer glass and had a slight heave. I called Kim over—half the glasses had lipstick lips muddled around the lip of them.

The counter needed a good bleach and wipe. The fridge was so filthy and crumb-bound we didn’t even want to put our beer inside.

We took seats at the kitchen table (avoiding any additional contact with any surface of the house) and looked at online real estate. There wasn’t enough beer to inoculate us to sleep in such a dumpy cash grab Airbnb. We wondered if the sheets had even been laundered.

At 6am I awoked to Kim saying, “I’m ready to go when you are.”

And so we did. I’m not sure if we even brushed our teeth on the way out. That might explain the abandoned toothbrush collection.

Sandbanks Lakefront Airbnb, Prince Edward County, ON $140/night

Since when did Airbnb mean you never had to clean your house? We were APPALLED upon arrival. The junk lying around the house alone (old speakers, gym equipment, tools, tarps—all in disarray and decomposing). In the back, we were invited to join the owners on their outdoor furniture that looked like old car seats. From those ‘magical online photos’ we expected an ‘artist’s retreat’—whimsical, with a cute cat and a tiny firepit right on the beach. Sunsets! And, breakfast even—which most Airbnb properties don’t include. The room was small and a little dated with old-school paneling with a shared bathroom, but, we’d be taking advantage of the firepit and lake anyway.

Our house tour itinerary had us pulling in close to 8pm. We watched a couple carry their wailing newborn baby into the same house. We thought there was only one room in the entire home—not another greedy cash grab that had the owners bleeding money from offering ramshackle 70s shit hole rooms to unsuspecting guests—there were six of us jammed upstairs with walls as thin as a croissant flake. This was a cottage where NOTHING had ever been done in the form of upgrades. I might be making this up, but I’m pretty sure the toilet had one of those avocado green lid covers on it. With a matching pukey floor mat. The bathroom was straight out of 1962—the kind of place you want to put antibacterial gel on your hands and bum.

It was 100% gross, dark, mildewy and creepy. The couches sagged like tacos and looked like they were made out of cat litter. There were oil paintings and just weird things and weirder guests.

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Kim and I retreated to the lakeshore after hosing our legs with Off! Spray. We avoided the communal kitchen and opted to heat up refried beans hobo style on our Coleman stove (handily packed in the back of the Rogue) and make sloppy burritos on the beach, in the dark. We graciously said no to offers to join the owners and their neighbours for drinks in the car seats. We waited patiently until they left so we could start a fire (only to be joined by two urbanites who had never built or seen a bonfire before).

The only saving grace was the sunset. The sunset cost $140, but, we’ll take that.

You know, I really could go on in this scary segment from last minute middle-of-nowhere, we-have-no-other-choice Super 8’s in Trenton (insert train blasting past every 40 minutes on the tracks just outside the door—oh, and the neighbour’s AC unit that sounded like an elephant with asthma.

Belleville? Oh, there was a crappy one there. Popcorn ceilings, sink located outside the bathroom, squiggly hairs in the sheets and a carpet that was witness to someone’s bender and barf.

And, so begins 2017. Though we love to sleep around, we can’t wait to sleep in our very own bed (which is vertical in our storage pod in Ayr, Ontario), wherever and whenever that may be. Until then, home is where the barn is.

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Categories: Home Sweet Home, Passport Please, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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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Categories: Home Sweet Home, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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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We Sold Our House on Facebook

They said it couldn’t be done. There were some tsk-tsk’s and a few exaggerated expressions of good-luck-with-that-one. Is there an emoji for that yet? We were bucking the system and taking a self-stab at the real estate market. Hey, I sold my 1996 Suzuki Sidekick on Craigslist. Surely we could sell our 1861 stone house on Facebook.

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Earlier in the year, Kim and I toyed with the romantic notion of raffling our house off. Wouldn’t you buy a $155 ticket with the possibility of winning a house that only required you to arrange your furniture and fill your champagne glasses? We would. But could we pull it off in tiny Galt, Ontario?

Remember the 1996 movie Spitfire Grill (neon-lit by the likes of Ellen Burstyn and Marcia Gay Harden)? Actually, I barely do, but there was something about a $100-an-entry essay contest and the winner could take over the retiring owner’s restaurant. The movie has generated similar copycat tactics, most recently in Toronto. In September 2015, Ruthie Cummings tried to raffle off her three year old German restaurant, Das Gasthaus, on Danforth Avenue for $150 bucks a pop. Instead of being a feel-good story, the unexpected backlash came in the form of eight labour complaints from former employees.

Cummings hoped to sell 4,000 tickets, earning her the tidy sum of $600,000 so she could return to Europe and care for her aging parents. The winner, Shawn McKerness, 40, a Windsor chef and restaurateur, decided to forfeit the controversial prize. According to the Star, the restaurant itself was closed at the end of January and had a bailiff’s note taped to the window, noting it was in arrears of $6,367.50. Oh, and then there’s that touchy subject of unpaid rent. “Property manager Alex Stergiou told the Star that Cummings is still “technically in possession” of the restaurant. Therefore, he said, she is on the hook for rent, which is about $5,500 a month.”

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Undaunted, Kim and I still liked the idea of the raffle. We didn’t have any jaded employees (maybe ex-girlfriends, but…). Could we hit up 2,700 friends, family and exes for $155? Our stone house-loving pals Troy and Lori were in. “We’ll buy a few,” Troy promised with a clink of our pint glasses. I knew my parents would be good for one or two. So, we had four sold before we even did a blitz! Plus, I won a soccer ball in elementary school for being a top chocolate-covered almond seller for Brantford Youth Soccer. In high school, I sold turkey shoot raffle tickets (among other things like poinsettias, dream catchers and tie dye t-shirts) to 100% pay my way to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Selling raffle tickets for our darling stone cottage would be a snap.

Instead of taking the sure-and-steady traditional realtor route, home owners are opening up to the magic, possibility and opportunity that a raffle can ‘buy’ somebody. The Humble Heart Goat Dairy and Creamery in Elkmont, Alabama is opting for the raffle route too. Rock Spring Farm in Essex County, Virginia is raffling off their 38-acre horse farm. There’s even a movie theatre on the block. You can write a 250-word essay on why you want to own a seaside cinema and win the Cape Ann Cinema and Stage in Gloucester, Massachusetts. How about a B&B in Maine? After 22 years, Janice Sage is retiring from the Lovell Inn & Restaurant (the gig comes with 10 staff and 100 dinner guests on the average night). She won the Inn via an essay contest back in 1993 and wanted to share the karma all over again.

A Whitby, ON couple who bought a waterfront property in Kingston as a retirement plan in 2003 opted to cash out with an auction last month. They had listed on the market the past for a $1 million price tag with no bites and were anxious to move on with their retirement and travel plans. They had hoped the 66-acre property and rural stone castle would nab around $800,000 but the lucky bidders snagged it for $660,000 (the minimum bid required was $300,000). There were 13 offers for the gated house with turrets, an elevator, a cedar grove and 2,000 feet of waterfront.

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Then there was the guy that essentially traded a red paperclip for a two storey house in Saskatchewan. I was as charged up and confident as Kyle MacDonald, the bloggernaut behind One Red Paperclip. MacDonald made his first paperclip trade for a fish-shaped pen in July 2005. He reached his goal of trading up to a house with the fourteenth transaction. The deal? Trading a movie role for a home in Saskatchewan (and it somehow involved Alice Cooper and a trip for two to Yakh, BC, along the way).

Okay, so, we didn’t have a movie role to barter with (but they do film Murdoch Mysteries down the road from our house), and maybe the raffle was a contortionist stretch for us. Maybe. We didn’t consider a one-day auction, but, the idea of us selling private was enticing.  It would involve nothing more than crafting a blog post, culling our best home and garden snapshots and some serious social media sharing. We peer pressured everyone to brag about this place and share it widely and wildly from Banff to Nashville to the UK to Australia and Uganda. Kim agreed that we should try, but, not endlessly. We’d establish a deadline and then go with an agent. Share. Like. Like. Share. Tweet. Reblog. Like. Like.

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We have both watched enough HGTV to know the math, logistics and obstacles of selling a home. With our PhD in Property Brothers, House Hunters International, Fixer Upper and Million Dollar Listing NY we were confident. Combined, Kim and I have spent 14,786 hours on realtor.ca. We know all about curb appeal and what-the-hell? We love real estate culture and count many agents as our friends. I flip to Toronto Life’s real estate page (where they profile a buyer and their three properties of interest. And then unleash the ugly guts of the bidding war and how much the listing went, over-ask. When we decided to go social media first instead of a sign-in-the-ground, a few of the agents got in on the mix too. (*Special thanks to Lindy Brown (Peak Real Estate Ltd), Lisa Reilly and Lisa Hipgrave of The Two Lisa’s (REMAX Hallmark Realty, Ltd.) Toronto for the Facebook press blow-out. And, to Laura Thompson of Coldwell Banker and Jane Gardner (Royal LePage) for potential buyers, inside scoop, special considerations and market assessments).

Trends and traditions are changing like the May barometer. Not only can you trade a paperclip for a house, write an essay and win a movie theatre, but you can divorce and sell your life. In 2008, after a sloppy break-up, Brit Ian Usher sold his life in Australia on ebay for $399,300. He wrote a book all about it, Life For Sale, and wrote a second, Paradise Delayed, about his off-grid life in Panama. Following the sale of his life, he set off around the globe to cross off 100 goals which he achieved in 100 weeks.

It’s endless, exciting and…what else can we sell? (Pause as I look around the immediate vicinity)

Why just have a garage sale anymore? You can sell your house on Facebook and hand the paperwork over to a lawyer. Which you would be doing anyway.

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The condensed version is—after a big splash on Facebook and over 900 visitors to the blog post I wrote (“House for Sale…Ours”), we did it. Thanks to the powers of social media and a friend of a friend of a friend who didn’t even remember how they knew that ‘friend’—we found our buyer.

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As we signed papers over cocktails at Langdon Hall Country House Hotel and Spa, the couple remarked, “This is so civilized.”

Yes, we sold our house on Facebook. And now I want to enter that essay contest to win the goat farm in Elkmont, Alabama.

*If you like jellybean counting contests and want to win a cinema or the B&B, check out Kelly Gurnett’s The Write Life post about the essay contests  here.  I call dibs on the goat farm!

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Putting the ‘Real’ Back Into Real Estate

‘Real’ estate. I think they need to put a little more real into the market. You know those terrible stats that circulate about how much time you spend watching prison dramas and idling in coffee drive-thrus? I’ve spent 4.6 years on realtor.ca, I know.

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Buying a resale house is really a bizarre situation. It’s like a blind date where you meet over coffee (non-committal, but at the ready, all fresh-breath, preened, pounding heart and hope as big as Idaho). You’re all emotions, vulnerable, cautious, hurried, wide-eyed, twitchy and probably too caffeinated already. Imagine, if after this first coffee date, with latte foam residue still warm on your upper lip, that you had to decide YES or NO. Do you want to commit? You’ve had 30, possibly 45 minutes to glean as much information as you can and look for big, waving scarlet red flags. Will you marry him or her? Will you buy the house after one breeze through?

This is what buying a house is. A coffee date where you have to choose marriage after one frenzied get together. If you’re looking in Toronto—then you definitely have to propose on the spot. I DO! And do it quickly because 17 others are I-doing at the same time. Hello bidding war. Hello cranky cup of coffee the morning after when you learn the blind date you were crushing on went for $600,000 over asking.

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In hot markets like Prince Edward County, pacing and patience are de rigueur (insert image of exasperated but still enthused diners on Daniel Baehrel’s Earlton, NY restaurant waitlist. In seven weeks he had over 40,000 reservations for his 16-seater basement resto. That’s a 10-year waitlist!). However, word on the street is that buyers are buying over the phone, sight unseen, without conditions. No inspection, no financing—just, give it to me. Mine. I called dibs.

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We’ve fallen hard for a few properties but not enough to give our Visa number over the phone to the agent for a quick sale. Because, behind some of these glossy, cropped, stretched, fish-eye bait traps there are unseen nightmares. Junker neighbours, apple trees raining down so much rotten fruit so that the place smells like a booze can. There are gardens that small children would get lost in, and possibly eaten by foxes who are drunk on the fallen apple bounty. There are future wind turbines to fret about, toxic landfills, train tracks, mushroom farms (way more deadly smelling than chickens which rank higher than pigs on the manure Richter scale), nuclear waste, highway expansions, neighbours with tarps and trailers, condo developments…sigh. There’s always stuff to cloud the dream. At least Google Earth pricks your excited inflated balloon faster than a three hour drive to the house where you can discover first hand that the dream house is 10 feet from the road and the neighbours collect cars that will never move.

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To put the ‘real’ back in real estate, I would like the MLS search engine to offer a few more defining apps. I’d like to be able to choose a tiny U-haul moving truck icon to indicate I LOVE THIS ONE!! THIS IS IT! For a house that ticks a lot of our boxes but has something niggly about it—a little icon of me, jumping up and down but then standing with hands on hips. For the listings I keep accidentally repeatedly looking at because I can’t remember what the issue was—it would be so much easier if I could choose the icon that spells it out. Like intestines to indicate a gut job. Or a toilet to remind me that the bathroom was 100% tiled pink.  Or, binoculars, to indicate that the neighbours are two feet away. Or an English hedge maze to suggest that the house is all chopped up, no flow. For a listing too far from everything—a horse and buggy. Right?

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I’d like a scratch and sniff icon on a listing. (Remember those prized 80s sticker book collections full of puffies and sparklies and smellies? Root beer and dill pickle stickers were always the big traders.)

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What can’t we smell in this listing? The neighbour who likes to burn toxic things like pressure treated lumber and shingles? That adjacent mushroom farm that isn’t mentioned in the listing? Does the house smell like wet dog? I’d like to scratch and sniff that dream listing and smell a waft of just-baked chocolate chip cookies or crisp autumn leaves or peonies or plumes of sweet birch burning in the fireplace. Wait, is that cider simmering on the stove top? Yes, I want to smell nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, wood smoke, leaves, cookies and a big waft of lilac bushes. It would be wrong to say I’d also like to smell Kentucky Fried Chicken, but, you know, sometimes you do.

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There are so many things I wonder about houses on the market. Where do they order pizza from? Is there a chipmunk they call by name and hand-feed peanuts? How many trick-or-treaters do they get tumbling down their driveway?

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Do they grill something on the bbq that all their friends and family insist they make repeatedly? (Here: Kim’s very famous beer can chicken massaged with Schwartz’s Deli rub and steamed in a sultry Waterloo Dark ale bath or, Cajun catfish with a few cobs of local corn slathered in butter and parm).

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I wonder what room is the favourite of the home owner? Where do they have morning coffee? What kind of birds do they see at the feeder or nest building?

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Where do they fold up their legs with a paperback and a cat and slip away into printed word? I wonder what milestones have been celebrated in the kitchen. Why in hell did they paint five rooms blood red?

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In the house purchaser’s agreement, there’s always a disclosure about whether the house was a grow-op or if someone died in the recliner, or was murdered. Wouldn’t it be better if you learned about the fun stuff that happened in that house? Although I’m sure the grow-op owners would say they were having the time of their lives until they were caught). For example, we’ve had three Chihuahuas and two cockatiels sleepover here (not related).

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I would want people to know about Margaret too. She’s a toad as big as a Big Mac that lives in the backyard.

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Yes, my realtor.ca revamp would have these additions:

Signature scent: cedar cabin and clothesline (product placement candles can be purchased at Art of Home)

On the grill: beer can chicken or Cajun catfish

House wine: Karlo Estates Quintus

On tap (well, in a growler, actually): Grand River Brewing Co. Enigma Stout

What you can hear: orioles, church bells, osprey as they skim the river’s belly

Take-out: lime leaf curry, mango salad and spring rolls from My Thai (7 minute walk)

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What’s in a 15 minute walking radius? Farmer’s market, buck-a-shuck oyster nights at the Cambridge Mill, Dee’s Bakery, $16 burger and pint nights at Café 13, fish and chips, live theatre, picnics in Victoria park, a cricket pitch, a Jamaican resto, Indian, hand-pressed juices, Trans Canada Trail, antiques, Papou’s subs, galleries, library….everything, really.

I think about houses in terms of songs and famous people too. Everyone identifies their relationship by a song (first kiss, first dance at the wedding)—but shouldn’t your house have a song too? What would the soundtrack be? Clearly this house is The River, Joni Mitchell (or the syrupy Blue Rodeo version). Or, Glosoli by Sigur Ros.

If this house was a person, it would definitely be Robert Redford, Sean Connery, Helen Mirren or Emma Thompson. Solid, refined, timeless.

Oh, and I’d want a feature on realtor.ca where we could check out the neighbours. Who bakes amazing lime coconut loaf? Who makes Oreo-stuffed chocolate chip cookies? Who had a tile cutter that we can borrow, or an extension ladder? Who doesn’t recycle? Who plays Gloria Gaynor on repeat? Who owns a Jetta without a muffler? Who drives a transport truck and lets it idle every morning at 5am? Who leaves their Christmas decoration up until March? Who is planning on buying a big, ugly, piece-of-crap trailer that will never run but will sit and rot in the driveway? Who will buy a bus and let their son who just got out of jail live in it? (These are all past, very true scenarios to consider).

People should have to apply for houses, like they do jobs. There should be resumes and reference letters and interviews. It’s such a major decision and all you have to do is lay down the money or mortgage approval.

I have so many ideas. I need to be Prime Minister of realtor.ca.

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House For Sale…Ours

Please spread widely and wildly.

We’re for sale. Will you be the next caretaker of history?

Suggestion: pour a potent cup of coffee (add cream and sugar as desired) or fill a glass with your favourite South African red. Get into the West Galt groove and imagine life untethered. Why be mortgage broke? Why believe that a backyard the size of a cat’s litter box is acceptable?

In West Galt you can find balance, restorative perennial gardens and a non-intrusive urban lifestyle in the historical downtown Galt. In a 15 minute walking radius there’s a farmer’s market (one of the oldest in Canada), a chocolatier, cheese boutique, Monigrams Coffee Roasters (best Americanos going), Crumb + Bean (tops for ginger molasses cookies as big as frisbees), Dee’s Bakery (gooey butter tarts just like your favourite Aunt made), Tiny Cakes (Elvis peanut butter and banana cupcakes!), Bricks + Mortar (like a micro Whole Foods), Thai food and a serious line-up of Ontario craft beers at the notorious Cafe 13 pub.

You’ll find the city pleasures you’re familiar with in the TIFF Cineseries sponsored by the local library, the Idea Exchange, just a few blocks away. In 2017, the former Galt post office will open its doors as the nation’s first all-digital library with a resto on the terrace, tablets, podcast recording studio and 3D printers in the maker’s lab.

The Trans Canada Trail cuts through Cambridge and the old electric rail line winds its way through Glen Morris, Paris and onward to Brantford. Hop on a bike and ride for miles in either direction in the company of willow trees, indigo buntings and monarchs. The Grand Trunk Trail will gently guide you to five diamond dining and the sweetest suites around at Langdon Hall Country Hotel and Spa (a Relais and Chateaux property). The 900-acre urban land trust that the adjoining RARE conservation group owns is popular for its community programming. Join naturalists at the Slit Barn for a tromp in the wetlands to find salamanders, sign up for an owl prowl, or snowshoeing, or check out their off-grid sustainable North House project where writers and artists can apply for residency programs.

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In Cambridge, you are in the epicentre of day tripping: St. Jacobs, Stratford, the Kissing Bridge at West Montrose, Elora Gorge and the lavender farms of North Dumfries are all less than an hour away. Be in downtown Toronto in an hour–or at YYZ in 45.

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We have bragging rights to Canada’s Heritage River–the Grand which makes its way from Elora to Lake Erie in Dunnville (299km). Drop in a canoe or kayak and see the underbelly of the river up close and personal. Did you know we have our own independent brewery here too? The Grand River Brewing Company offers tasting classes through the winter so you can earn a self-proclaimed PhD in Stouts.

Interior design mavens will be pulled in many directions. Southworks Antique Mall is one of the largest in Canada with a 30,000 square foot warehouse. At Cornerstone, the former Woolco offers two floors of contemporary finds (danger danger!). At The Art of Home, Blair House Gifts and Chair, Table, Lamp you’ll find whimsy, artwork, pillows and the unexpected.

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If you’re looking for a career jump, the University of Waterloo’s Architecture School is a 10 minute walk away. Want hand-pressed juices? Galt Juice Co. sells shelves of it and it’s like drinking a garden in a glass. Need a massage? The therapists at PUR Balance on Water Street will turn you into fondue.

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If you need an oyster fix, there’s buck-a-shuck nights at the historic Cambridge Mill (cocktails have never been lovelier–the cantilevered glass dining room leaves you perched right above the river at the Parkhill dam).

Here’s what you don’t know: Orioles do fly-bys in our backyard. You can pick strawberries nearby and buy local maple syrup from Diane just up the road.We grow lemon balm–you could make your own teas! Our house and gardens have been featured in Grand magazine, on the Galt Horticultural Tour and the annual Holly Jolly Christmas Tour (a local fundraising effort that supports women and children). You can hear church bells–on a still wintry night, there’s nothing as remarkable as that.

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It’s the bewildering kindness of this town that will amaze you. If you are looking for a home that is a sanctuary, a private backyard to reintroduce yourself to nature (and a few paperbacks), access to trails, exquisite dining, fun shops and something a little less hectic than the 416, this is it. This house isn’t generic, it’s oozing personality through its mortar and heart pine shake roof.

Come take a look inside our 155-year-old stone home and fall in love with it all, just as we did on the most miserable day in November, four years ago. Happiness lives here.

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Fine Print:

$439,900

2 bed/2 bath (carriage house had Murphy bed for possible 3rd bedroom)

Lot size: 82.04 x 133.58
Property taxes: $3,100
Square footage: 1556
Kitchen highlights reel: Black Fire Clay farm sink, Perrin & Rowe faucet, Cosmos black leather-finished granite counter, cathedral and tray ceilings in kitchen and carriage house (with exposed stone), frosted sycamore glass between rooms, built-in pantry, maple cabinets, dishwasher (all LG appliances included), custom 2″ black walnut breadboard table with custom fabricated metal legs
Main floor laundry (stackables in main bathroom), original stained glass window in main bath, hickory flooring (kitchen), original pine and oak floors 
Hot water gas boiler and radiators
Carriage house could be used as 3rd bedroom (has murphy bed) or office/studio space with exposed stone and Venetian plaster walls.
Crown moulding throughout, 10″ ceilings, 12″ baseboards, updated lighting, electrical and plumbing
Heart pine shake roof, cedar deck, outdoor stone table, storage shed
Aggregate stone driveway (2 parking spaces)
Rented equipment: hot water heater, Culligan water softener
Contact us at jtorti7@yahoo.ca

 

 

 

 

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Microadventure: Prince Edward County

Have you ever worried that maybe you’ve over-romanticized a place? Did nostalgia and gauzy honeymoon love make it something it wasn’t?

The last (and only time in this decade) that Kim and I were in Prince Edward County was a miserable September weekend in 2010. The skies were bruised with clouds and rain spit on us the entire time. Winter felt like it was breathing down our tanned summer necks too soon. We drove around the County on a whim with a crude map and followed even cruder signs to the emerging wineries in Wellington. We hadn’t booked a hotel and spent a few hours backing out of B&B’s with no vacancy, crappy panelled cottages that smelled like wet dog and instant coffee and lacklustre waterfront hotels. The Waring House was the perfect weather shelter with a Jacuzzi tub and on-site pub (check, check!).

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We loved PEC from the get-go, despite the drizzle and slop. It’s hung in the recesses of our mind like a retired jersey. There was a hesitation we were nervous to address. What if it wasn’t what we painted it to be? (And, in our nostalgic minds, all the colours–oils even–were streaked across the canvas like fireworks). What if we were just glassy-eyed from Malbec and our proposed area of relocation was a lunchbox letdown?

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Whew. Crisis averted. We are even deeper in the love quicksand now with our pastoral affair. We picked up a stack of local glossies and real estate guides before lunch. I was already in fast-forward mode, dog-earing pages, telling Kim about the local farm where we could go see alpacas get sheared. September was the big cheese festival in Picton. In the fall we could go to the observatory and help band migrating saw-whet owls. We could sleep in prospector tents and learn how to make beer and pluck our own greens at Fronterra.

Yeah, hooked.

The County is vibrating with everything from leggy wines to sausage makers to beekeepers to lavender fields. The entire area is perfumed by lilac forests. There are cutesy post offices, tiny library branches, bike trails and independent bookstores (wow!). Kim pictured us stand-up paddle boarding and walking the 49km Millennium trail end-to-end with some re-fuel stops offering Brut.

The thing is, PEC is a hotbed of creativity. Everyone here is chasing a dream or already sinking their teeth into it. There are countless galleries, colourful cafes, bike shops and over 40 wineries. There are bed and breakfast owners building octagon-shaped homes with straw bale insulation. North America’s first off-grid vineyard is here. Karlo Estates is North America’s first vegan certified winery. Stuff is going on. People network here and know each other by their dog and beat-up pick-up. The passion is tangible—this is a community populated with a surplus of talent, knowledge, nerdy obsessions and ambition. We want to live there.

There’s a silent handshake in PEC, a collective agreement to help buoy everyone in full dream pursuit. The very land is appreciated for its bounty and I believe, will be protected at all costs from wind turbines or horizon-clotting high rises. As we drove from Carrying Place to Bloomfield, we noticed several barn walls acting as open-concept galleries.

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The Barn Quilt Project was formed in late 2013 in recognition of Ontario’s disappearing landscapes: old timber-frame barns and farms. The movement kickstarted in Ohio in 2001, and has had a bucolic ripple effect. There are over 60 ‘barn quilts’ across the County, most measuring eight square feet. Pulled from traditional quilting patterns, the design of a single quilt block is painted on MDO (medium density overlaid) plywood. They create a true rambling outdoor gallery—you can even pick up a map and follow the trail.

Kim gushed over all the leaning barns—all that precious barn board! Her woodworker brain was on fire with possibility.

Obviously, as owners of a 153-year-old stone cottage, we pride ourselves in being caretakers of history. Seeing neglected barns being repurposed as gallery spaces, airbnb hotspots and wineries is a full circle win.

The Owl’s Nest B&B

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For our microadventure, we had very micro time to suck up the macro scenery and scout out real estate. Our home base was the Owl’s Nest B&B in Carrying Place. Janna and Jake have created a homesteader chic suite amongst the stands of lilacs. The welcoming committee are Pajamas and Slippers (not to put on, but they will be on you). The dogs are as affable as the owners who immediately invited us in to check out their main living quarters (wow!). Janna was quick to write out her faves in the area (I love when residents are such proud ambassadors) and we liked the idea of beer-battered perch at the Agrarian in Bloomfield. Ten years ago there was talk of the “100 Mile Diet.” Here? It’s the 10 mile diet, or, one mile with the owners sourcing as close to the restaurant as possible. (There’s even a market downstairs from the Agrarian where you can stock up on hotel room charcuterie and cheese.

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We dumped our bags inside the Nest (not before grazing on half a Mason jar of complimentary house made granola studded with cashews and dried apricots). The fridge was generously stocked with milk, cream, OJ, fresh eggs, strawberry preserves and half a loaf of whole wheat bread. In the freezer there were black bean and egg breakfast burritos laced with cheese and chili if we wanted—yes! We needed more time to eat!). The space is the perfect crash pad with coffee, tea, hot cocoa, toaster oven and stove top. It’s a B&B but without that awkward morning situation of small talk with other guests, or sleepily conversing with owners. You’re in charge of breakfast here.

The shower is a rainfall dream (Janna, a mad potter, has tricked out everything in clay here–from the shower tiles to the lamps to the coffee mugs), the bed a total cloud to sleep upon. The extras are all here: a selection of herbs, hot Dijon, soya sauce (for the sushi set), a small cooler for daytrippers, flashlights, bug spray, live clean body lotion, alba honeydew shampoo and a fun collection of books. The categories were a jumble—everything from philosophy to carnival worker memoirs, The World According to Gorp to How to Knit Your Own Dog.

I’m skipping ahead, but, I’m the writer here, so I’m in charge. That night we had a laugh going through Janna and Jake’s in-house DVD collection. What a gender blend of The Family Guy and the Sopranos to Bellydance Techniques, Yoga by Candlelight, Sex in the City, Fleetwood Mac in concert and Terminator. (We settled on Sideways as the vino-centric movie seemed appropriate and necessary viewing).

We were totally kitted out at the Owl’s Nest and hated to leave the zen-oozing grounds, but…

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Kim and I have a picture on the bedside table of us in the just-opened barn studio space of Karlo Estates from 2010. The upstairs loft was full of easels and paintings in various stages. The surrounds made you want to paint alpacas and inhale (not the paint—it smells like history and legend at Karlo).

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In 2010 we bought a bottle of Malbec that was like drinking red brick and horse blankets. Nothing has come close since. We drank it back in my Annex apartment by the fire, probably listening to Jann Arden and Tucker Finn on repeat. We celebrate a lot of things, chronically, so, the occasion in particular that made us open the bottle is amiss, but, it’s reassuring to know that in the near future we’ll be in closer proximity to the liquid velvet that they bottle.

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When we walked in to the tasting room I tried to not be all teenage-girl-Justin-Bieber-screamer-like, and elbowed Kim as we passed Doug Gilmour. Doug Gilmour! My dad is still envious that I met Janet Jones (Gretzky) back in highschool (skipping out before exams to go for Shirley Temples at Callahan’s). She signed my fluorescent pink Vuarnet t-shirt and I think my dad paid me $20 bucks for it. Still has it too. Crap, I should have had Doug sign my tee or blot me with red wine.

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Calm, cool and as collected as early morning wine tastings allow you to be, we allowed congenial Karlo staff member Liza to walk us through a proper tasting with Little Bug, the resident Karlo cat, curling around our wine glasses. The nibbles here really put the other wineries in the dust. Liza paired the flight with varietal IQ, laughter, asiago, cheddar, bleu, garlic stuffed olives and fat walnuts. The Sangiovese took my first place ribbon while Kim leaned toward the cab franc and Quintus blend. The VanAlstine white port (yes, there is such a divine thing) with a bite of bleu cheese was a surprising encounter. Fireside, lakeside, bedside, anywhereside, this port-style wine is like Riesling’s sweeter and sexier cousin.

And then, you know, sometimes it is about being in the right place at the right time, with garlic breath from that garlic-stuffed olive that seemed great at the time. With a Cheshire cat smile, Doug pulled us into his circle with a generous pour and  introduced us to his sophisticated line-up of Gilmour Wines: Corazon (“heart” in Spanish– a broad-shouldered tobacco and dark chocolate red), Orus (“leader”—think tangerine, silk, melons and meadows), and, your new summer prerequisite: Maddison (named after his daughter) rose. This one is the al fresco ticket.

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We left Karlo knowing that we’d had a rare sneak peek on the dynamic partnership between co-founder and owner Sherry Karlo and Doug. Why be legendary in just one niche (Sherry is a visual artist with serious accolades while Doug and his #93 Leafs jersey need little intro.)? Even rock ‘em-sock ‘em hockey player Kim would agree that a sun-soaked vineyard and conversation over pinot grigio is a palatable transition from the adrenalin and sweat-choked arena locker room (Though Doug still hangs out near the ice, coaching the Kingston Frontenacs.)

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Somehow we squeezed in The Grange, Three Dog Winery and smoked meat sandwiches with briny pickles at the Agrarian. We’ll have to return for the beer-battered perch on a bun (sold out). The place transforms into a speakeasy on weekends—another reminder of the ever-present coolness of the County.

Before turning homeward bound (a three hour slog), we drove around Consecon and Fish Lake, Ameliasburgh, Sophiasburgh (and a few other burghs) nodding in agreement that we’d be mentally well-nourished and stimulated in the County. We’re ready to take pastoral to the next level. Yes, there will be rosemary growing, beehives abuzz and, one of us will probably be glassblowing in no time. This is what happens here.

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So, now we just need a place with a sumptuous sunset view, on some body of water (pond, lake, creek), maybe walking distance to a winery and wood-fired pizza oven. Polished cement floors with radiant heating, a Japanese soaker tub, some Carrera marble, fieldstone fireplace, loft bedroom, bookshelf with one of those sliding ladders, a Wolf stove, a workshop that is a little taller than Smurf-height for Kim, floor-to-ceiling windows that retract and open up to a cedar deck and that above-mentioned mill pond, lake, burbling creek…that’s all.

We definitely need a place with an outdoor fire pit so we can look up at those stars and watch them realign as they always do for us.

Stay tuned.

Categories: Passport Please, Sip That | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“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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