gimme shelter

hutWhen I lived both in Edmonton and Winnipeg, a surefire conversation starter in the elevator was the weather. Moving west, want to chat with anybody from the Lower Mainland?  Talk about the housing market.

We moved here just over a year ago and ended up renting a single detached house in the neighbourhood of one of the schools we had carefully chosen for Aaron.  This sounds simple, but finding a neighbourhood and then a house was fraught with great drama.  We flew out one day in February, me shaking with anxiety about the prospect of not having anywhere to live.

Yes, boo hoo, thanks to everybody who reminded us that we brought this on ourselves by selling our house in Edmonton and choosing to move to Vancouver (well, Burnaby).  But life is for living folks – a rare work opportunity arose here for me – as I’ve taught my children – it is your responsibility to not turn opportunity away.

We found this modest home in the first suburb of Vancouver through the persistence of a realtor recommended by my sister-in-law.  This was the best $300 we ever spent.  The rental market here is tight (and whacky), and there were slim pickins to be had, especially for people with cats.  We showed up with cash to this house and secured it on the spot.  The housing rental gods were shining down on us that day.

We’ve happily lived here for the past 15 months while we settled into our new lives. Renting wasn’t as horrible as I thought.  Our landlord is a decent guy who kindly leaves us Starbucks gift cards every time he has to inconvenience us in any way.

But nice landlords aside, the downfall of renting is a lack of housing security.  The chill of anxiety returned earlier this year when there were rumblings from our landlord about putting the house on the market.  Then a cryptic text last month confirmed it and we were faced with the prospect of finding somewhere to live once again.

Lest you think this is a silly first world problem (and it is, of sorts), let me remind you of Maslow’s Hierarchy.  Some say shelter is the most basic of needs; this version says it comes #2, classified as safety (and after excretion).


I’d say my anxiety is just plain ole fear about having nowhere to live.  It feels like looking down a barrel of a gun.

So the great Vancouver question is:  rent or own?  (Unless you are eligible for a housing co-op, which we are not). The natural answer is to just buy the house we are renting, but (wait for it………), this house is only ONE MILLION DOLLARS over what we can afford.  Recall, my position is at a children’s hospital, which isn’t the best ‘get rich quick’ place to work.

And though I’d dearly love to move into the Main Street-Little Mountain area of Vancouver, a single family home there is about TWO MILLION DOLLARS over what we can afford.  So let’s just scratch the whole single-family dwelling in a neighbourhood of your choosing thing off our list.

Now, here I could get into a long monologue about housing prices.  I’ve dove into these conversations with others, which of course brings in the foreign ownership question, which teeters on a racial theme, where people often say:  it is the the wealthy Chinese, to which I respond:  well, remember 2008 when the housing market in the US collapsed, and wealthy Canadians giddily bought up cheap houses in places like Phoenix?  And how many people do we know who have vacation homes in Mexico?  It is the same thing.  This is unfettered capitalism at its best – if our government doesn’t regulate buyers, this is exactly what is going to happen in our global economy.  It isn’t the wealthy Chinese; it is our government’s own doing.

Rant aside, here we are, in need of shelter on September 1, 2016.  This has been a rather long, agonizing process of grief, scratching ‘must haves’ off our lists.

Must haves:
->I’ll take anything.

And then:
Three bedrooms
At least 1200 sq feet

Separate entrance
Two floors
->I’ll take anything.

We narrowed down the neighbourhood – so my husband can ride his beloved mountain bike to work, only five minutes is added to my reasonable commute & Aaron can go to his neighbourhood high school.

After dragging our boy to numerous open houses, we walked into a beautifully appointed condo with a view in a high rise.  (I know my Edmonton friends, who live in the land of never-ending land, are not going to believe we were considering apartments).

On our realtor’s urging, I wrote a letter to the buyers explaining why we wanted their home:  we loved their design choices, as prairie folk, we would especially appreciate that stunning view, and why we wanted to live in this small neighbourhood – a location purposely chosen with an eye to nurture Aaron’s independence.  In a community of 3,000 there was a chance he’d be recognized and known, and one day he’d be able to walk alone to the grocery store.  (A huge goal for us).

So once you find what you want, you just show up with your money and bid on a place, right?  In the Lower Mainland, this is a naive assumption.  The asking price isn’t the asking price at all, it is just the starting price.  So don’t even bother offering the asking price.  The realtors have caused such an artificial frenzy in the market they are all saying:  Bid over!  Bid over!  So everybody does and zoooom – the prices go up and up to infinity  and beyond.We overbid, but not enough.  

But our little letter pushed us over the edge and we were welcome to resubmit our bid, slightly higher, to match the highest bid.  After much sweating on our part, we were accepted.  The influence of my letter is my little glimmer of hope that the real estate market isn’t just about the money – there is a touch of humanity in there too.

A nightmare of breath-holding, banks who don’t understand small businesses, banks & mortgage brokers who err on the side of thinking you are trying to cheat them,  a gutting of savings, etc. followed these past ten days.

Yesterday, the deal finally closed.  Our financing was approved.  In 4.5 weeks, we will be downsizing by half and moving into our deluxe apartment in the sky.  (Anybody want any of our excess furniture?  Camping stuff?  Tools?  Free to a good home!).

Can we handle apartment living?  We shall see.  We have secured housing (and hopefully an eventual asset) for our boy, which is a huge relief.  The Rolling Stones sum up this whole post:  first with Gimme Shelter and then:

You can’t always get what you want…but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you’ll get what you need.

ps:  this is also known as:  when entitled Albertans eat humble pie + learn to adapt to the Vancouver way.


4 thoughts on “gimme shelter

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