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Monday, January 23, 2012

Back in time for a quarter

I recently wrote an article on alternate housing options for the Vancouver Observer. The idea of taking a home, putting in a suite and a laneway and dividing it between 3 parties who are listed as tenants in common on title. The division would be covered by contract. I used an example of a house that could be bought for $1.6m.
 It would cost each buyer $700 to get in to that 1/3 section( after renos, costs etc..). I thought I would look back and see how long ago you would have had to buy in to the Real Estate market to get that whole house for $700k.
 One example stood out. This put the whole idea that the " price of housing has gone up" into context

A quaint little Dunbar house on W 22 nd  sold this month for $1.605m
It had sold in 2005 for $830,000
It had sold in 2002 for $448,000
It had sold in 2000 for $398,000
11 years ago I could have bought 4 of these house for what 1 will cost me today.
 My husband works for our National Airline, He makes LESS today then he did 11 years ago. I am sure a huge percentage of our workers are in this same boat. Who says we have little inflation?

This November I have been asked to speak at an alternative housing forum put on by the Real Estate Board's North Shore Division. I really hope that by then, 11 months from now. We have created viable options for people. Going back 11 years isnt going to happen.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Divide and Conquer

It all started innocently enough. We had a family of five and our house was effectively a 3 bedroom home and we get heaps of visitors- as I have most of my family and friends living abroad. So a kid sleeping on the couch became tedious. We needed more space
. Our cottage of 1300 sq ft sits on a huge 14,000 sq ft lot. We could add on. We hired a popular designer who dealt with bespoke developement- meaning tailored to meet individual needs. Off we went.
Rather than being constrained with a budget, we told him "design what we need and want and we will do it when we have the funds to do so". Current zoning stipulated that if we wanted 4 bedrooms upstairs than the main floor had to increase and go out into the yard as a terrace effect- you could not have a 2 or 3 story box. This also meant that the basement had to go out into the yard considerably to accommodate the larger living area above. We briefly looked at a bridge type structure as we didnt need a big basement but the engineering of that would take most of building budget!
So, as the design was gorgeous and totally maximized the view and had everything we wanted we put it through permits. $30,000 in design , permits and engineering were paid and the plans were ready to pick up and start.
The night sweats started.
Irritability set in, and neither my husband nor I picked up the permits. No one wanted to discuss the elephant in the room.
Finally one night I said " I dont need a huge home,I dont think we can afford to build this, I dont want a massive basement, and I dont want to clean that many bathrooms!!"
My husband agreed.
We looked at the plan, there was very little yard left as the building had to go so far out on ground level. The beautiful granite wall was about 2 feet in the wrong place and would have to come down and we were staring at a 2500 sq ft basement- almost 2 times what we were living in now- of unfinished space!.
We realised we loved that granite wall, we loved the big yard and all we needed was a couple bedrooms.
So we started with the pool and built that. That way as we cleaned up the rest we had somewhere to go and relax at the end of the day. Then we looked at our existing rec room and simply divided the space up. New appliances, fancy faucetts and fresh paint, and we had a house  we could live in.

The rooms are adequate, not large. But this means the kids tend to come and do their work on the dining room table and discuss stuff with us. It also means we have to all decide what we want to watch on TV and negotiate because the 2 TV's are in public places. The hallway connecting the kids rooms is extra wide with a couch recessed in on one side and flat screen on the other-so it can be an emergency rec room if we have friends over and our son wants to play WII with police siren soundtracks. We dont have a lot of parties in the winter but we have a neighborhood full of families over in the summer. The 20 by 40 pool brings them all over! and we set up an outdoor BBQ and dining area so many stay for dinner after sunset.
In the winter we get invited to those families that came over in the summer. It works. This is how I became so convinced that we can live smaller. As a Real Estate agent I knew all about maximizing the property and thats what everyone has been programmed into thinking. As a mother I knew smaller more intimate spaces keep our kids closer and part of the family. I have seen kids that have a whole recroom to themselves with TV, computer  and  sometimes even a drink fridge - they dont surface till they are hungry. Its not the kind of family I wanted.
 I hope that soon we will allow 2 small homes to be built on some of these lots that now allow for only 1 6000 sq ft house. Maybe more people can experience this freedom.... and togetherness.