Lower mainland, we seem to be at a [housing] impasse

Lower mainland, we seem to be at a [housing] impasse

We remain without a home, three months after the flood. I would say it’s wearing thin, but at this point there’s nothing left to wear at all.

It was over two years ago, before I was diagnosed with cancer, that we first considered buying a place of our own. We found a place, we made a bid, our offer was accepted, and we realized that the cost of daycare was about to become so crippling that there was no way we could afford both a home of our own and childcare in Port Moody, so we couldn’t remove our subjects. That was the first place we failed to buy.

Next came the cancer, and the chemotherapy, and all the stress that accompanied it. Once that stabilized and I went into remission, we started casually looking for a place to buy in Port Moody once more, as we were feeling squeezed in our apartment.

The first place we liked, back in February, we saw only on a whim. It was a nice three bedroom townhouse in the complex where Lyra’s best friend lives, listed at $333,000 and it was basically perfect for us. We dropped in to the open house on a Saturday and were unexpectedly making an offer by Sunday morning.

But so were a whole lot of other people.

We offered the maximum we could pull together for a 5% down payment on short notice, put in our offer, and hoped for the best. We were outbid by a mere three thousand dollars; but it was three thousand dollars we didn’t have. The experience renewed our excitement and hope that we actually could, in fact, buy a place that would fit our family’s needs – room for the people, room for our bikes, room for an office where Adam could work from home, and close to the daycare and school. So, while we were a bit sad that we lost the place, we decided to start looking in earnest again.

It was a month before another seemingly likely candidate surfaced. It was in the same complex. And it was listed at $90,000 more than the place we had bid on. It was more than we could reasonably afford, and we thought, “it can’t possibly go for that much; look at what the last place sold for, and this one isn’t updated as much as that one was!”

We were wrong. It sold for just under asking price.

A new market

Slightly horrified, but still hopeful, we kept looking. Vancity started offering a first-time homebuyer’s promotional loan that allowed us to increase our down payment, which opened our options up a bit more, but that last place selling for nearly 100k over what the market suggested turned out to be a sign of the future, and not some sort of anomaly.

It was a few more months before we found another townhouse to bid on. It had some compromises; 40 years old (again), asking $388,000, in a not-as-ideal-but-still workable location, with the original furnace and mostly older appliances. We did everything right with our bid – we removed all the subjects before making an offer, including paying for a home inspection beforehand, and we came in above asking at our absolute maximum of $395,000, knowing that with strata fees on top of mortgage payments, loan payments, and the CMHC payment, we were going to have slightly less room in our monthly budget than we wanted. But it was still manageable, so we took that leap.

Once more, we were outbid — this time by around $15,000. We were a little more heartbroken than the last time, because we had tried so hard to do everything right. But we regrouped and kept looking.

Velociraptors strike!

It was only a few weeks later in May that we encountered our next Velociraptor Incident: the great flood of 2015. Suddenly, we were rendered homeless; our things put into storage, struggling to find a place to live while they assessed the damage and started on repairs of our rental apartment.

Our family of four (+dog) couchsurfed, we stayed in hotels, and finally we found a furnished place to rent for the summer, in the hopes that we would be able to move back in after repairs were done. We couldn’t help thinking that maybe this meant the right place to buy would show up, finally, but the more we looked, the more the prices went up around our home community. With child daycare spaces being so hard to get, and not wanting to change Lyra’s elementary school unless absolutely necessary, we were still hoping to find a place… but the reality of our situation was getting demoralizing. Not only were fewer and fewer places available in the Lower Mainland real estate market, but we were also facing the fact that the places that were coming up were listing above our (already increased with help from the Credit Union) price range.

The forty year old Port Moody townhomes we had previously seen listed in the 350-400k range were listing at 400-450. We were getting priced out of our home area, where we had built our support and social networks, where our kids had found friends and security in their own lives, where we had easy access to our downtown jobs. People started telling us to move further east to Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge, Mission even, and we seriously considered it and looked around, weighing the benefits vs. the costs. Turns out we don’t like Pitt Meadows, or Maple Ridge, and especially not Mission, and moving further out without any benefit other than home ownership was a depressing thought.

Enforced vacation living is not as fun as it sounds

Our furnished summer rental gave us stability and a base close to our old place, which made it easy to keep the girls in their already arranged summer daycares for the summer. All of our belongings stayed in storage except for the bare minimum. Knowing we were going to move again at the end of the summer, we didn’t want to have to unpack and repack too much. It was like staying in a vacation suite, but still having to go to work and have normal non-vacation lives.

We kept our plans to take a road trip to Oregon in early August, where we had a lovely time. And we kept trying to figure out how to resolve our personal housing crisis.

Repairs on our rental place had not yet begun by early July, and we were given no real timeline as to when they might be done. Maybe in November, if we get lucky. And even if we do move back into the old apartment eventually, it was already getting too small for us. The girls share a small bedroom; the third bedroom is Adam’s office. What little storage space we have there is taken up by bikes, which spill over into the dining area. It’s mostly underground, and damp, and while they’re supposed to be fixing the mould issue, we’re still not totally comfortable with the idea of moving back in there with that factor. We spent so much time last winter sick; it might be a coincidence, but it might not.

We have to move on August 31. September will be a combination of staying with friends and house-sitting. October and beyond is a mystery. Moving every two weeks or so is exhausting, but it’s what we have to do. The kids are showing signs of the stress and lack of stability — Lyra worries that we’re going to end up on the street, and tells us so. Adam and I aren’t doing much better.

So we’ve started to think a little more creatively. We’ve started to look at the Sunshine Coast.

It’s a tricky concept, but we’re trying to figure out how we can make it work. We haven’t found the right solution yet. We’re more hopeful about this idea, however, than we are of finding a place that works for us that we can afford in our neighbourhood.

I’ll let you all know how things progress.