Thursday 4 August 2016

Property hunting, vol. 1

On Monday morning, we started out on our first day of property hunting in the Okanagan. We were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when we left, eager to find out what the day had in store. Always a romantic and (not-so) secretly believing in miracles, I had high hopes that we would find the one on our first day. After all, the pictures had looked fabulous - how bad could it be?

Oh, how bad indeed. 

Property #1, Hodgepodge house. 
Upon meeting our real estate agent, we head towards contestant #1. I am thrilled, because from the photos, that one has huge potential: 10 acres, a log home, and a large pond right by the house. I picture sitting on the covered deck with Rich in the evenings, sipping wine, watching the swans and ducks glide gracefully over the water, the dogs playing and the owls hooting ...

"You can't keep any bird alive here", Rich states matter-of-factly, shattering this particular dream at once. "See the steep hill right behind the house? There is wildlife coming down here in masses. They will kill everything."
Oh. So much for that.

Still, there can be a solution for that, right? Better fencing, covered enclosures, something... Optimistically, I head around the house. There is a small building behind it, a shed of sorts. Peering through the windows, I see what looks like living quarters: A two-burner hot plate, some clothes strewn about, boots on the floor, books on the walls. Upon a closer look, I realize that the shed is actually built onto a camper. Confused, I step back and look around. Is that a - bath tub over there? Sure enough, there is a bath tub in the grass a few feet away from the camper. A few two-by-fours have been nailed together as a make-shift privacy fence, shielding the tub from two sides. Rich starts to laugh: "Somebody lives here, and we are standing in his bathroom!"
I wonder if he comes with the house?

Finally, we go inside. The first room we step into looks great: An open living/dining room with lots of windows, letting sun and light in. It has high, vaulted ceilings, and the walls, flooring, furniture, and stairs are all wood. It looks cozy and inviting. The kitchen is attached to the living area, pretty small, but with windows all along the work area. I like being able to look out the window when I'm cooking, so I'm not too bothered about the small size.

"Where are the bed rooms?", our agent wonders aloud. There seem to be none around.
We start searching, and discover a covered hallway of sorts. It looks like the connecting walkways between buildings, the ones you see in hospitals or malls sometimes.
The thing is: This house isn't one building. It's two small houses with steep pitched roofs, on stilts, connected by the walkway-structure.

We enter the second house, and step into one big room. The room contains everything: A queen-sized bed in one corner, which is the first "bedroom"; a desk, couch, and coffeetable in the centre of the room functioning as the office/living room; and a kitchen on the other side, with a tiny breakfast nook squeezed into the corner.
Our agent checks the listing, where it clearly states that the house has 3 bedrooms. Where are they? As we gaze around, Rich notices a ladder attached to the ceiling. It has a pulley on the side, and upon pulling it, the ladder descends slowly from the ceiling. We look at each other, amused, and I climb up, to discover a small loft that's completely bare. The owners installed a headboard on the side closest to the stairs, and I realize that when putting a mattress on the floor, it would look like a bed. Sort of.

The third bed room is in the basement, and it's the only real bedroom of the house. It actually has a door you can close! There's also a shower around the corner, but that's it: Just a nook for a shower. No door, no sink, no space even to hang a towel. It's as if there was a recess in the wall, one you could use for shelving, or maybe a closet, and they decided to install a shower instead.

The entire house is a curious mishmash of beautiful details, put in odd locations. Like the fact that there is a pretty claw-foot bathtub - with the toilet directly next to it. Nothing is straight, everything looks DIY, done by a creative genius with little patience for a measuring tape.

As we exit the house, Rich looks at me with a pained expression, and asks apprehensively: "You are not seriously considering it, are you?" I laugh and shake my head. It's interesting, but definitely not for me.

Property #2, The House of Horrors.  
Just down the road is contestant #2. We know little about this place, aside from it being 10 acres, because there was only one single photo. As soon as we lay eyes on the house, it becomes apparent why: The house is a tear-down. It's a wood shack, described as "partially remodelled and ready to be finished to your own taste". That's a wild exaggeration if I ever heard one. We almost don't even want to step inside, but figure we have come this far, we may as well take a look.

To reach the front door, you have to pass over a ditch. What's over the ditch? A few planks nailed together, creaking ominously upon stepping on them. I feel a hard hat and steel toed boots would be a more appropriate attire than my sandals and long skirt. This looks like a construction site!

The agent knocks on the door, and we hear a voice from inside inviting us to come in.
We open the door.
The inside is dark. All the windows are covered with either cardboard or blankets, presumably in an effort to keep the house cool. As my eyes adjust to the gloom, I notice boxes upon boxes everywhere. There is no furniture in this room, just boxes and junk. A tiny woman of indeterminable age bustles in, greeting us. I can't help but think of the witch from Hansel and Gretel. She gives me the creeps.
Apparently she was packing - I think? - because the second room also contains numerous boxes. We quickly pass through, into a dark kitchen. I barely look around, eager to get this tour over with. I do notice that this seems to be the room that's used the most, because it looks tidier than what we have seen so far. We poke our head into a sad little bedroom with peeling wall paint, and open the back door to stick our heads out. A tiny kitten darts away, and I'm overcome with pity that she has to live here.

We say goodbye, and beat a hasty retreat.

"I wouldn't stay here if they'd pay me", Rich states, and I wholeheartedly agree. This place is horrible.

Property #3, Smells Like Old People.
This place is also 10 acres. Judging from the photos I have seen, this is the house I am most apprehensive about: The interior is a symphony of 70's chic, with orange carpets, a dark-brown wood-panelled wall in the living room, and linoleum that hurts my eyes.
But the land looks nice, and it can't be worse than the last place, can it?

We drive along a pretty road with farms dotted along on both sides. Not bad. When the agent pulls into the driveway, I'm hopeful: The property shows promise. We pass over a creek (on a real bridge this time!), with cottonwood and willow trees growing around it. The grass field is big and level, with plenty of room for our horses, llamas and sheep.

As we step out of the car, the heat hits us squarely in the face. This place is HOT. It is a hot day, with temperatures over 30ÂșC, but the other two places provided some shade and a breeze. This one doesn't. Looking around, I picture my furry Bear, looking in vain for a cool place. He wouldn't find it here.
The house is a big square box, bleached by the sun. It has a balcony along the front, and a large covered deck on the side of the house. Below the deck are tables covered with stuff: Figurines, plates, glassware, old toys, books, vases, clothes. It looks like a yard sale.

We enter the house, and the first thing we notice is the smell. A smell I recognize from my (now-deceased) grandparent's house: Old people smell.
It's hard to describe it. If you have encountered it, you will know exactly what it smells like. If not, let me try to explain:
It's a mix of unwashed bodies and clothes, mildew, cooked cabbage, 40-year old carpets, moth balls, and medication. It evokes images of dirty pots put back into the cupboards, of haphazardly washed dishes, of old food rotting slowly away in the fridge.

It's not a deal breaker (or is it?), but it makes me dislike the house immediately.
The bones of it aren't bad: It's big (over 3,000 square feet), has large rooms and not a bad layout. In fact, the layout is similar to our house, because they are both roughly the same age.

But I hate everything about it. The windows are small, making the rooms look dreary and cheerless. The decor is old-fashioned, which is understandable given the probable age of the owners (judging by the smell, they are no spring chickens).

One look into the bathroom makes me shudder: The bathtub is old and stained, and I absolutely refuse to entertain the idea of ever taking a bath in there. I'd rather use the garden hose.

The balcony is old and rickety as well, and doesn't look all that safe. Besides, it's completely bare, with the sun beating down on it mercilessly. I can't imagine ever coming out here.

The entire house reminds me of a sweat box. I've always adored warm weather and sunshine, but this place makes the sun the enemy. It's just too much. No shade, no trees close by, just flat land. There are a few trees behind the house, but they don't provide any shade, and you have to climb up a steep hill to get there.

We spend some time there, because Rich doesn't dislike it as much as I do. We discuss all the renovations we would have to do: New flooring in all the rooms, new bathroom, repair the deck, paint every single wall, rip out the wood paneling in the living room. Rich estimates that it would easily cost another $100,000.

As we say goodbye to the agent, with her promising to try to find something else for us with an increased budget, and us assuring her we'll think about it, I am discouraged.
Nothing about this town and the places we have seen feels right.

"What do you want to do?", Rich asks me.
"Let's get the hell outta here!", I tell him, and we do just that. We jump into our car, and start heading north.

With every mile we put in between us and the town, we feel better. We've just gotten started, no need for pessimism! After about an hour I text the agent, thanking her for her time, and telling her that we've decided that Oliver isn't the right place for us, and that we want to look further north, in the Vernon area.
To our surprise, she texts back, offering to put us in touch with an agent there who specializes in hobby farms.

We gratefully accept the offer, and at 9pm of our first day, the new agent has emailed us 7 properties that may be of interest to us. With each new place I get more excited: They look great! Rich cautions me to be careful, because as we learnt today, real estate photography can be a cunning liar.

Nevertheless, I'm excited again, and we narrow it down to 5 places we can check out the next day.

What will the next day bring? Will we find our dream place?
Stay tuned for part 2!

Vol. 2 | Not meant to beVol. 3 | Vol. 4 Vol. 5


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