milestone 2: home ownership

This is part two of my re-capping of the last year or so.

2016 was all-around a year of horrors. It is known. Somewhere in the middle of it, Husband and I found out that the apartment we were renting in New Westminster was being sold. This was the second time that had happened to us in less than two years.

This is hardly the worst story anyone who is a renter in the Greater Vancouver area had, but it’s probably about par for the course. In a nutshell, the housing situation in Vancouver has always been terrible for everyone for anyone below upper middle class.*

But in the last few years, housing prices have been swooping upwards at an alarming rate, just like those line graphs of how fucked we are by climate change. And, inversely, rental vacancies have plummeted, just like those line graphs of how likely we are to survive climate change.

Husband and I had been diligently saving for our down-payment for a few years now and, while this was a little ahead of our planned schedule, we thought that rather than just rent another place only to get reno-evicted in a few months, we might as well look to buy.

Our plan had been to first buy a condo in New West, similar to what we’d been renting. We love New West and it really feels like home. We like the small-scale urban feel, as well as the sense of community we have from all our familiar haunts.

The plan was to eventually upgrade to a townhouse somewhere in several years, maybe five. You know, when we were ready to hit the suburbs. But with the way prices were going, we realized that if we didn’t buy a townhouse now, we were likely never going to be able to afford one.

So we started looking at townhouses in Surrey, south of the river and another ‘sphere of influence’ removed from Vancouver. Thus goes the pattern of suburban drift. The four years we spent in New West, we watched it gentrify. We were even at the forefront of that. We are not blameless. It just feels like it all happened overnight.

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Cat shown for scale.

Trying to buy anything was a nightmare. Each place would go on the market, have one open house, and then start taking offers even as early as that night. And forget the listing price. So many offers were coming in, you needed to go sometimes as high as $60,000 or $70,000 higher than listing on your initial offer. There was no negotiating. No saying maybe we should get an inspection first? 

For us, with our typical mortgage and financing, we were competing against cash offers. Mostly boomers who just sold their detached house for over a million (God knows how little they paid for it in the 1980s or 1990s.) and were now looking to downsize. It was a shitty time to be a first-time home-buyer.

But, hey: we are the lucky ones. 

I know this. I keep telling myself this. We are insanely lucky. But so it goes: you always look up but never down. You see those even luckier people who bought a few years ago or who have their parents bankrolling them but never those who will likely be renting the rest of their lives or who will be waiting for a government sea change in order to even have a roof over their heads.

The place we ended up snagging is a bit out of the way and a bit of a fixer-upper. But it’s ours. So now it’s time to learn some DIY.


*If you live in the Greater Vancouver area and have had nothing but blue skies in your housing situation (and if you have actually *gasp* MADE money in the last little housing bubble), then fuck you. I don’t wanna hear it. The rest of us are livid.

negatively fourth street is no more

Last weekend we handed over the keys. This followed a night of sweeping and polishing a floor that – no matter how much we SWIFFERED HARDER, DAMN IT – still could not be freed of all cat fluff. Those stray hairs and random popcorn kernels are a part of our tenancy that the apartment clung to, like a serial killer who keeps trophies of each victim.

It is hard to know that you’ve cleaned out every nook and cranny when the building has spent the last 86 years making nooks and crannies the primary characteristic of its uniquely vintage facade.

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It’s also hard to decide what I will miss most: the crooked everything, from walls, to door frames, to windows, to floors; the fact that only one plug in the entire apartment is three-pronged; the ever-present pot smell in the hallway; the constant dub-step emanating from the bro downstairs; the trip into the horror film basement every time a fuse needs replacing; the windows that rattle in the wind, leak in the rain, won’t open in the blistering heat, or (if you’re talking about the window in the shower stall) won’t close at all; or the leaky radiator, which, when you list all the others, now seems such a minor complaint that we totally forgot about it until the radiator kicked back into operation mid-September and left a puddle of water that ran directly across the living room because the building is sinking on one side.

Goodbye, Negatively Fourth Street. Goodbye New West Egg. Goodbye Slanty Shanty. Whatever we decided to call you, good riddance.

positively – well, almost certainly – 4th street

This past weekend, Husband and I rented an apartment on 4th Street in New Westminster. This three-storey walk-up was built oh-so optimistically one year before the crash (1928). With views of apartment blocks, a cobbled road and a slice of an industry-laded river, it makes us feel like we’re living in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.

We’ve even nicknamed the place “New West Egg.”*

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Not-so-Beautiful-but-certainly-Damned, our first night in New West Egg was capped off by a trip to Walmart in search of fuses. We’re still working on figuring out how to work a radiator.

Yes: the floor runs at an angle along one wall. The windows are cold and single pane. But it has character. It has tall ceilings, hardwood floors, a toilet from “Simpsons Sears,” and kitchen cupboards painted like zebra stripes. Yes, this character most definitely would wear flapper dresses, dangle cigarette holders from her fingertips, and be prone to drunken public meltdowns.

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*A great joke for humourless fans of Gatsby and/or puns.

an eventful week (or, “a week full of events”)

Last Thursday we returned on the train from York to Doncaster, enjoying one last chance to experience the UK with the carefree attitude of souvenir-shopping tourists. No longer was there a life to plan.

Friday we enjoyed one last dinner with my aunt and uncle, our gracious hosts during this two month stint of ego, pride and ambition.

Saturday we flew. (Highlights of said flight included, as always: 1. watching terrible movies you normally have too must self-respect to consider, and 2. walking the tightrope that is the threat of deep-vein thrombosis.)

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Sunday I awoke at four-thirty in the morning because jet lag will fuck you up so bad that were I a luchador, I would seriously consider the name “El Jet Lag.” Later, I public-transited my ass downtown with a new-found respect for a metro system that allows you scenic views of something other than centuries-old coal dust-blackened tunnels. There, I was interviewed by Sad Magazine for fantasy fiction contest-related reasons that will become apparent in the next week or so when they go to print.

Monday it was back to work. My routine returned quickly although my confidence did not. I spent the better part of the day fielding questions, simpering at surprised faces, and feeling like a twat everytime I said words like “loo” or “trousers” (or “twat”). Meanwhile, Husband was on the apartment hunt!

Tuesday we viewed a flat an apartment. (See? I did it again! I honestly typed out “flat” because apparently I am an asshole now.) We were back in New West because, as we learned by unexpectedly comparing everywhere we went in Britain to it, New West was that girl next door we never knew we were in love with until she went off and married the high school quarterback.

Wednesday we signed the lease because Vancouver kicks Britain’s arse ass in the rental world. No bureaucracy, just a landlord who took a shine to our wholesome visage. The same day, we bought our new car and welcomed a new nephew into the world.

Which brings us full-circle to Thursday.

That’s all I’ve got. How’ve you been?

on the embarrassing act of coming home

Today we fly back to Vancouver. The great experiment – one might say – has failed.

I know that over the next week, the explanation will boil itself down to an easy deflection: one or two lines doing their best to contain both logic and pride.

It took us several days and a good dose of demoralization to finally come to the conclusion to come home. We weighed pros and cons, painted competing visions of the future, and tried to think it through in the most logical way possible. We gave ourselves time, and gave ourselves perspective. This was a decision we did not want clouded by such temporary factors as culture shock or bureaucratic annoyances, or faulty expectations.

In the end, all logic seemed on the side of going home. The only sincere mark in the stay column was embarrassment / wounded pride.

In the time we’ve been here, we found the plan shifting constantly, just as what’s-her-vampire-face’s visions shifting constantly in Twilight. (Ugh. I can’t believe I just used Twilight as a reference point.) The last – to sign a six-month lease in Hebden Bridge and keep looking for jobs – slowly crumbled as we started to think “What then?” What if we simply didn’t get jobs? Two months here and barely a bite. Sure, I got a job at a bookshop, but that was just not feasible with the cost of living in London. And I applied for about five or six bookshop jobs and was only called for interviews for two of them. Of those two, I only got the one job.

At the end of the six months, with no money coming in, our savings would be gone. We’d come back home with nothing: absolutely nothing.

Several factors might not make that seem such a difficult position to face. Perhaps if we were younger? At thirty, the world has a different expectation of you. Coming back broke and unemployed and likely stuck living with parents begins to look pathetic. We would not come to calls of “all hail the conquering travellers” but rather “why haven’t you sorted your life out yet?” At least that’s the implication you get in undertones and side-glances.

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Having spent most of the last ten years or so with this idea lodged in my mind that I would go work in England for a while, it actually feels something of a relief to be able to let that go. We can go home, and gone will be the feeling that everything is temporary. I can do those things I always wanted to do but didn’t because I never felt okay settling. I can sew cushions, paint furniture, get a cat. All those shitty kitchen utensils I had and never wanted to spend the money on replacing I can now replace.

There’s something of a weight gone. So, while things might not be the best case scenario we dreamed of when we left, we will still be in a better place than two months ago.

 

british bureaucracy for the impatient

It’s been a week on and we’ve yet to hear anything from the estate agent. It’s been more than a month since the first job applications began and we’ve yet to hear anything from potential employers.

Is our luck running low(er)?

Or are we victims of the infamous British bureaucracy?

It’s something we noticed rather quickly yet it has increased in its frustration. There’s a middle-man to everything. As difficult as apartment-hunting was back home, at least it only comprised the following steps:
1. Call landlord to arrange viewing
2. View apartment and sign application
3. Landlord phones you to say, “you can move in Saturday”

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Here it is thus:
1. Ring up an estate agent
2. Estate agent tells you it’s already been let but they don’t take down the posting because fuck-you-that’s-why
3. End up on a mailing list where you get ten spam emails and two phone calls a day with the estate agent trying to flog you other flats
4. Do this several times and end up on several mailing lists
5. Finally find a flat that is available, arrange to see it
6. See the flat, decide to apply, but that means you agree you have to pay up front because you’re still on the job hunt
7. Wait for the estate agent to ring the landlord to see if this is okay, even though the only person benefiting from six months’ rent in advance is the landlord herself
8. Pay your two hundred pounds agent fees
9. Discover the estate agent doesn’t even check the references themselves and outsources it to a referencing company even though we don’t need a credit check because we’re paying up front so all someone needs to do is email our old landlord to check that we never broke anything.
10. Wait and wait and wait

As the job hunt grows bleaker and bleaker, we can’t help but wonder if a similar form of bullshit exists for recruitment agencies on which to blame the delays. Otherwise, we’re just unemployable in this country. That’s a distinct possibility. Doesn’t keep the job-seekers spam out of my inbox, however.

The options now seem thus: rent a flat (eventually) and keep up the (possibly futile) job search while our savings dwindle, or cut our losses and go home, pride bruised and bleeding, but finances intact.

The reality is, we’ve decided that we don’t want to stay here forever. I could elaborate, but that’s what it’s come too. We like it here, but can’t see making a life of it. If we could, perhaps that might change things.

hebden bridge settlings

We’ve applied for a flat in Hebden Bridge, a West Yorkshire town that boasts these superlatives:

Coolest Place to Live in Britain

Wettest Place in Britain

Lesbian Capital of Britain

Britain’s “Suicide Central”

and…

Best Town in Britain
Aviary Photo_130255507719912511It’s the Commercial Drive of Britain. Wait, no, the Victoria of Britain. No, the Mount Pleasant. But it has lots of hiking, so maybe that makes it the North Vancouver…?
Aviary Photo_130255508017252470Regardless, it’s a lovely town full of independent shops and hippies. Perhaps not quite as hippie-filled as Vancouver, but perhaps nowhere is. And so much remains to be seen.
Aviary Photo_130255509140489710We are just waiting for the paperwork to go through and then the flat is ours! (NOTE: certainly something may and most likely will go wrong!)

Aviary Photo_130256251661120379After a quick furnishing from Ikea, we shall be moved in and cosy. Then it is all the organic food, art fairs, and nature walks we could want!
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stephen fry – a fortuitous symbol?

It seems quite ironic (or perhaps not ironic at all) that after discovering at long last the unencumbered joy of QI and the limitless glee of Stephen Fry’s memoirs that we should spot him strolling along Piccadilly as we sip our organic coffee.

I do not believe in signs or fate or anything of the sort. They are a trick of psychology: a confirmation bias wherein we see what we want in order to justify our desires or decisions. Thus, seeing Stephen Fry in London is not a sign that we have made the right decision in moving here, or that everything will turn out fine. Yet it seems so obvious a sign. Prior to the sighting, did I not just post not-one-but-two Stephen Fry quotes (as some allegedly nuanced depiction of my inner self)?

Aviary Photo_130301708977252343Yes. But it means nothing. If this were a fictionalised account, one would call shenanigans at the utter lack of imagination in the cliché of Stephen Fry waltzing through our brave new world. It reminds me of a scene in Douglas Coupland’s The Gum Thief where the main character spots Johnny Depp leaving a shop in Paris. I remember thinking it such a deus ex machina for character growth. I remember it being the moment I realized I outgrew Douglas Coupland.

Would it not be a better sign the fact that I got a job at a bookshop?

Yes. But that still means nothing.

I am very eager to work at this bookshop, but I know that there is still so much against us. I cannot predict how a part-time, minimum-wage job is going to pan-out long-term. Perhaps our days here are numbered.

But I’m almost okay with that. Perhaps that is why I choose to ignore the potential symbolism of Stephen Fry.

The difference between London as I knew it and London now is five years. For me, that means I’m days away from thirty; for London, that means a recession. Between twenty-five and thirty lies the most transitive period one undergoes short of puberty. That’s when you really settle into who you are.

As we spent this morning moving from one hostel to another, from Bayswater to Docklands, from tube to bus (thanks “track maintenance”) to DLR, there comes a moment when you find it just too tiring to fight off that nagging realisation that “I’m too old for this shit.”

Aviary Photo_130301708622643821I’m too old for hostels. I don’t need to get to know young people from Holland only in town to party. I don’t have the patience for single beds or shared showers or a lack of privacy. God damn it, I’m almost thirty. Some most evenings, I just want to collapse into the sofa with my husband and watch a few episodes of whatever show we’re working our way through this month.

Now will someone please rent us a flat so we can get on with this already?

the last scene of The Graduate

This is dizzying, this running away to England. The excitement! The anxiety! The rollercoaster of emotion!

Aviary Photo_130301718723210837As Husband said, it probably won’t feel like we actually live there until months from now when suddenly one moment we realize somewhere along the way we adopted a new routine. Our alarm clock will have a regular setting, our morning a usual commute. The newness will have worn off.

Aviary Photo_130301719021520017Until then, it will feel like a vacation. But a stressful one. Like some madcap mid-1980s National Lampoon’s movie where every step is fraught with adventure: everything goes wrong and the stakes have never been higher! Will we make it to Wally World? WILL WE?!

Aviary Photo_130301719522840724There’s always a lingering sensation: when the exhilaration fades what will remain? As scary as it seems when I let the overwhelming feeling in, the real answer is: “so much.”

the turning point

By virtue of waking up early to get everything out of our apartment, I am at work a whole fifty minutes early. The near-silence is astounding. I say “near” because a diligent few chatter on phones in the distance and the barista at the coffee stand is organizing her till. But the usual din of ringing phones, insolent queries, and idle gossip has yet to cycle in.

Aviary Photo_130301663784626827Patches of darkness cling to corners of the office: lights not yet turned on because there is not yet anyone to illuminate. It’s a strange feeling, something of a parallel and/or flip-side to leaving our home this morning and staring one last time at the blank walls and swept floors. From here I will spent one more day at this job: one more day of holding all this information in my mind. At 4.30 I will let it go.

From there we drive my rattling, old car (and its backseat of miscellaneous furniture and throw pillows) to my parents’ house. The adventure will have not begun yet (because that takes place next Thursday) but it will be limbo. Purgatory even. What else could it be? Husband and I will be awaiting a judgment to be handed down by… well, ourselves, really. Do we have what it takes to cash in and run away?

I guess we’ll find out.