A Place To Call Our Own

The papers are signed, the dealing is done, and the place, or at least the mortgage, is ours. Julie and I are now the proud new owners of a 2 bedroom + den apartment located near Quadra and Hilliside.

Here is a link to a short video I made during the housing inspection.

In 1984, when the complex was constructed, they erected two buildings side by side. The developer named one WestHampton Green and the other WestHampton Gardens, so I’ve just been calling it our place in the Hamptons.

We are very excited. I am very excited. We weren’t ready to buy when we lived in Vancouver, and it was demoralizing to keep watching housing prices become more and more unattainable. Our move to Victoria was motivated by Julie’s education, but the condo market here is a more forgiving, and we figured that getting into a place we owned would be a side benefit. I have no idea what housing prices are going to do in the future, other than probably go up in the long term, but I do feel we got in just in time – if prices rose much more we’d continue to have to rent, and I am pleased to not have to worry about that anymore.

The day we went to first look at the place, I noticed a map in the glove compartment of my minivan. This was the same map Julie and I used when we took the ferry to Victoria to check out the city a month or two before moving here. It had a circle that went around the intersection of Quadra and Hillside and it was labeled “Good Area”. We drove all over, and this was the only area that received that designation. Here, “Good Area” meant good to us. It’s colourful. There are ethnic restaurants, coffee places, and the cheapo reperatory cinema nearby. It reminds us a little of Commercial Drive in Vancouver, which had a very hippy-dippy liberal feel with many immigrants and fantastic restaurants. I can’t say Quadra Street Village is an equivalent of Commercial Drive, because it just isn’t similar enough, but it does have some of that feel, and that appeals to us. That said, there are a few street urchins around, but for me the good outweighs the bad, and I feel very comfortable in that neighbourhood.

It’s a close walk to downtown. Google maps puts it at 2.1 km away from my office, and it’s less than a block away to the nearest supermarket too. We’re hoping to decrease our dependence on automobiles. This was a very conscious choice. We may have been able to get a much larger place, maybe even a detached house if we rented the basement, had we been willing to commute from the boonies. I’d like to say that I don’t want to drive for altruistic planet-saving reasons, but the fact is, I really just like having extra time in my day, and walking is good for me. I’ve put in commuting time for jobs in the burbs in the past, and I just don’t feel the benefits of a house would outweigh the hours and hours of my life I’d spend behind the wheel to make it happen. I may change my story after we have a few whippersnappers of our own running around the wee apartment, but I’ve met and talked with several people who have experienced and enjoyed family living in condo, and I am confident enough to give it a try. I have a feeling that my time spent with kiddos instead of in the car would be worth more to them than a backyard. With fingers crossed, we’re hoping to have a chance to find out.

The experience of buying the place was more complicated than I thought it would be, and I am glad to have it behind us. I thought we’d make an offer, they might counter, and it would be done. In fact, we made an offer, they accepted, we reviewed the strata documents and saw an special assessment coming down the pipe, and opened negotiations with a new lower offer to reflect that, They countered that, we countered their counter, they rejected our counter-counter, so we accepted the first counter. Then they had a lawyer change the standard agreement on one point, and we disagreed with the broadness of that change, and we countered with different wording, and they accepted.

During all this, I think there were three or four times where I thought, as I signed a piece of paper, “This is it! we’ve bought a house”, but that was only true on the last round, when all 4 required signatures hit the page. This was mostly handled by our realtor, who was dealing with their realtor, who was dealing with the two sellers – the one who was in town, and the other who was on vacation in Mexico and had to be faxed all of this paperwork. It was a long, nail-biting week, but eventually we all agreed and good business was done.

Speaking of our realtor, If you ever need one in Victoria, I have to highly recommend ours. Paul Holland is an absolute godsend to folks like us who need to navigate the complicated, rewarding, and dangerous experience that is buying a home. I came into this experience thinking that it was inconceivable that a Realtor could add value to a real estate deal equivalent to the commission they received, but Paul disproved that entirely. He was pickier than us. We looked at 11 places in total over a course of 6 months, and he never gave us a hard sell. In fact, he was more likely to tell us the reasons not to buy a place, and he shared with us a great deal of expert knowledge we didn’t even know existed. He is patient and understanding, and very willing to take the time to explain what he knows, and he will also tell you when he doesn’t know, rather than changing the question or the subject. Paul also put a lot of time into our deal – enough that I had to change my previous opinion about realtors. He met with strata members, property managers, realtors, building inspectors and mortgage brokers on our behalf. He read countless pages of very dry strata meeting notes with a fine tooth comb in great detail. I know this because I did too, and he knew them better than I did. His expert advice is extremely valuable, and he puts in the time and diligence to make sure he knows he is doing the best he can in the interest of his clients. I might sound effusive, but it is only because of how much better I feel moving into my first home that I know is a result of his service.