Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Low Down House Huntin' Blues

Buying a house is an ordeal.

Seriously, I'd rather take a full on panel interview for a psych job over this. Just imagine: I am someone that picks brains for a living... put yourself in a room full of professionals doing the same to you to see if you are "worthy". It's daunting, but peanuts compared to this house hunting thing. Throw in a root canal and a GYN exam and you're still not even close.

First you need to assemble your core team: real estate agent, mortgage broker, lawyer. If you're smart, you'll add house inspector to that list. Don't forget the insurance agent either. You'll also need all your ducks in a row, so expect to have to deal with oddball things like Revenue Canada if you're like me and your toddler ate your last notice of assessment.

Then you start looking. We've been regulars on MLS.ca for over two years now, so we thought we had a pretty good idea of what we were looking for. Well we do, but apparently it doesn't exist that often in Brampton. We saw some pretty silly things: an entire yard covered over in deck, "finished basements" with bare concrete floors and some pretty...er... interesting decorating ideas. One of my favourites was lighting fixtures at eye level around the room. That's great for an interrogation chamber, but not so good if I want to hang out in my rec room and watch TV. Oh, and FYI, blobbing a paint-dipped sponge over a wall is NOT a good idea, ok? Especially when you cheap out and use a square one... that leaves square edges and random squirts here and there. It was like a horrific episode of CSI meets Spongebob for heaven's sake. Just say no, ok? Think of the little sponges...

Husband I went to 13 houses in two days. That in itself was pretty crazy, but we found one we liked. It was redone on the main level, had 4 bedrooms, a decent yard and a finished basement. Ok, so the basement was a 70's nightmare, but it could be dealt with. So could the little cosmetic-ish problems here and there. We signed papers, got the mortgage, got everything together and ready to go. We just had to go through the house inspection.

That was yesterday... Three solid hours of feeling my insides twist as I heard things such as "aluminum wiring" and "this vent goes nowhere" and that the a/c was old and full of freon and that the furnace had not been serviced in 10 years. To add insult to injury, the damn stove didn't work! Some people have a funny idea of what "in working order" means... in my world it doesn't mean "two out of four burners... and only the little ones, fatso."

I will say that the $400 bucks I spent on the inspection was worth the price of being able to walk away from $30, 000+ worth of repairs and upgrades. In the meantime however, it's back to the drawing board. I know our new home is out there, we just have to find it... and soon. Just watching my son blissfully roll around on the grass in our friend's yard yesterday was enough to break my heart and hammer that one home all over again.

Once again, amor fati. It's all good..

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Secret Evil Plan, Revealed! (Sort of...)

"Tomorrow's getting harder make no mistake.
Luck ain't even lucky
Got to make your own breaks..."
--Bon Jovi, "It's My Life"

This entry has been a long time coming. It's one that I've written a thousand times off and on in my head... and I must confess that most of it was supposed to go in a different direction than what it has. But, here we are.

I've told my story many times before... I've made no secret about the bad choices that I have made here and there over the years. From ennui to bankruptcy, a failed business venture to a stellar comeback, a breakdown and breakup to building a family together... it's all been quite a ride.

Two years ago, on New Years Eve, The Secret Evil Plan was born. We had to find a way to dig ourselves out of our mess once and for all. Partly financial, partly emotional, partially professional... we had to find a way out of the rut that we were stuck in.

The professional part was easy; I vowed to either start loving my job, or leave it. I accomplished that by transferring to Peel and then moving over to Brampton Civic when it opened. Almost a year later,
I'm part of an amazing team of people, have recharged my batteries and have rediscovered my desire to learn. It most certainly has it's moments, but all in all, it has been a good move.

My family is also in dire need of a house: one with a yard in a good neighbourhood where my son can grow up to be a productive member of society. Oh yes, one that we can afford as well. That part is also important. I've talked to many people about this since the creation of The SEP and it never ceases to amaze me how many people a) have seemingly not had to work for everything in their lives and b) how little others seem to understand about life in an apartment, especially with a toddler. I guess it's the circles I travel in, but my goodness, y'all have no idea. A lot of my pay  cheque is wasted on what I call stupid spending, such as buying in small quantities or picking up dinner on the way home. This drives me a little batty, but is the sad reality when you live in an apartment with a nurse. No storage to speak of and a schedule that makes both sides of the clock scream, makes for bad spending choices. Then there's the hauling of the laundry out once a week or so, which adds up very quickly (especially when the little dude needs twice as many clothes as the average kid to go to day care in the first place... his room looks like a store). Our rent is also more than many people's mortgages as well, and for what? Two bedrooms and a livingroom full of toys to trip over. We have to drive across town to get fresh air and to play in a park or in a friend's yard. We have a storage unit on the other side of town that holds some of our stuff. Daily we fight with the elevator, or the stench from the neighbours cooking, the neighbours fighting/partying/building stuff at weird hours... it's all a bit much. We just want a quiet, simpler life.

So, what was the answer?

Simply this: move. Find a town with a Schedule 1 facility that I could work in, find cheaper housing... find a place where my paycheque would go farther and our money would work for us. We did find such a place: Peterborough. My parents relocated to Buckhorn when they retired so we would be closer to them and we would have a little more help with Quinn. They were to open a shiny new hospital in June and since I had participated in one hospital move, I figured I would be more than an asset to their team. Housing is (on average) $50, 000 to 100, 000 cheaper there; we would certainly be able to afford a beautiful home with a decent backyard that I could while away my hours gardening in. There is a university and a college in town... both of us have educational needs that desire fulfillment (not to mention professional obligations in my case). We are also planning on more children, so once #2 came along, Sean was going to happily become Mr. Mom and figure out what he wanted to be when he grew up. The Secret Evil Plan was a dream come true. We would live the good life.

Little by little however, The SEP started to erode. In January I was told that although the new hospital was to open in June, they were not going to expand the Mental Health department until the following January or February. At one point, some admin was actually quoted in the Peterborough paper that they were not going to make "the same mistakes" and would hopefully "avoid the problems of" Brampton Civic. That meant one more year in Brampton. We were depressed, but initally decided to wait it out.

Lately, there have been quite a few signs that if we are not already in a recession, than we are well on the way to one. The banks tightened up lending practices, interest rates are climbing... and hospitals are making more cuts. In some cases, nurses have been laid off. Toronto East and Rouge Valley were the first to cut nurses. In my own hospital, each department has had the budgets cut back, and we are still trying to fill gaping holes in the schedules. Nursing is very cyclical, like the economy and fashion... and right now I fear we are on the downward arc. With this in mind, do I have any business getting a job in another city, moving there and buying a house only to be laid off later as I have no seniority? Where else would I find a job then? Contrary to what my parents think, I can't just go pick up a few hours at a nursing home. In Brampton, I have over six years in with William Osler at this point, which means I can "bump" back to Etobicoke if I need to, or seek employment at the myriad of other hospitals within my reach. We also have Sean's job here.

This pretty much killed the SEP in it's original form. Thus ensued many hours of alcohol consumption, discussion and often flat-out arguing about where the family ship was headed now. We needed a safe harbour. Where else then, but home?

As fate would play it out (as it is too often in my life), once we made the decision to stay, everything just seemed to fall into place. I was searching the MLS at work one night and a co-worker just happened by and gave me the name of a mortgage broker. A friend's mother is a real estate agent. I found some really cool listings at work while trying to stay awake and a friends daughter recommended a lawyer. In fact, this same friend and I saw one house in particular and remember looking at each other and saying "wow" at the same time... I also have a line on an exciting new position in my hospital. It all is coming together.

Yesterday, we closed the deal on our house (yes, at work!). On October 27th (barring a bad inspection), we take possession of our new home in J section. It's close to work, closer to friends and much closer to living the life we want. It's not perfect, it has a grass throw rug for a yard, but it is ours. We bought a house, without help, without chicanery... we did it ourselves.

They say that good things come to those that wait. I can say, that in this case at least, "they" were right for a change.

Amor fati. It's all good..

I has a house!!!