Saturday, June 30, 2007

The agony of waiting

Hey P and Daddy L -- just wanted to give you a quick update. The Pirate called our landlord a couple of weeks, but never got an answer (and no answering machine either).

However, we just called now and talked to his wife. Turns out they've had out-of-town guests staying with them and were planning on calling us Monday, after their guests left, to "sit down and have a chat."

Of course, we'll be in Indiana that day, so the chat is going to have to wait until after we get back on the 8th. But the fact that she said they had plans to follow up with us on the subject is a good sign.


We'll give you a call once we get back from the States and will keep you updated on anything we find out!

Cheers and happy Canada Day!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Friendly Woodwork

After reading NBB's last post on variances, and the helpful-husband-of-the-woman-in-the-park, it seems people are coming out of the woodwork to give us a hand. Considering the daunting and long list of tasks/steps we need to take to make this project a reality, I welcome any and all help.

  • Patty runs with someone who also works at the city, and also might be able to help us with our zoning application.

  • If we manage to swing the private sale with DPR and NBB's landloard, our Realtor said he'd help us do up the paperwork and make sure everything is in order, for free.

  • One of my co-worker's husbands is an architect, and is brimming with tips, contacts and ideas for us four potential homebuilders. A warm belly full of tapas and wine is our only fee.

I have no doubts that as our adventure progresses, more helpful folk will emerge.

Just where is this "woodwork" that these helpful people are coming from? I want to visit there. It sounds like a nice, pleasant place, with peppermint trees, lemonade springs, and hens that lay soft-boiled eggs.

Oh wait, that's Big Rock Candy Mountain. I like that place too.

What Would The Neighbours Think?

I wonder if we could build a house like this one? Sustainable and 100% DIY.

If it doesn't totally fit the neighbourhood, we could buy a couple of concrete lions to display out front.

Those lions are so ugly that no one would even look at the house. Instead they would see the lions, their eyes would cartoonishly pop out of their heads, then they'd run screaming.

Monday, June 18, 2007

On the topic of building variances

Still not sure if I'm using the term correctly, but...

Yesterday Rob, Milo, and I went to the park right across the street -- one of the main reasons why we're so desperate to stay in this neighbourhood, if possible -- and met up with one of the local moms and her little boy who we've seen at the park many times before.

While I was chasing Milo from one edge of the park to the other, Rob and this other mom struck up a conversation which somehow led to him mentioning that we were exploring the idea of building a duplex on our lot (provided we could get our landlord to sell it to us for a decent price) -- but that we'd need to get a building variance to allow us to build a larger dwelling than we're currently zoned for.

Well. Turns out that her husband is the development planner for this exact neighbourhood. In other words, he's precisely the person we need to talk to in order to get our building plan approved.

And according to his wife, he's probably going to be very amenable to our ideas. She says his new boss is very "rule-bendy."

Huzzah, huzzah!

You know, it's serendipitous encounters like this that make me think doing the right thing.

Fingers crossed, everyone...

In the zone

The one for two-family residences, that is. So rest assured on that front.

Here's a link to our zoning info:

We're in the "RT-4" zone. Close to R2-D2, but without all the whistles and clicks.

The tricky thing is going to be talking City Council into giving us a building variance of 75%.

Not sure if I used the terminology right -- basically, right now our zone (RT-4) allows us to build a dwelling that's 60 some-odd percent of the lot size, 2 1/2 stories max. But that'll give us a duplex that's about 2150 sq feet. That's way too small for our needs, I think.

Still, there's no harm in being prepared. That's why I went and bought a couple of books this weekend on the topic of efficient modern home design. One's on houses in Asia and the other is "500 Ideas for Small Spaces." I'm keen to choose a plan that makes maximum use of the space available, no matter how much space there ends up being.

Here's one good thing to know: Apparently our outdoor patios, decks, rooftop gardens, and garages don't count toward that area, either. Together all of it can't go over a certain amount, but it looks like we'll have a little more space available to us than I originally thought.

So we've got that going for us, at least.

Of course, this whole plan hinges on our landlord following through on his offer to sell us our rental property. It's something he's mentioned several times. But now that we're interested, will he sell it to us at the price he offered us once before?

Please say yes, please say yes...

Saturday, June 16, 2007

I just called my landlord

Yup, I phoned him. But he wasn't home.

However, I did talk to his wife, Wanda, and told her that we want to buy the house we're currently renting. And I told her we just got approved for a mortgage. And I told her that we really, really want to buy it.

Did I say too much? Give away my hand? I'd just like to let the rest of you know that I'm not a good negotiator.

Anyway, Wanda said we should get together, have some tea, and talk about it.

I'm going to look at pictures and plans for modular housing, sustainable home design, prefab and steel frame construction, and houses made from shipping containers. What do you guys think about living in old shipping containers?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Zoning Issues

My blog adds will not be near as verbose as the MA educated contributors making my reads a little more dull. However I will give sound entries pertinent to the task at hand.

Can anyone tell me if the potential "lot" has been zoned for a duplex? One of Eric's co-worker's husband is an architect and he says if it has not be zone for a duplex already there is a snow ball chance in hell that we could get it rezoned.

He also had some other very interesting insights about building and maybe the four of us could sit down with him to talk with him? Of course what will end up happening is 2 of each team with be talking with him and the other half will be chasing the boys.

Are you excited?

Those very words dropped from my delightful wife's mouth the other day.

"Excited about...?"
"The possibility of jointly owning/building a duplex?"
"Yeah, very excited about that. Not so much about the [expletive deleted] amount of work that lies ahead."

It's hard enough moving into a new abode. The packing, unpacking, painting, cleaning, culling and keeping your toddler away from the dangerous implements of moving; box-cutter, shrink-wrap, ice-pick, hatchet and chainsaw (maybe this is way our stuff always gets damaged, I've got to pack differently!). Add to that the complexity and run-around of buying a house and you can see why my enthusiasm is tempered.

Now fold in the uber-complex process of building a duplex from the ground-up; gawd, I'm surprised I have soiled myself.

Deep down I'm very excited about this. I have visions of our ground breaking party, clinking glasses and champagne, moving in next to cool neighbours and good friends, and the wicked house-warming party we'd have. But I also have visions of permit offices, zoning applications, the city design committee, contractors, sub-trades, scope management, risk, issues and cost over-runs.

So I'm up for the challenge, but you can't blame me feeling overwhelmed.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

This just in...

I just got a call from our mortgage officer at VanCity Credit Union.

We've been approved for a mortage. And it's more than we thought we'd get.

Holy crap!

However, before you get too excited for us, keep in mind Vancouver's outrageous housing costs. This is a city where half a million bucks is almost enough to buy you a used shoebox. If you're really lucky, you might get one with lane access.

But don't hold your breath.

So, um, about that student loan...

I fear my wild past is about to catch up with me.

Let's just say that money and I haven't had the closest of relationships through the years. As someone who fancied herself a "free spirit" during most of her 20s, it never occurred to me to keep careful watch over my finances.

Or, you know, pay my bills on time.

As a result, I found myself in Japan being rudely awakened one morning by a 4:00 a.m. phone call from a shouting, angry woman who cut me off and twisted my words and insulted me until I'd been reduced to tears.

Turns out, my bank had turned over my $40,000 student loan to a collection agency.

(Note to teenagers -- don't do 7 straight years of post-secondary schooling on student loans unless you're GUARANTEED to make at least $50,000 right after graduation. Otherwise, you'll spend the next decade handing over most of your money to an unsmiling bank employee. Not fun.)

In my defence, I'd just like to say that the Bank of Nova Scotia -- den of demons! -- never sent me any payment requests, receipts, or updates, so I never knew exactly how much I'd paid and how much I had left to pay.

Maybe they were too cheap to buy postage stamps to Japan?

Whatever the reason, they didn't give me the nudges I obviously needed to make my payments on time. And, well, I was content to let the matter slide. Until that 4:00 a.m. phone call.

And thus the fearing began...

Every month I missed a payment -- and every six months on top of that, for no good reason other than collection agents seem to enjoy shredding people's souls -- I'd get a phone call from someone telling me I was a shitty, shitty non-contributing member of society who enjoyed cheating decent people out of their hard-earned cash -- and that I was almost certainly going to die friendless and unloved, because that's all no-good scum-of-the-earth thieves like me deserved.

And every time they called, they made a point to emphasize how my credit rating was ruined -- for ever and ever. Because I couldn't give them the full $34,219 I still owed them all in one chunk -- since I wasn't willing to hit up my friends and family to spot me the money, so the collection agency could be done with me once and for all (oh, how I stunk up their lives!) -- they were going to make sure NO financial institution would EVER lend me money, EVER AGAIN.

In my 20s, living on a completely different continent, this didn't seem like so much of a threat.

But today? When I'm waiting to hear from a mortgage officer (from the very lovely Vancity Credit Union, the only bank I've ever encountered that DOESN'T seem to have been spawned in the bowels of hell) to find out if my husband the Dread Pirate and I qualify for a mortgage?

Well, let's just say I'm having a hard time concentrating.

Of course, I did end up paying off my student loans -- all $40,000 of them. So I *think* my credit record is back on track.

But I have no way of knowing for sure...

This afternoon, I should be getting a phone call letting me know if the mistakes of my youth are going to kill my dreams of becoming a homeowner.

Pray for me, if you're into that kind of thing...

Monday, June 4, 2007

Affordable housing in Vancouver? Is it possible?

Recently I read a news story that said in order to afford a single-family house in Vancouver, you need to be pulling in at least $140,000 a year.


Now, my husband and I are both university-educated people. He's got a double B.A., I've got an M.A. And yet despite working at good jobs and being on steadily rising career arcs for the past decade, we're not even close to making that kind of money.

Sure, we could afford a two-bedroom or even a small three-bedroom condo. In the middle of nowhere. Where the most exciting recreational pastime is loitering at the local strip mall. Whee!

Given our options, we've preferred to stick it out as renters, tolerating the mismatched linoleum floors and crumbling walls of our beloved tear-down rental home in order to continuing living in the neighbourhood we love -- within a few blocks' walking distance to every conceivable amenity.

And as a result, here we are, without a home to truly call our own, with a dog and an almost two-year-old, and both of us 37 years old.

Welcome to life in Vancouver, y'all!

That why -- when our friends Daddy L and P suggested we seriously explore our oft-expressed desire to join moral and economic forces and build a eco-density friendly duplex both our families could live in, the Pirate and I jumped for joy.

We've got no problem living close to our neighbours -- so long as they're good ones. And Daddy L and P? They'd be real humdingers.

BUT: With all the stress and potential conflict involved in two different families agreeing on a place to live -- the neighborhood, house or reno plans, the layout of the yard, not to mention the big "M" (moolah, my dears) -- will our friendship survive?

Will our dream of affordable housing in Vancouver ever be realized?

We'll keep you posted...

Project Duplex

Project Duplex: The story of our attempts to secure affordable housing in an urban setting -- by buying a lot and building a modern, semi-green, inexpensive duplex-style home. Yikes.

UPDATE: I just wrote a new description of this blog for the meta tags. As of June 15, 2007, it's...

A blog about four people's attempts to embrace the concept of eco-density and buy/build/create a spacious, affordable, modern, eco-friendly design in which we can raise our children.

Hmmm... I think I need to change it already. It should say "...raise our incredibly unbeliveably cute children."