Misadventures in Real Estate

My husband and I have an ongoing debate, when it comes to our house. We both acknowledge that there are things about this space that no longer really work for us. My office space is in the playroom, and my husband’s is taking up a good amount of square footage in the living / dining room. Our kitchen, while big and bright, has a less-than-optimal layout, with a pantry door that falls off once a year or so, drawers that don’t open properly anymore, and a lack of seating. Our ensuite bathroom is in dire need of a serious overhaul. These are all little things, and probably none of them are deal-breakers taken individually, but after 10 years in the same space, the little annoyances start to wear.

Our disagreement doesn’t stem from what’s wrong about our house – it stems from what to do about it. I am planted pretty firmly in Camp Renovate. I believe that, in the long run, renovating is cheaper and easier. After all, if we were to move there would be transfer taxes and realtor commissions and closing costs. It’s also pretty much a foregone conclusion that we’d be buying a more expensive house than the one we’re selling, so our mortgage would go up. Plus, we’d have to do some renovating to get our house ready to sell, and we may need to do some work on any house that we bought to make it really work for us. On top of that, I think that any house would have downsides that would grate on us. I’m opting for the devil I know, over the devil I don’t.

My husband, on the other hand, has pitched his tent in Camp Relocate. He argues (and truthfully so) that we can’t make this house into something it’s not. We need more space, and rather than pouring a bunch more money into this home, we should look for one that meets our needs as-is. When we bought this house we didn’t have any kids yet. We didn’t really understand how our needs would change once we were living with a four-year-old and an eight-year-old. He’s tired of the same old problems, and he’s ready for new horizons.

real estate homebuying renovationBecause we can’t agree, we go back and forth on this. However, this weekend we dipped our toes into the real estate waters. One of our neighbours has listed their home, and we decided to drop by the open house on Saturday. First I went, taking Jacob with me to kill the time while Jon was at Hannah’s musical theatre class. I immediately fell in love. It has a gorgeous garden, complete with fruit trees and blueberry bushes. It has an extra bedroom in the basement, which would be perfect for a home office. Overall, the house just a better layout in general for our needs. I suggested to Jon that he stop by after Hannah’s class, and he did.

Jon liked the house, too. We decided to be brash, and called our realtor, and our mortgage company. We hemmed and hawed, and slept on it, and on Sunday morning toured the house one more time. We still liked it, quite a lot. So we made the leap. We wrote up an offer, and our realtor submitted it. Then we waited, and waited, and waited. Then we started getting calls from our realtor. There was another offer. Both offers would be presented. Were we happy with our offer? We should hopefully know soon. Really soon. And we waited some more. And some more. And some more. Eventually, it started to become apparent that they weren’t coming back to us with a counter-offer. Finally, at 9:00pm, our realtor confirmed that they went with the other party.

I felt nauseous. The whole thing was way, way, way too much excitement for me. It felt a little unfair, actually. All we gave them was a real estate contract. They didn’t know anything about us. How we love the neighbourhood. How our kids were born here. What a better space would mean to our family. It was just some numbers and conditions, all laid out in legalese. And our numbers and conditions weren’t the right numbers and conditions, full stop.

In the end, it was a case of easy come, easy go. I was caught up in real estate hysteria, and this time I didn’t end up with a house to show for it. If anything, this has entrenched me more firmly in Camp Renovate. It was a very stressful weekend, which I spent worrying about something that I had no control over, rather than actually accomplishing something useful. Perhaps the fact that it didn’t work out is a sign. Maybe we’re meant to stay where we are. Honestly, I don’t want to go through that anytime again. I think I’d rather just stay where I am.

I’m in an immensely privileged position, really. The fact that my husband and I are quibbling over the little things about our home that don’t work for us is a sign that on the whole, things are good. We have a warm, safe, secure home for our family. We have the financial ability to take small steps towards improving our living situation. We don’t have to choose between paying for housing and paying for extras like musical theatre classes for our daughter. I’m trying to focus on that, rather than the disappointment of having our offer passed over, or the anxiety of the whole headlong rush into moving.

For now, I’m staying right where I am, in Camp Renovate. You’ll find me over by the low-VOC paint samples and the IKEA catalogues. It’s going to take something pretty compelling to get me to move again anytime soon.

When your living space doesn’t work for your family anymore, is your first impulse to renovate or move? And do you have any stories of near-misses in the real estate market? I’d love to hear!

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  1. Oh, the pleasantries of bidding war – I hate how the market in urban Canada has entrenched itself in that mode of operation. And the mode does not take any prisoners. You will be disheveled if you miss, and overcome with buyers remorse if you win.
    We went through 2 bidding wars here before settling for house in “slightly-less” neighborhood (which we also got through bidding war). With a view to move some 5-6 years later. Now, 8 years later, I’m hesitant. I don’t like the high school here, there are limited options to “join” other high school. My daughter’s bedroom is tiny meaning that I’m not sure HOW I’m going to fit twin bed in there. We have no home office (the “luxury” of living mid-town). But still – we gutted and renovated basement and put new bathroom in in there. We gutted and renovated kitchen and organized it in meaningful way. We renovated bathroom. Changed windows. Repainted deck – twice. Got acquainted with neighbours. Stores and library within walking distance. Bike path.

    It is hard to move away from something you were grooming to your liking for number of years, and you were growing into it yourself. But I understand your husband, sometimes the space does not work and there is no easy way around it. Build additional room or two? Most neighbours in our street erected a whole new floor on their bungalows, and now they get the best of both worlds. Not that renovation was any easier on kids and family dynamics than hunting house and moving.

    • One of the options that we constantly toss back and forth is renovating our garage to make it into a living space. But again, would that be better than simply moving? We went through renovations and know how expensive and difficult those can be. It’s hard to say what’s better, so we haven’t done it.

      This was my first bidding war, which thankfully really didn’t turn into much of a war. I’m not eager to experience it again, anyway.

  2. I had the joys of going through all this with a 8 month old in tow. I’m pretty sure we viewed about 40 houses in total, put in offers at 2 or 3. The ones where it didn’t work out I’m thrilled about now. Looking back I don’t think any of those houses would have still been serving our needs today.

    Most of what we saw just didn’t have what we were looking for space wise. Renos didn’t bug me (as is obvious from the house we ended up buying. 6 years in and it’s STILL under renovation!) but square footage and overall space were key. Paint is cheap, moving walls not so much

    Experiences like that aren’t fun because in this market you just never know. The fact you got excited at the possibility tells me you aren’t so stuck in Camp Renovate that the lure of the blue waters of Camp Relocate couldn’t call you again
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    • Here’s the honest truth – I am super easy when it comes to houses. I will look at almost any hovel and want to move in. That’s one reason I like it here in Camp Renovate. There’s less chance I’ll leap in without thinking and regret it.

      We’ll see how I feel in a few weeks, though. Maybe time and distance will help heal the wounds. Or maybe the actual perfect house will hit MLS.

  3. I’m firmly in the camp relocate area. We bought our first house in 96, and it was a highranch. Did us fine until V came along (and 2 geriatric dogs). Then I couldn’t wait to get away from the stairs – stairs to go anywhere!. We started looking for a new home in 09, and finally bought in ’11. We made many offers, and just always stood our ground. There are lots of houses out there and eventually someone will be selling for the price you’re willing to pay (of course, then there’s the house you have to get rid of…)
    I’ve seen too many people live through major renovations to think I’d want to do that *G*
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    • I wouldn’t want to tackle major renovations, either. At this point we’re talking about smaller things, which we may need to do anyway to list our house. And so I continue to dither.

  4. Dealing with a similar issue right now, except we mostly want to move because of the distance we are from where we work etc. I love my house, and wish we could just pick it up and place it a little closer to the city. For what we have in Maple Ridge, we would be downsizing a lot moving closer to the city, and that isn’t really an option for our 5 person family. The real estate world frightens me, as does moving. We will probably just end up staying here forever.
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  5. We went through this decision three years ago. Ended up listing for a summer with no results, re-listing the following March, sold in 2 weeks, then we had to buy! There is always compromise. In our case, we are in a duplex instead of a single family home, which was what we needed to do to get into a new(ish) house with the layout we wanted. Everything that wasn’t a duplex was old and needing renos or had a layout that was unsuitable for us. The other compromise is that this neighbourhood wasn’t at all our first choice. I’m happy to say that just trying out the duplex and ‘hood have worked out just fine. When we sold our old house (1200 sq. foot rancher from 1972) we didn’t do renos. It sold, avocado bathroom fixtures and all. I really think as long as it’s neat and not dirty or cluttered, and has god natural light, this pressure to make changes to sell is often just not necessary. Good luck!

  6. I don’t envy the bidding wars, and time consuming attending open houses and all that (though I love to peruse MLS even though we aren’t in the market), or the staging and selling of your own home, but I’ve always found moving to be really exciting. We moved lots when I was a kid, and quite a bit in the last few years. The moving itself isn’t very fun with kids in tow, but I do love how a new space spices life up a bit. We’re probably a bit addicted to what I call Domestic Adrenaline which is the need to do something big almost every second year (start a business, have a kid, move).
    However, I think renoing your garage sounds super fun too. Lots of opportunity to be creative, and less chance of it seriously interfering with your day to day life like doing the main (or only) bathroom or kitchen tends to do – which is when people really hate renos!!
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    • I love a new space, too, which is why I fall in love with pretty much any house I tour. I just love the novelty.

      And that’s a good point about the garage. When we renovated this house 10 years ago and had no kitchen for three weeks that was a total pain. But with the garage, I wouldn’t have to deal with any of that.

  7. We went through the real estate roller coaster three years ago when we moved from a much too small townhouse (two kids and baby on the way, 3 cats, a husband with a home office and a mom home half time– eeeks!) to a single family home where we almost doubled our living space. And what a roller coaster it was – I was convinced we would be homeless with a newborn before we found a place that would suit us. I thought the stress was going to kill me (especially after renovating our town home and taking a while to sell). I vowed I would never move again. Yet here I am pondering a hypothetical move to a more rural location with more room for a garden, some chickens, maybe a goat or two and fruit trees and bushes. Who am I kidding – I don’t have it in me to go through all that again!

    I’m on Team Renovate for you! As the kids get older they won’t need a big play area and will hang out more in their rooms.
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