In March 2010, Nic and Stef bought some land in Pemberton. And in October 2011 they found they were expecting a baby. Now they just have to build a house... and a home!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Do-it-yourself for less?

I've just realized why I find the whole concept of being able to make money building a house so confusing... When I was a kid, you could save money by making your own Halloween costume, or your own Christmas tree ornaments, or whatever. But these days, it's not only easier to buy a bat-man costume from Walmart than it is to construct your own, it's also cheaper. Weird. Of course it's China that's to thank/blame. So if homes were habitually constructed in China and shipped over here, then I guess you couldn't make money by doing that yourself anymore either. Thankfully it seems there's still a bit of a profit margin to be had (hopefully we'll be able to make a house that's worth at least $200,000 more than we pay for it, though of course it'll take 2 years of Stef's time so you have to subtract his missed salary from the equation somewhere along the line. Still, it's a good deal).

I just did a google search to see if, in fact, you can ship homes to Canada from China, and of course you can - Dalian Quacent is pushing some cheap-looking prefab houses that come flat-packed. They look about as nice as a Walmart bat-man outfit.

You can also get the made-in-Canada prefab option that sort of comes from China... If we do run out of money, then this is always an option :)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Grand designs

There has been much head-scratching, dreaming and searching of web-based house designs, but Stef has come up with a home exterior we like, and I have roughed in where the rooms should go. Suddenly, after weeks of “no, not like that, um, no not like that either” we have miraculously what seems to be a workable design of the right shape and size and number of rooms. This is astounding. Designing a house is truly more difficult than you think it will be. You start thinking “well, I’ll start with the footprint I want, so that the house gets the best views and sun exposure and we still have a good-sized garden, and I’ll work up”. Then you get to the top and find it’s impossible to put a sensible roofline on the thing that doesn’t funnel all the snow at your front door or block half of the upstairs rooms with roof or come to a valley in the middle that will only leak. So you think, “okay, I’ll start with the roof and work my way down!”, only to find that the only bit big enough for a garage is at the back of the house on the other side from the driveway, and there’s nowhere to put the stairs. We want this thing to be green. But do you design the house and then adapt it to be eco-friendly? Or do you need to know about eco-friendly modifications before you design it?

So we now have a somewhat workable design but still lots of questions about whether it’s actually buildable. Stef has been banging his head against a bit of software for house design that is in equal parts amazing and useless (SketchUp, which he downloaded off the Google ‘even more’ page, does very fancy things, but somehow never does exactly what you want it to do). After an extensive period of time doing this (which we won’t admit to), we have given up and admitted that we need help (which we should have done from the beginning). Stef has found a designer (via yellow pages) called James Hall whose stuff we like, who comes pretty cheap, and who is available. Most of all Stef gets along with him… seems to me the most important thing in a designer is that you can talk to each other, understand each other, and basically get along. Onwards, ever onwards.

Friday, March 19, 2010

We own land!

The clock hands tick past some invisible magic moment and we are, have become, officially land owners. It felt more real on the 17th, with all the paperwork, but we decide to celebrate this invisible landmark too. We grab a bottle of champagne that has been waiting in our fridge, pack some bags, grab our skiis, and set out for a moonlit tour to a remote cabin in the woods. After a 3-hour ski, my legs jelly, we arrive to find 20 other people already packed into a sleeps-15 hut that we had expected to be empty (apparently it’s spring break for some nearby universities or something), and make a fabulous dinner of Kraft cheese and mac (with veggies, so it’s pretty special) on the camp stove. We scrape burnt bits off the bottom of the pot and pop open the bottle of champagne (feeling slightly self conscious… being packed shoulder to shoulder with 20 other people and not quite having enough to go around). We own land!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Signed and sealed

Having done nothing seemingly nothing for a few weeks, today we drive in to Whistler (25 minutes away) to spend the big bucks and sign our names to the final papers. The bank mysteriously allows us to shuffle $200,000 from our accounts into the seller’s account WITHOUT SEEING ANY ID. Isn’t that weird? I mean we had to enter our PIN into the bank machine in order to complete the transaction, but still. We didn’t even have to sign anything I don’t think (or did I? It's a blurr). I snap a photo of the bank teller. She loves Pemberton, she says – we’ll have to invite her to our first BBQ.

Then it’s on to see Peter at his offices. He is strangely chatty for a lawyer, asking us about our wedding (we didn’t have one) and other oddly personal questions, till the penny drops – he wants our business for immigration (don’t need one; my British hubby is legally a permanent resident thanks to my love for him, oh and our filling in a gazillion forms, getting police clearances, fingerprinting, medical exams, and holding our breath for a year), and – yipes - for wills. Seems premature. How dangerous IS building a house? He reminds us to take out insurance – if someone trips on a rock on that property they could technically sue us now.

Friday, February 26, 2010


It was easy. We put down our deposit without a hitch. The lawyer, (Peter Shrimpton of mountain conveyancing) is fascinated by Stef’s accent and loves to chat with him. The title search is clean, though bizarrely the CBC has expressed interest in the land at some point, presumably because of a communications tower further up the hill. I had a small panic attack upon seeing a bit buried in the middle of the contract saying we had to build the house in 12 months, but an email to Lisa set me straight – there’s an amendment at the end of it all upping that to 18 (needed) months. Phew. So we laid down our $15,000, and they gave us a 'sold' sticker. :)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Offer accepted

The bid for the blasting came in at about $30,000. So we downgraded our initial offer from 205,000 to 200,000 (it’s listed at 245,000) and signed the papers on 18 Feb. Last time we started at 205, they counter-offered 217, we shot back with 211 and they accepted. We’re expecting a similar dance this time around. But for some reason – the owners are on holiday in Hawaii, so they are in a good mood or can’t be bothered with bartering? The Olympics are on, so there’s goodwill in the air? They need the cash, because other development projects aren’t panning out? Or, more ominously, there’s something about the lot we don’t know? – they simply accept. Done! Stef calls to tell me (I’m in Vancouver for work) and I’m standing in front of my parents when he gives me the good news. ‘That’s great,’ I say in a subdued tone of voice… I call him back later to explain that on the inside I was jumping for joy, but on the outside I wanted to stay calm… I don’t want my parents to go on this emotional roller coaster with me again, if it turns out to be a roller coaster. But this time we’re more prepared than last – we have seen the boundary pegs, consulted proper official peoples and understand the extent of the undertaking (we think) so there’s nothing really to be done except a legal ‘title search’, whereby our lawyer checks to see that the person we’re buying from actually owns the lot and there’s no funny claims on it by anyone else. But that’s it. Should be easy!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Make me an offer...

It worked! Unexpectedly, the holiday has indeed refreshed us and put a fresh perspective on things. I am open to looking at new lots, without feeling ill with disappointment. Stef is getting an actual estimate from the blasting company as to how much the ‘scary’ lot would cost us. And we have arranged to meet with a geotechnical engineer (Phil Diamond) to look at the sites and check them out. He reassures me simply by not implying that we are crazy to think about buying this lot. We scratch at the gravel with our toes (you can now see the gravel, since the snow has melted), and speculate about what lies beneath… The lot is full of rocky debris, presumably the result of what happened when the next-door-neighbours blasted their own lot to build and needed somewhere to dump the fill. They have been using the resulting flat gravel field as a second yard – a place for their sons’ trampoline. Occasionally I think I catch a glimpse of a worried faces pressed up against the glass looking out at us, wondering what we are doing on their ‘yard’. Phil thinks we’ll have to dig all this rubble up (the development company, Sabre, confirms it is in fact just rubble rather than any kind of structurally stable ‘fill’). But that’s okay, he says, someone will pay us to take it away. Someone always wants rubble, he says. There, that guy walking his dog – I know him, he’ll buy your rubble. Really? Oh yeah, the council is always constructing stuff on the levees, and they always need rubble. Over coffee and cookies at the local bakery (where there is vodka on the baking shelves, apparently for the truffles but maybe also for the chef) I am convinced. We will put in an offer for this one! The view is astounding.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gimme a break

We have a holiday booked in Mexico for 23 Jan till the 5th of Feb, and we have decided to put off any more offer-making until after a few margaritas. We will come back refreshed, and I won’t have to spend my beach holiday drawing house plans, which is an unexpected plus.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Take 2?

Rallying, we have had a meeting with a local designer (Richard Diamond), who knows this place inside out and laughs heartily at our original choice. That's not a view lot, he says. Nor will it give us a garden. What were the developers thinking, he wonders? With lots this small, there is rarely room for access, and driveways are taking up practically the whole of the front yards. He gives us the rundown on the area, and we are forced to look at alternatives. To me, the obvious move is to go one lot to the left – a bigger lot, with a similar view, flat with no apparent building difficulties. But in a bit of a hollow, perhaps destined to be surrounded by other houses. A starter's lot. A baby lot. To Stef, the obvious move is across the road – a much bigger lot, with a better view. Also flat, but elevated off the road by about 3 metres, which means, again, a whole heck of a lot of blasting to get a driveway up onto the level. A grown up lot, with issues and potential. I feel like a girl courted by two men, who can't make up her mind who to marry. One looks better on paper – bigger (aka bigger), richer (better resale value thanks to the view and size), better looking (nicer view). The other pales in comparison by all logical standards, but by being in that hollow it seems, well, settled in the landscape. It feels natural. Homey. The grown-up logical choice, being up on a pedestal of artifically-placed rock, feels haughty. If they were men my brain would say to go with the bigger lot; my heart with the smaller. And shouldn't we always go where the heart points? But I have promised Stef to go and stand on the larger lot for an hour tomorrow afternoon... perhaps I will grow to love it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Oh no!

Disaster. The peg marking the corner of the lot has, finally, been found – and it's metres further right than it should be, or at least from where we assumed it would be. Result? Nowhere to put a driveway. Massive blasting costs to bash our way through onto the lot. A sunken garage, with only a two story house on top. Two stories means a larger footprint. A larger footprint means no garden. And no benefit to the view, with houses surrounding us at 3 stories high. My god. The disappointment is palpable. Literally. I taste battery acid. For some reason the worst part is having to revoke my facebook status, tell my parents and people we love that it fell through. The disappointment is hideous. Of course I know they’re disappointed FOR us, not IN us, but it’s still bad. Must be my British upbringing – makes me feel responsible for everything, and a need to apologize.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dreams of a white house...

I have had to fly to Washington DC for work for a week, and have spent the day in a druggy haze of jetlag and lost sleep – lost to being sandwiched between two incredibly fat people – I mean really, really, folds-of-flesh-hanging-over-the-armrest fat (on both sides) – and generally being sat upright in a noisy, windy, dry, soul-less tin-can-in-the-sky. That kind of lost sleep. I reckon I got 3 hours last night, and then had to be functional at 7am local time (4am Vancouver time). Nice. And, just to make things fun, my first meeting was at the White House Conference Centre (the Eisenhower Room), where I had to make a short presentation, unscripted, and without having had a shower. I have survived! Now, napped and lunched and more meetinged and dinnered and worked out, I am back in the hotel bleary eyed again, disbelieving it is still the same day, and thinking... about houses. Called Stef to tell him I miss him etc, and we found we had nearly identically stumbled on the same house plan for the lot. “So I have a T..” “I have an L! But I can see a T!” And the room over the garage should be sunk down about two steps...” “Me too! So with a slightly over-height ceiling!” Eerie. Shame none of these plans yet really work.

Stef, it turns out, spent the day digging in the snow looking for the mysterious surveying pegs, which, after exploration with a metal detector turned up only their own shovels and steel toe boots, seem to be missing. I wonder what we're actually buying if there aren't any survey pegs? Can we make the boundary up? Stef was guided in this misadventure by the 'daughter of Sabre' (Sabre being the property company selling these lots), sister to the guy who lives across the road ('Son of Sabre') and our neighbour-to-be. Lisa Ames, our realtor, was in attendance, rolling her eyes. I say we blow these property lines wide open – we're taking over the whole hill. (Quick, pee on it!)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Estimate this

I have decided to work out a budget – a rough one – for how much this will all cost... here goes!

1) Lawyer
• Private Septic or Public Sewer
• Private Well or Public Water
• Electrical Service from Utility Company
• Private Fire Sprinkler or Public Hydrant
• Gas or Oil Service from Utility Company
• Drawings & Specifications Development
• Permits & Special Fees from Building Department
• Site Access and Street Culvert as well as Driveway
• Excavation/Backfill/Grade
• Foundation/Structural Slab-on-grade
• Flat Concrete/Aprons/Patios/Sidewalks
• Frame Lumber/Trusses/Labor
• Decks/Porches/Veranda
• Roofing/Flashing/Ventilation
• Windows/Skylights/Solar tubes
• Siding/Exterior Trim
• Gutters/Downspouts/Storm water
• Fireplace/Stove/Insert
• Plumbing and Trim Fixtures
• Heating/Ventilation/Air Conditioning
• Electrical and Trim Fixtures
• Exterior Doors & Garage Doors
• Weatherization/Firestuffing/Insulation
• Drywall/Tape/Texture
• Paint Interior/Wallcoverings
• Paint/Stain Exterior
• Cabinets/Counters
• Interior Doors/Trim/Hardware
• Floor Coverings
• Appliances
• Bath Accessories
• Clean-up/Recycle/Landfill
• Landscaping
• Contingency
• Superintendence
• Profit/Overhead
• Sales Tax (if applicable)

Okay, I got as far as copying that list off a helpful internet site, got terrified by its length, and gave up. Uh, well, there's still time. A friend of a friend of a friend did it for $120 / square foot, and the average is $200 / square foot, and an internet site I found said either $260 for high quality or $180 for low quality... so lets say, um, $150 / square foot!! Estimate sorted.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

It begins...

Today we bought a piece of land. And on this land, my husband is going to build us a house. He has never built a house before, though he is a builder, and from this day forward I will learn to trust him to do this incredible thing. He will build a house. From scratch. On his own. It will not fall down half way through, or leak, or be condemned. He will not fall victim to multiple catastrophes and on-sight injuries. I hope. No matter what happens I have promised above all to keep a sense of humour. And we shall see what we shall see.

To say we “bought” land might be a bit of an over-statement... today I changed my facebook status to: “I am buying land. Woo hoo! Housewarming party in, um, about two years.” The project of course will be a long haul. But even buying the land is a bit of a long haul. Today we agreed on a price with the seller (a relatively easy process, with only two back and forths, which of course means we begin today with the self recriminations... what if? How low would they have gone?). Now we have 3 weeks to clear all the conditions – a “cooling off” period in which we can decide that the notion is too scary, the land too high up, the cost too prohibitive, the radon leaking from the ground too poisonous or any other such thing. I am, you will find, obsessive, slightly compulsive, and definitely a worry wart, and so I think about these things. Ruminate about them. Lose sleep over them. I am positive – absolutely positive – that at some point months down the line we will realize oooooh, this is the native home of a rare frog and so we can't build a house on our land. Except of course it won't be that – it will be something I haven't thought of. Yet.

But first we must get an accountant, and a lawyer, and wrangle through the paperwork of how, exactly, to buy this land. If we pass the 'cooling off' date with confidence, then we slap down a $15,000 deposit, and wait for April 1 to pay the rest of the cash (all startling $211,000 of it) and 'take possession'. I think this will mean sleeping on it in a tent. If the snow has gone by then.

The land is in a beautiful spot – a smallish building lot, about 7,800 square feet, on a rocky knoll on a road (Greenwood street) that ends in a cul-de-sac. It is a corner lot, with what will be the front door facing east, down the valley towards the mountains. What will be the living room (in my head) faces south and the towering Mount Currey. In winter the sun never rises above this edifice, but peaks out around the side for some 30 minutes in the afternoon, before nipping behind the hill that sits above our local lake. Westward is the back of the house, and what will be the garden. Somewhere across the road you can hear a small waterfall. North is the other road-side face, with a view over the house across the street to yet more mountains. Yesterday, after we put in an offer but before we agreed on a price, we tromped around this land in knee-deep snow, assessing the views, imagining rooms. In the back there is a little cluster of trees in which I can see an outdoor bath – just a bathtub on the lawn, which I'll fill with a hose in summer to sit in the cold water and listen to the birds. Above these trees sits a little knob of rock, on which Stef will build a tiny island of deck for watching the setting sun. I suggested that Stef pee on the snow to mark his (our) territory... so that if the seller backed down, we could say: you have to sell it to us. We peed on it. But we didn't.

Yesterday we also explored a bit of the local surroundings, finding a staircase that led promisingly up the cliff face from town. We followed it up, then along, up and down over rocks, and up again, winding on a magical path through a snowy wood, and popped out, surprisingly, directly in front of “our” lot. It was fate.

When we first decided to buy it, visions of houses danced in my head. Like a kid, I grabbed paper and pen and started to draw dream homes, mapping out the rooms. I know what the perfect house will look like now, though sadly all the rooms are a bit too big, the hallways insanely wide, and the garage too small (it's very difficult to get proportions right). Of course I can't design a house, not for real. I have run out of patience making quilts, let along something that will take 18 months...

Yes, 18 months. That's how long we have, according to the rules that come with our lot. The clock will start ticking in early May, when we break ground. We have bureaucracy to wade through, designs to make, foundations to lay, fights to have, and a dream to build. We shall see what we shall see.