House Hunter Chronicles 9: Home at Last

December 3, 2012

Follow local house hunters as they experience the highs and lows of trying to buy a house in the Vancouver real estate market. Elaine L. is the first to share her search with us. We check in with her every couple of weeks to see how it's going.

Congratulations Elaine and Patty!

They've bought a house. They've moved to Fraserview, the "west side of the east side," a Vancouver neighbourhood Elaine loved but didn't think she could afford.

They've moved to a house that has the layout she's been searching for but didn't think she'd find in her price range: three levels with the bedroom on top, living area on the main floor and a basement with a 1-bedroom suite to rent out.

And they've moved already, because the place was empty. Which is great because they were living with her sister, so "we were technically homeless."

Best part? They're paying $265,000 less than they were qualified for.

The house was listed back in July at just under $1.07 million and was later reduced by almost 10 per cent, which was still $19,000 above assessed value. Elaine and Patty bought it below assessed value, for $935,000.

The falling real estate market in Vancouver has worked in their favour. But Elaine is also impressed with their Real Estate Agent's negotiating skills.

"You need someone who's aggressive, who's willing to put himself out there to fight for you. It was 2:00 in the morning when we signed the final offer. He actually got all dressed up and went to see the sellers and their Real Estate Agent in person, because he likes to deal with people face to face.

"He texted me at one point and said 'I think the magic number is 935.' It went back and forth for a couple of hours and it got to $938. And we were ready to go for it because the difference was so small. I asked him how we should proceed from there, and he said 'We're walking.' Whoa! So 15 minutes later he told me 935 was accepted! We love him!"

They don't love the house. Yet.

"We'd seen it before and we didn't like it," says Elaine. "It's a 1991 house so it's a little dated. We don't have great imagination when it comes to design, but with our new Real Estate Agent we were able to visualize what could be done. He said, 'I guarantee that you'll love everything about this house if you don't love it now.'"

Their Real Estate Agent knows what he's talking about because he's done a lot of work in his dad's building and renovation company. He recommended a contractor who had worked for his father for a long time. On the day of the inspection the contractor came over, did some measurements and gave them an estimate guaranteed to be within 8 per cent.

Elaine says, "We checked around and his prices turned out to be very reasonable. And because of the price, we have some money left over to renovate. We took a little bit extra on the mortgage to cover the renovations and we're going to pay a little extra out of our pockets too, to make up about $80,000."

Elaine has big plans. "We want to update the bathroom, kitchen, lights and flooring. And we have to take out an extra bathroom the owners enclosed the living room to build it, so we're going to knock down a wall and take it out. We're also going to fix up the basement and add a laundry for tenants, to make it more rentable.

"We've just moved in there so we don't have to pay for storage. We put everything in the garage and we'll live upstairs while we renovate the basement, and live in the basement while we renovate the upstairs. The contractor estimated 6 to 8 weeks, but usually you can double that."

But there's one other person Elaine consulted while she was deciding on this particular house. She hired one of Vancouver's top feng shui masters to help her through the process.

Feng shui is a Chinese system for creating a harmonious environment by improving the flow of energy within and around it. As Elaine found out, it's not a set of unvarying rules.

"He says anything that works for you is good feng shui, for instance if you take the bus all the time and you really appreciate having a bus stop near your house, then that's good feng shui, where it would be bad for someone who doesn't appreciate the bus. It all depends on the person. This house is good for me; it may not be good for you."

Feng shui compass used in buying real estate in Vancovuer

What amazed her was that the feng shui master didn't need to spend time getting to know them.

"He actually knows you from your birth day, your birth time, and your name. My mom doesn't actually her birthdate; we were only able to give him an estimate and her Chinese name. So he'd never met my mom before and she wasn't there at the first house we took him to, but still he was able to suggest something that would be good for her because he knew she had trouble with her foot and her back. We were really wowed by that comment, when he'd never met her and didn't even have her birthday, just her Chinese name."

For a flat fee of $3,800, the feng shui master made himself available to check out as many houses as they wanted to look at.

"He first did a drive-by to see if there were streets pointing directly at the house. If you're on a dead end street and the street is pointing directly at your house then that's not good. Then he checked out the inside. We told him we were knocking down a wall and he said no problem.

"One thing he did mention that kind of creeped me out was that we have an enclosed stairway to the basement, and he said we should have light on there all the time so it can't house dark spirits. That sounds a little crazy."

Feng shui even involves colours. The master asked them to get back to him when they were choosing paint.

"He said we have to paint the outside of the house, which is mustard yellow. He said the colour doesn't mesh with Mom. And for the interior he chose a couple of shades lighter than what we thought we'd go with. He didn't recommend dark kitchen cabinets for us, but I don't think we're going to listen because we both love dark cabinets."

We leave Elaine breathing dust as she watches the transformation of her new home. Since our first interview in July, life has been a series of disruptions for her and Patty, but pretty soon they'll have the home they wanted.

Follow along as Elaine and her mom chronicle their house-hunting adventures:

And if you're currently looking to buy a home and/or sell a home, get in touch! We're looking for house hunters who are willing to tell us about their experiences as they go through the sometimes exhilarating, sometimes frustrating process of buying a home in Vancouver. Those selected will earn $500. Details here.

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