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“You don’t need planning permission to build castles in the sky…”

Banksy

…though unfortunately you do in British Columbia to carry out a wide range of renovations to your own particular castle!

Viz – from the North Saanich Municipality website:

Building Permit

Many home renovations require a Building Permit. Failure to acquire a permit BEFORE starting will result in a double fee. Building Permits are required BEFORE you:

– Renovate, repair or add on to an existing building

– Construct a new home

– Construct a new accessory building or structure greater than 10 m2 (107 ft2) (no services 1 story)

– Remove, relocate, alter or construct interior walls

– Complete a previously unfinished area in an existing building

– Construct, reconstruct, cover or enclose a porch or sun deck

– Demolish, relocate or move a building

– Construct a swimming pool, hot tub or spa pool deeper than 1 metre 3.28 ft.)

– Construct retaining walls over 1.5 metres (4.9 ft.) or more in height (professional engineering required)

– Construct a fence over 2 metres (6.56 ft.) or higher in height

– Make plumbing additions or alterations

– Any inspections listed in Section 12.1 of Bylaw No. 1150 requires a permit

– All seawalls, even if they are less than the 1.5m height

I duly visited the North Saanich Municipal Offices the other day to deliver the necessary paperwork to apply for a building permit for our upcoming sunroom removal and deck renovation project. Should the gentle reader be wondering just how much effort is required for such an undertaking, the list is but a short one:

  • Completed ‘Building Permit Application‘ form (available from the municipality’s website) – this gives the legal details of the property and of the specifics of the contractor and of the project itself
  • Completed ‘District of North Saanich Building and Plumbing Bylaw 1150, Schedule C‘ – essentially a waver to protect the municipality from any unforeseen consequences of the project
  • A copy of the owners’ ‘State of Title Certificate‘ (obtainable from the Land Title Office in Victoria)
  • Two copies of the architect/designer’s drawings
  • The requisite fee – the amount of which is based on the value of the project

What should also have been included (a requirement for properties built prior to 1990) was a copy of a ‘Hazardous Materials Assessment & Abatement Report‘. We have arranged an inspection for this coming Friday and are keeping our fingers crossed that nothing too hideous is revealed in the resultant findings.

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Photo by Andy Dawson Reid“We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.”

Calvin Coolidge

It is a matter of days now until we can celebrate the first anniversary of our ownership of the really rather splendid North Saanich residence from which emanate these meanderings. Time has simply cantered by…

It is also very nearly five months since I scribbled this update which included a brief passage concerning the ongoing legal dispute between the Kickass Canada Girl and I and the former owners of the property (and quite possibly their realtor (estate agent!) and maybe also our home inspector (surveyor!!)). I am still not able to regale gentle (and patient) readers with the full details; needless to say the case grinds on and on, and we are thankfully not holding our breaths (or we would by now have expired).

Indeed we have determined that we should no longer curtail our respiration (metaphorically speaking) in more ways than one! We have decided that we can wait not a day more before getting cracking on the first phases of our renovations.

The first task is the one that we did not expect to have to do. I realise that I have not – to this point – revealed the gruesome details of what must be done. Without going into the whys and wherefores the nub of the matter is this… as the photos in this post from last year show, the house currently has three sun-rooms that traverse the entire back of the building facing the sea. The areas beneath these have been enclosed to create further spaces that sit uncomfortably somewhere between inside and out.

These three sun-rooms must be removed, and will be replaced by a simple deck with stairs down to the garden (yard). A new and sizable sliding window will need to be installed in the living room, into what is currently just a hole in the wall.

This is a not insignificant project and will require building permits and suchlike. To which end we have engaged a designer (and ‘Architectural Building Technologist’) who has produced a first set of draft plans, the which will be used to set the whole kit and caboodle in motion with a view to actually building next spring. We rather like the elegant simplicity of his suggested solution and – should you persevere with these meanderings – you will eventually see how it turns out.

The ‘second’ task we had already started last year – before we discovered the extent of the issue described above. The house has a heat pump – a sort of air-conditioning – which is jolly good but does not provide the sort of ‘spot’ warmth that is required for comfortable winter living. Our first actions on moving in last October were to arrange for natural gas to be laid on and to order a gas log insert for the drawing room fireplace. When everything kicked off a few weeks later we had to put the installation on hold and – until a few days ago – that was the way things had remained. With winter rumbling into view in the distance this part of the project had to be rapidly re-instated and we now have in place a splendid and highly efficient gas log insert – complete with remote controls, timers, temperature settings and other gewgaws that we will never use.

Progress! Progress!…

 

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Image from Pexels…that’s fit to print!

New York Times masthead

Time for a quick catchup on some news from Victoria.

For the Kickass Canada Girl and I (wrong – but so right!) life sometimes seems to comprise such a constant stream of happenings and doings that our nascent existence here in BC evolves more rapidly than can reasonably routinely be communicated to those who are not fortunate enough to live at this end of the island.

To remedy this unfortunate situation herewith a brief parade of news items in no particular order.

Though I am myself a confirmed retiree – and delighted so to be – it was always a matter of some conjecture as to whether or not the Girl was entirely done with the world of work. After six months in which she greatly enjoyed a sort of trial run at retirement she perhaps unsurprisingly decided that she had more to give.

Following a couple of half-hearted applications for not entirely suitable positions the ideal opportunity finally offered itself. The Girl made a serious application – turned on the afterburners at the resultant interview and – to the complete lack of surprise on the part of all who know her – watched the interviewing board’s eyes light up not just with regard to the position on offer but also with a view to future elevation.

She is now working four days a week appraising the needs of clients of an extensive volunteer service that provides support for the elderly (and others) to enable them to live independently.

Hoorah for the Girl! Well done…

In my end of year post of December last I made reference to the legal matter that has resulted in our having to put in abeyance any immediate plans to renovate our house in North Saanich. Our initial hope was that the mere presence on our team of the big guns – in the shape of our hot-shot lawyer – would send the vendors scurrying to the negotiating table. Sadly they have thus far eschewed doing the decent thing and it has been necessary to serve the papers for a civil claim.

Hmmm! Matters grind on at glacial pace – in all regards save that of the ever mounting fees payable…

As also referenced in a jolly post but a couple of weeks back, my ‘Boating Essentials’ course reached its conclusion with yet another multiple-choice exam. To my intense chagrin I was yet again defeated by a single question in this test, though I did score well above the required pass mark. We then rounded matters off with a two day course on ‘Marine VHF Radio’, for the use of which it is obligatory to hold a certificate. I finally conquered my multiple-choice demons and registered a perfect score.

I can, however, take no credit for this happy state of affairs – that going instead to the Brentwood Bay Power Squadron. The preparation of students for examination by their training team is second to none and they have the awards to prove it. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole kit and caboodle and was most impressed by all concerned.

All that remains is for me to find a suitable boat…

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Image from Pixabay“A transition period is a period between two transition periods.”

George Stigler

The period following the declaration in September 1939 that a state of war existed between the United Kingdom and Germany – the which endured until April of the following year – came to be know as the ‘Phoney War’. This because, following the Nazis’ blitzkrieg attack on Poland and Chamberlain’s dramatic declaration, as far as the general public could tell – absolutely nothing happened!

That this was – of course – far from being the case became all too apparent as the following year unfolded, but the phrase – and the notion – has stuck. It now provides a useful analog for an unexpected hiatus.

Far be it from me to suggest that the events of the past two months in our humble lives could in any way compare with such great moments from history – but I am, naturally, about to do just that.

Since the offer on our new home on the Saanich peninsular was accepted and the contracts signed back at the start of August we have existed in a dreamlike state of limbo. Schemes have been schemed – researches pursued relentlessly – plans prepared patiently… inspiration quivering tremulously just beyond reach like some slippery Will O’ the Wisp…

Not a great deal of any true import has been achieved. We have instead floated through a delightful holiday-like existence at our lovely friends’ smallholding in Saanichton, indulging in all the delights that Victoria has to offer of a summer season.

All this is about to change…

Next week we take over and move into our new home and all of our worldly possessions finally finish their long voyage from the UK.

I have already made reference to some of the many differences between buying and selling property in Canada and so doing in England. A further disparity – particularly if one is in the fortunate position of not requiring mortgage finance – is that the legal profession’s part in the process over here amounts to little more than a cameo.

As soon as we had received an offer on our apartment in Buckinghamshire I had immediately to engage a solicitor, by whom the process was effectively run from that point on – all the way to completion. Here in Canada we were advised that a lawyer would not be required until the very last moment. Sure enough we finally met our lawyer earlier this week, signed the necessary papers and handed over a bank draft made out for a very large sum of money. Apparently we will not need to see him again.

The funds will be transferred to the vendor on Monday next, we take possession at midday on the Tuesday and our goods and chattels should be with us on Wednesday.

There is some uncertainty as to the exact timing of this final phase because our various bits and pieces – having been extracted from their container upon arrival in Vancouver a couple of weeks ago and subsequently stored in a bonded warehouse there – still need to be cleared by Canada Customs. We will meet the truck bringing them from Vancouver at Victoria International Airport (where Canada Customs have an office) and the business will be transacted there. We don’t envisage there being any problems, but don’t yet know if this will take place on Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning.

Once everything has been unloaded and unpacked – that’s when the fun really starts…

Until then – and as a way of preparing ourselves for the busy and arduous week ahead – we have run away for a couple of nights to Saltspring Island, concerning which more anon…

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Image from pixabayIn exactly four weeks from today we will take possession of our new home on the Saanich peninsular north of Victoria.

If we are fortunate – and our experiences of late seem to suggest that frequently we are so – then our goods and chattels – which have been bobbing their merry way across two oceans – should put in an appearance at roughly the same time.

We have, in fact, heard from our tranter – Bournes International Moves – that the vessel that is playing host to our container is due to make landfall in Vancouver on or around September 4th or 5th. Whereas that should leave plenty of time for our precious cargo to reach us before we complete the house purchase it must first clear Canadian customs – a process in which we need apparently have some personal involvement, the details of which we will learn more about in due course.

Should this cause only a minor delay then our goods must needs briefly be held in storage in Vancouver before making the final leg of the journey to Victoria. This has already been factored in and the necessary arrangements made to cover all eventualities.

I have previously made reference to the fact that our new home – though really in very good condition – is in need of some updating, mostly to bring it into the current century in terms of style and convenience.

Our current wish list of improvements includes the following – in no particular order:

  • A new kitchen
  • Complete renovation of the family bathroom (mine!)
  • Extension and renovation of the ensuite bathroom (the Girl’s)
  • Connection to the natural gas main (we want a gas range and gas water heating)
  • A modern gas fireplace for the living room
  • Hardwood flooring in the living room and bedroom (the Girl does not tolerate carpets well)
  • Installation of a new staircase to give better access from the living rooms to the garden. (This will also involve opening up one of the current external walls at the foot of the new staircase and the installation of new patio doors to the ground floor in its place)
  • In conjunction with the above – the re-siting and re-commissioning of the hot tub (come on – this is Canada!)
  • The creation from the downstairs family room, kitchen and bedroom of a new studio apartment for our guests to use (and for possible future Air-B & B-ing)

I feel sure that there will also be many other things to do, but that’s about all I can think of at the moment. Besides – that’s quite enough to be getting on with.

Though we are blessed with wonderful friends in Saanichton who put up without complaint with our squatting in their suite and imposing on their hospitality, we are reaching the limit of our patience with living out of suitcases. The next four weeks of limbo-living will probably fly by, but we are now increasingly impatient for them so to do.

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imageThis post has been a long time coming.

Regular readers will need no reminder of the tortuous genesis of our Canadian adventure. Should the casual passer-by wish to catch up on the history of our struggle to divest ourselves of our UK property – of the Kickass Canada Girl’s abortive 2012 attempt to establish a new career in Victoria – of our brief long distance relationship and of my delayed retirement… all of the necessary information may be gleaned from the archives to this blog.

I will simply refer all other gentle readers to this post, dating from the end of April of this year. This missive – lurking under the banner “A lesson in patience” – had as its theme the notion that the entire enterprise had been an extended education in endurance.

It turns out that in this regard I was somewhat off-beam!

The post contained the following paragraph:

“As the deadline for our departure for Canada approaches with all the subtlety of a runaway train we must keep our faith, our belief in our good fortune and our fingers firmly crossed. The universe is surely planning for everything to pan out just right – at just the right moment.”

At the point of posting the Girl and I had both made something of psychological leap, deciding that we would no longer fret and strut regarding our lack of progress but determining instead that we would retire and move to Canada in July come what may! Had we not found a purchaser for our Buckinghamshire apartment – or had my Permanent Residency at that point not been approved – we would go regardless and make of the emprise what we might.

It is now a matter of history that within forty eight hours of this missive having been penned we received – and accepted – a reasonable offer for the apartment. Within little more than a week of that milestone my application for PR was also granted.

The sale of the apartment was completed a mere week before we departed on our trans-Atlantic jaunt, just in time for a six-year high in the Sterling/Canadian dollar exchange rate to gift us a bonus of around $145,000 on what we would have had, had the property been sold when we first attempted so to do.

Our good fortune in finding our dream house in Victoria has been documented sufficiently recently that I need not repeat myself here. Suffice to say that faith in our fellowship of the fortunate few, which had been somewhat eroded over the last year or so, has been dramatically restored.

What might all of this mean?

Well – there is no denying that a great deal of patience has been called for over the last four years. The ultimate lesson – however – is surely rather that one should trust in the universe to provide what is needed – when it is most needed. One may – of course – ascribe this fortune to whatever higher force one deems appropriate. Personally I just think that we are just lucky, lucky buggers!

End of story…

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imageI did promise that I would fill in the gaps regarding the most expeditious and auspicious purchase of our new home on the Saanich peninsular…

Well – ‘Yer tis’ – as they purportedly exclaim down ‘Zummerzet’ way (how’s that for an entirely gratuitous, irrelevant and quasi-offensive reference?).

I wrote in this post concerning our first abortive attempt to purchase a house on the island from vendors who had clearly forgotten the essential characteristic required of their role in the transaction – namely the desire actually to sell the property that they had brought to market!

When it became clear that the deal was not after all going ahead – and mindful of the fact that the paucity of new properties being offered had created a sellers’ market in which houses were moving rapidly and, occasional, selling above the asking price – the Kickass Canada Girl and I decided to revisit our criteria for choosing a new home.

This we did in part by driving around each of the areas on which we had focussed our attention, looking critically at our reasons for having chosen them and re-evaluating their potential when it came to fulfilling our dream. As often seems to be the way with us this actually had the effect of narrowing our range of possibilities, leaving us ultimately with a mere two adjacent streets within our number one area on which we were prepared to settle.

It looked as though we had made things yet more difficulty when the Girl mused that our ideal might be a house owned by an old couple that now needed fixing up.

What were the odds?

At about the time that we had finally decided to let the first house go we were out on a Thursday afternoon in downtown Victoria. The Girl has been signed up for several years to email alerts from our realtor when new properties come on to the market and – wouldn’t you know it? – a notification popped up.

A new house had come on the market – on one of our two chosen streets! We called our realtor. She was busy but checked with the vendors realtor, who was actually at the property. We could view immediately. We drove there directly, arriving no more than 45 minutes after the ‘for sale’ sign went out.

We liked what we saw. The right street – loads of space – beautiful and quiet garden – wonderful views – plenty of space for the Girl and an large outbuilding that I could turn into a studio. Furthermore, the property had been owned by an old couple. The husband had died and the wife was going back to live near family in Vancouver. The house had been looked after, but the decor and installations – kitchens, bathrooms etc – dated from the 70s and would need to be replaced.

We paid another visit the very next morning and determined to make an offer. Fearing that the vendor’s realtor might attempt to engineer another multiple offer situation we made a full price offer, and after an anxious wait we heard that it had been accepted.

Being cash buyers the only conditions attached related to the home inspection. We had already lined up an inspector for our abortive first purchase effort and he was simply switched – the following Wednesday – to the new house. He had only minor issues to report and the payment of the requisite deposit made the house ours – just in time for us to leave on our trip to the interior.

Wow!

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“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

Maya Angelou, ‘All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes’

My last post concluded thus:

“There is clearly – as with all such things – some meaning behind all of this emotional upheaval. We await with interest to see what it is.”

Well – we did not have long to wait to discover what it might be.

We have bought a house!!

The Kickass Canada Girl and I are heading to the interior for a short period from tomorrow and communication may be difficult, but we did want to share this news before we left. Full details of one of the fastest house sales of all time will be posted later, but for now let me gently stimulate your envy buds!

This is the unassuming prospect of the property from the road:

image

But this is what it looks like from the back:

imageThe building to the right is not the property next door but the outbuilding that will become my studio! The house itself needs a fair bit of updating but we are prepared to take time over that.

The deal maker is what you get if you look out of the back of the house:

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Nuff said!

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Canadian houseI have in the past eulogised the Canadian real estate market vis a vis that extant in the UK. Mind you – the operation of just about any other real estate market might seem preferable to the cack handed (and I write as a southpaw myself!) methodology that we must needs follow in England. Do please refer to this previous post on the subject for yet another example thereof. The truth of the matter is more probably that any other system appears superior to one’s own – until one experiences it first hand.

One of the definite benefits of the Canadian system is that the two realtors (estate agents) involved in the process actually have subtly different roles. Rather than visiting many different realtors in the search for a property one always works with the same concern who bring to the purchaser details of all suitable properties, whether or not they are listed with that realtor. If a sale is eventually agreed both realtors take a share of the commission. If nothing else, this means that one works with someone whom one knows and trusts and the immediate individuals involved always have one’s best interests at heart.

The second major benefit is that the basic contracts are drawn up by the realtors at the point of offer. Certain conditions may be applied – such as the outcome of a house inspection – but if the offer is accepted and the conditions are satisfied then the purchase is signed and sealed and there is no possibility of gazumping or of any other such devious practice.

There is – however – plenty that can go amiss up to that point. Herewith details of our own recent experience…

We had seen – before we left the UK – a property of which we liked the look. Our dear friends in Saanichton – with whom we are currently living – had even been for a visit and had given us a sneak preview via Facetime. Ah – the wonders of technology…

Once landed in the province we quickly organised a viewing in person and – having very much liked what we saw – further arranged a second such. Though the house was priced rather higher than we felt was merited we prepared an offer. At this juncture – however – the vendors’ realtor disclosed that there was already an offer on the table to which the vendors had not responded. We should have been informed of this before we made the second viewing, but the vendors’ realtor omitted so to do.

Given that no offer had yet been accepted we found ourself in an unpleasant ‘multiple-offer’ situation. The mechanism here seems to be that both prospective purchasers are informed of each other’s presence and invited to make their best offer. Neither party may know, however, what the other has – or has previously -offered and one must therefore make a wild stab in the dark.

We felt obliged to offer rather more than we had wished, but were told that the vendor would – in any case – make a counter-offer to our ‘opponents’ first. They -quite understandably – walked away at this point and the vendor then made a counter-offer to us.

It rapidly became clear that they really weren’t prepared to make much of a concession at all and several rounds of us upping our offer and them giving nothing away left us frustrated and angry. Our sole conclusion from this bizarre behaviour was that – in spite of having listed their property – they didn’t actually want to sell it at all.

At this point we also decided to back out but – after a number of further days of fruitless searching in what has become a sellers’ market – reluctantly settled on making one last attempt at this house with which we had become enamoured. We gave the vendors pretty much everything they wanted, only to be told that they had gone away for a week on their sail boat! Needless to say, The Girl was by now spitting tacks!

The vendors’ realtor suggested that – could we agree to a completion date of the end of October (some three months hence) – then a deal might be done. The vendors had clearly not yet themselves found a property to purchase and had no idea what to do.

At this point we did finally walk away. The vendors’ realtor was most apologetic concerning his clients’ strange behaviour, but at this point no parsnips were buttered – as the saying goes.

There is clearly – as with all such things – some meaning behind all of this emotional upheaval. We await with interest to see what it is.

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Inage from PixabayWhy is it that buying and selling property is such a difficult and complex business?

It is well-known fact that moving house is one of the most stressful experiences that one can face – along, of course, with giving birth and getting divorced (no connection!) – but unlike those (un)happy events, re-locating is more often than not done voluntarily – which almost makes it worse. It does seem strange that the long history of real estate dealing has not resulted in the sort of highly efficient hyper-streamlined operation into which most other transactions have evolved in this oh-so modern age.

The gentle reader of a regular habit will be all too aware that I wrote next to nothing about the eventual sale of our apartment in Buckinghamshire as it went through, for fear of jinxing the process. I had good reason for this. Though in the event the sale went through almost without hitch, it was still a nerve jangling experience.

For real estate deals in the UK the whole operation – once an offer has been accepted – is placed in the hand of the two sets of solicitors, one representing each party. The ensuing process – which involves getting surveys done, carrying out Land Registry and local authority searches to ensure that there are no impediments to the deal taking place, the filling out of endless disclosure and transfer forms and the signing of the eventual contract – can take anything from a few days to months and months, with the norm being apparently around eight to twelve weeks.

Unfortunately it is extremely difficult at any point to glean exactly what is going on or why it might be taking so long. One’s own solicitor might be a most helpful chap (and ours certainly was), but he is rarely keen to rattle the cage of his opposite number. We began to fear that our sale would not complete before we left for Canada, which would have rendered far more difficult the eventual extraction of the proceeds of the sale from the UK.

Once all of the particulars are in place and the financing agreed the next step is the exchange of contracts. These documents – which set in stone the agreed date and time for completion – will have been signed by the relevant parties before being swapped. At this point a healthy deposit is also paid by the purchasers as a means of dissuading them from dropping out at a late stage.

Finally – at the agreed date and time – the monies are paid and the deeds transferred to the new owner, who normally receives the keys from the sellers estate agent.

It seems to have become the practice these days for the purchaser to try to push back the exchange of contracts until almost immediately before completion, so that the period for which the deposit is held is as short as possible. Unfortunately this means that the seller has no guarantee right until the last possible moment that the sale will actually go through at the desired time. In our case we had agreed a completion date just over a week before our departure, but the exchange was repeatedly pushed back until it finally took place the day before completion.

Needless to say, we endured some restless nights worrying that we would leave for BC without the wherewithal to purchase a property in Victoria. As it turned out, of course, the funds appeared as we were expecting and were transferred almost immediately via our currency broker of choice (Moneycorp) to our Canadian bank.

 

In part two – we try to buy a house in BC.

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