We’re continuing with the house/land hunt but its all moving very slowly. The place we liked best, and still keep coming back to, is a small acreage in a great neighbourhood with a tiny old house. The list of issues with this place is a mile long and accordingly the owners are asking too much. We put in a low-ball offer which they refused to look at (their realtor said it was “insulting”) but it was without any subjects. Now we’re preparing to put in a much higher offer but this time we want some candy!
So yesterday we took our architect (wow, doesn’t that sound swanky?) out to the place for a consultation. The tiny house isn’t on a foundation (problem #1; it’s built on blocks) and he pointed out that, because of this, we have no idea what the ground is like underneath. Apparently you can’t just pour concrete on the ground and call it a day (who knew?). So we’ll need a geotechnical survey. This we will have to pay for ourselves but we’ll include a favourable result as a subject in our offer. As for the house, it was no surprise to us that he deemed it a tear-down. Frankly, I’m a bit relieved. I’d sworn to Husband that if we could buy this place I’d be happy to live in the “quaint little cottage” until we could save up cash for an expansion/new house. However, the more I saw of it, the more my promise was coming back to haunt me in my dreams. From the exposed freestanding wood-burning stove beside the little staircase without rails (can’t you just see a child falling on there and getting a permanent stovetop-shaped scar across his torso and face?) to the bathtub (hand made from wood and coated with some kind of clear fibreglass coating, ewwww!), this place puts the idea of rustic living well beyond this city-girl’s limits! I can be happy living in a shoebox for a while, but much better if it is a shiny new shoebox (with proper plumbing)!
Speaking of which, we knew the place didn’t have a well (they were drawing water direct from the stream with the strangest set of do-it-yourself hoses, plastic carbuoys, and pumps I’ve ever seen) so that is now going in with our offer as something we’d like the owners to do. Ditto with the septic which, as it turns out, isn’t even the far-below-code homemade job we thought it was, but is apparently a cesspool (that’s actually a real word; such a learning experience this is!). Let the owners dig out their underground pool of sewage, thanks!
We also need a site survey for reasons that cover the remaining issues. One, the stream running through the property is protected by an environmental setback that encompasses 2/3 of the acreage. This doesn’t matter to us so much, since we aren’t interested in turning the lovely natural setting into a landscaped monstrosity of lawns, retaining walls, and beds that need a hired gardener to maintain. Nor do we wish to build a 5000 sq ft starter mansion. However, it does limit where one can build a house, even a small one. The only benefit to be gained from the existing cottage, and it’s a big benefit, is that most of it sits within the setback area. The city said we’d be allowed to keep that footprint for a new/renovated home (though any additions or expansions will be restricted to the direction that lies away from that area). So, the site survey will tell us the exact location of the setback. It will also confirm the existence of a shed on the property, also within the setback area. It’s funny because, in the words of the architect, the shed “doesn’t exist” until it’s on the site survey (“but I’m looking right at it! can’t we just bring the city dude here and point it out to him?”). Then we will hopefully be allowed to use its footprint for a new outbuilding (read: Husband’s drumming studio, male hangout, and guest house all rolled into one).
With all these issues it’s no wonder the place has been for sale forever. But despite all that, with the proper due diligence it shouldn’t be anything we can’t work through. However, I’m learning, as a first timer in all this, that our biggest obstacle is one we have no control over: the mindset of the owners.
They are an old couple who built the house and lived there for years. Signs of their loving care are still visible under all the overgrown weeds and bramble bushes: huge rhododendrons and fruit-laden apple trees dot the property, as well as other mature trees and flowering shrubs. All it needs is a good brush mower and some serious pruning to make it look pretty again. But the owners have a great deal of emotional attachment to the place, which apparently translates into: they think it’s worth a lot more than it is. After all, they managed for decades without a well or septic so they don’t seem to get what an issue it is for a potential buyer. And who needs electricity other than to run a few light bulbs? (the cord jungles in our computer-laden home could single-handedly short out the entire neighbourhood with the hack wiring job in that place). They may also not be in need of the money, which means despite all our interest and due diligence we may eventually be thwarted by the fact that they simply don’t want to part with it for less than an unreasonable sum of money and are happy to wait another 10 years.
That our ability to actually make this dream a reality rests on the foibles of human nature disturbs and frustrates me a great deal. You may ask why not move on? Well first, I haven’t found anything else I like. It’s all either too expensive and/or too far out of town, or just plain ugly (I’d end up maxing out our budget on a house I hate and then can’t afford to change). The issues with this place (specifically the setback area) put it off most peoples’ wish list and reduce the price significantly. It seems made for us – small house loving, natural setting enjoying us!
So, when a few more details have been gathered we will put together another offer (hopefully by next week) and I’ll be praying that we aren’t greeted with the same response as the first one. For Pete’s sake, just give us a counter-offer at least!