Daily Dish: Real Estate Recovery

A year ago my husband and I took the decision to move from our downtown condo location to a house.  Our one year old twins were getting ready to crawl and we knew that we would quickly outgrow out 2.5 bedroom apartment.  At the time all indications were looking positive.  We believed that with the proper presentation and representation our condo would sell quickly and we would be on our way to buying a house.  As it turned out, this was not the case.  The market softened quickly, post Olympics, and we found ourselves posting our  condo listing in the midst of hundreds of other listings.  In the meantime, buyers were thinning out.  Of course the whats and whys of what went on in 2010 are much more complex, but essentially this was our experience.

Over the course of the better part of the year we hosted a few open houses and countless viewings.  Some potential buyers came back multiple times.   Two viewers came back five times each.  At two hours prep time per each viewing, you can imagine how tiring this process was. Each time we had to stage our home for a viewing, clear out all evidence of baby toys from the rooms (including play mats and dismantling and relocating bouncy chairs and jumperoos to storage units).  Naturally we also had to ensure that the place sparkled.  When it came time for a viewing, which was often during the day, I would have to hurry out with my twins in a stroller and pass the time in the Yaletown/Rise area.  If you live in the area near Marinaside and Urban Fare you probably saw us out and about. It’s not a bad place to find yourself strolling time away as there are many nice walks, stores and amenities.  In our household we run one car, so this meant that passing the time with two barely crawling, crawling, starting to walk and then actively walking toddlers was done with the aid of a double stroller.  Sometimes I had the assistance of a nanny, but often I was on my own.

If you are planning to sell your home (condo or free standing house) in the Lower Mainland and if you have one or more young children, be prepared to enter a challenging phase.  The process is stressful, physically and intellectually exhausting and leaves you wondering when it will ever end!  The media has provided ample coverage of the high prices in the Lower Mainland housing market.  What may not have been emphasized is that the robust and high sales figures are coming from the sale of homes – primarily on the west side of Vancouver, the western part of east Vancouver and Richmond.  If you were trying to sell a condo in 2010, sales were sluggish, to say the least.  It seems that we were not the only couple who decided to move out of a downtown apartment last year.

This does not mean that living downtown is an undesirable option.  If you are walking along the promenade on Marinaside Crescent you will see that every third person either has a pram, dog, is retired or speaks Russian. There are specific types of people who want to live downtown. Additionally, if you have the right type of apartment, as we did, and you list at the right time of year, you can attract the interest of overseas investors from China.  Just make sure that your realtor knows how to market your place correctly.

When we finally sold our place towards the end of the year to a lovely and enthusiastic couple, we started to prepare for our move.  The process of packing while you have two young children on hand is brutal.  Thankfully an efficient and highly talented relative came to complete a good portion of the packing, while another family member provided meals and general support.  We made the decision to start packing early and moved the boxes we had into an additional storage locker that we rented in our building.

Once we sold our condo it took some time to find a new home.  We soon realized that North Vancouver and East Vancouver properties were not working for us, for various reasons.  One of the main challenges was that we wanted to find a family room on the main floor that was visible from the kitchen. So we decided to focus on Richmond.  

Unfortunately many wealthy overseas investors in China decided to focus on Richmond at the same time.  Yes, we were one of the 700 viewers who were part of the gong show that was the sale of 6531 Dunsany place.  It was one of those situations where you felt like you were at Ikea on a weekend sale day.  Open the closet door and – oh look – there’s already someone there looking at you.  The joke of it all was that this was not a particularly exciting property. Single pane windows.  Too many little steps inside. A dark living and dining area. Low level, flip out windows upstairs that are extremely dangerous if you have  young children.  A mediocre, old kitchen.  Barely gussied up bathrooms.  A large but ratty looking back yard with an oversized, brick BBQ area. One could go on.  When I think of the listing agent and her pink balloons and cookies, confidently admitting her inability to answer basic questions about wiring and plumbing, the worst memories of home shopping come flooding back. In situations like this the buyer is at a complete disadvantage.  When 49 offers are being written, your individual concerns and questions don’t matter.

Dunsany place was the turning point for us.  This is when we started to think that Richmond had become overpriced for the mediocre properties on offer, and we decided to look elsewhere.  My husband took the decision to investigate the possibility of Coquitlam.  Previously we’d only ever been to this area to visit the Coquitlam Ikea and the Baby’s World nearby. I am a very new driver and I didn’t relish the idea of being so far from the downtown core.  None of my friends live out that way. In addition my husband would either have to take the West Coast express (combined with a bus or buying a second car) or would have to take a long transit ride. I’d done the Yaletown to SFU transit route for many years and know how brutal it can be. Despite reservations about the distance to downtown, we started to look at Coquitlam homes.  We ended up purchasing a home with a stunning view of the mountains and moved in at the end of February.

Between the end of January and the end of February, we stayed with a family member on the west-side of Vancouver.  During that time she rearranged and child proofed her home and went to considerable effort to feed us and look after us.  We were very blessed to have the support of our family and offers of help from friends during this move.  When we finally moved into our new home, two other family members came twice to help us unpack our many boxes that came out of three storage lockers, our apartment and from my parents home. A year after we listed our home, the moving process is still ungoing as we unpack and invite  various tradespeople to help finish off  details that need attention in our home.  Since we have two busy toddlers on hand and there is much to do related to providing for their needs, there is limited time each day for setting up our home. Needless to say we are very happy to have relatives come by to inject some energy into the “setting up home” process.

Throughout the time that we were listing, selling and viewing new homes, careful thought had to be given to the needs of the children.  When would they need to sleep and eat?  Could they sleep in their stroller and eat al fresco? When would they need to move around?  When would they be happy sitting in a stroller or a car seat?  When would they stay with an adult in a car? When would we take them in to view a house together? When would they need to go out of the condo for a walk?  How was the weather cooperating?  Were they sick?  How could we pack items so that the children wouldn’t get into them?  How could we fill up boxes yet keep them away from the children? Who would look after the children while the packing was ongoing?  Who would watch the children while the move was taking place?  As we have twins you can imagine that in most of these situations there always had to be one adult focussed solely on the children. This meant that if we did not have additional  help, the moving process went slowly.  But it did progress and we got through it.  It is a long haul and if you find yourself in this situation take it step by step, try to have as much of a strategy as you can and keep giving your partner lots of hugs and kisses of support!

Selling, buying and moving with babies and toddlers is very challenging.  If you have to pack your items up for short term storage and stay somewhere else for a period of time, the requirements are that much more complicated. During this process – which can take upwards of a year – it is so important to have the hands-on support of family, friends and talented real estate professionals.  If you are the parents of young children and find yourself in this position, come back and visit us soon to read our related post: Winning at the Real Estate Game.

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Daily Dish Archives Pamela Chan/Publisher, BCfamily.ca

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