Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Back to our home after the holidays

There is nothing better than the smell of cedar to make you feel like you're deep in the holiday season. In our case, it's also the smell that indicated to us that our siding was going up. While we were away in the interior of BC celebrating Christmas in a forest full of trees, Smallworks was working hard to get a forest of trees on to our home. Excited to return home and discover the changes, we took a quick iphone video to showcase the changes. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

We're floored!

Long ago, the Romans used radiant floor heating in their bathhouses. For centuries, the Koreans heated their royal palaces and traditional homes this way too. Today, the technology to warm our floors and heat our homes has come a long way. 

Basically, radiant floor heating can be electric or hydronic. Hydronic radiant floor heating is a system of plastic tubes laid within a floor that carry hot water, dispersing the heat through the floors surface. The cooler water returns to the heat source where it is reheated and sent out again in what is known as a “closed-loop system”. The pipes are encased in a concrete slab so once they are covered the system is invisible to the eye. The theory on radiant heating is that you don't need to set your thermostats as high to heat the home and for cooling you don't need to go as low. When you have a really tight building envelope and you add things like an on-demand hot water system (and maybe even one day solar hot water), you can significantly reduce your energy costs.

But enough about all the facts and stats - watch our floors get poured and take a peak inside our home!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why are we doing this again?

Rather than starting with a number speech I thought it might be fun to play a little multiple choice. Jot down you answers and I'll tell you how close you were later in the post.

What is the median income of a household in Vancouver?
A. $45,000
B. $58,000
C. $72,000

What percentage of their income do Vancouverites spend on housing?
A. 32%
B. 44%
C. 68%

How much does the average single family home sell for in Vancouver?
A. $750,000
B. $900,000
C. over $1,000,000

Many of you know that I've been chipping away at a Masters in Urban Studies for the last few years. I just finished a fascinating class on urban housing policy. I had the great pleasure of being taught by Frances Bula - a prolific blogger covering the Vancouver beat. You might also know her name from the Globe and Mail and the Vancouver Sun where she is often called to write articles about our cities.

One of the topics that kept coming up in a variety of ways was affordable housing. This probably has something to do with the fact that Vancouver really struggles to provide affordable housing options to its residents. Most of the interventions to date have been geared towards low and very low income households and the best type of assistance you can offer these folks are cheap rental options. Helping the poor is always a good thing for a city to do, but lately a whole other group of folks have emerged that are suddenly struggling when it comes to housing...which leads me to the answers of the multiple choice above...

The City of Vancouver is the least affordable housing market in Canada and one of the worst in the world as well. Ou Salaries have become divorced from the housing market putting homeownership out of reach for most of the individuals that live and work here. Our median income is $58K. We spend about 68% of our income on housing (anything above 30% is considered unaffordable) and the average single family home sells for over $1 million.

As young couples attempt to transition from renters to owners, the vast majority find themselves priced out of the market. Instead, folks like Brendon and I explore a limited number of options – keep renting, move to the suburbs and commute to the city for work or leave the province entirely.

Other cities like London, Santa Barbara and Hong Kong that struggle with similar problems have begun to pioneer a whole suite of options to support home ownership for their middle class workers. And low and behold one of the ways they are doing this is by separating the land from the building. (If you remember, this is what we are attempting to do.) This is one way to develop a shared equity agreement where the full 'value' of a property isn't carried entirely by one household but rather is shared by a combination of private owners, municipalities and non-profits.

Is it messy? Yes - totally! But increasingly, especially in cities where property prices are completely out of touch from local salaries, these kind of creative solutions are becoming a necessity. Not just for economic reasons but also for social and environmental grounds. If there are no opportunities for ownership for your mid-level professionals then you end up with a city that is dominated by seniors (folks that got in before the prices skyrocketed), the wealthy and foreign investors interested in turning a profit. For all your young households that move to the suburbs, the city is faced with the environmental implications of a growing community that will commute long distances daily.

I'd like to think that the Shared Equity Agreement that we've developed with Barb and Roger might be something that can inform a new way of sharing ownership and addressing affordability in Vancouver. God knows we need new ways of keeping the next generation of homeowners in the city.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Taken by the floors

By the time you get to 32, there are not a lot of 'firsts' left to try. I've had my first professional job, owned a car, has sex (sorry mom), and heck I've even eaten my first (and probably last) pig head. That said, this house building exercise has has been chalked full of more 'firsts' than I can count. Today was no exception. With Brendon away in Ottawa I convinced Roger to come with me to my first auction. We're now at the stage of the construction contract where shortly Smallworks will hand over the reigns to us and we'll be charging ahead with kitchen, bathroom and upstairs flooring installation. So slowly but surely we're trying to get prepared by purchasing all of the things we'll need.

One of the things we had to buy to be ready for this transition was flooring for the upstairs of the house. We had visited a few places in town to scope out prices and based our taste, we were looking at paying more than $12/square foot for engineered hardwood. Even for a small place, those kind of prices are ludicrous and quickly add up to thousands of dollars. I had heard that auctions were a good place to source items like flooring at a low price.  I contacted the google gods and low and behold an auction selling hardwood and engineered flooring would be taking place in our city Saturday December 4th. I did my due diligence and went to the showroom yesterday to evaluate the options. I asked as many questions as I could think of about the process and the product and anything I forgot to find out, I researched late last night to make sure I was ready. I felt like I was living the Girl Guides motto 'be prepared'.

Then the real auction started and everything I had practiced went down the drain - it was over before I knew it, I wasn't quite sure what happened and I felt a little victimized once the auctioneer yelled 'sold!'. Without me really knowing how it happened, we are now the proud owners of wide plank, smoked oak, hand scraped solid hardwood floors. I'm still trying to figure out what went down. I couldn't understand one word the auctioneer was saying and I never put up my hand to bid. Apparently though, I rustled my ballet which is enough to put in a bid and I shook that little piece of paper at just the right time to launch myself into the lead. Luckily, the flooring was Brendon's number one choice (it was my number two) so in the end we're thrilled about the purchase. Once I got to the till I found out just how much I had 'chosen' to pay - $3/square foot - by all accounts a good price.

The confusion quickly vanished and I left on a high with a couple of fliers stuffed into my purse advertising the bathroom and kitchen auction coming up next week. Stay tuned!