House Hunting Hell
Is there any city where searching for a home is easy? If one exists, I’ve never heard of it. Certainly the experience has never been pleasant for us – whether Dublin, Montreal or Vancouver. We had been warned, though, that accommodation in Vancouver can be particularly difficult to organise. They weren’t kidding.
Finding a home in Montreal was difficult. The rental market is focused around a single weekend where leases renew. We arrived in the dead period when everyone had made arrangements for that year and the only properties available were ones that literally no one else had been desperate enough to rent.
Vancouver has a very aggressive rental market. The primary website for house-hunting is Craigslist, despite the extremely basic interface. Padmapper, Zumper and rentals.ca also have some properties. Expect a very low response rate when you answer an advert. I might send 20 emails and only get one response. And that response could be “it’s rented” or “I’m not doing viewings for a while”.
Meanwhile you start getting a crazy amount of spam property suggestions from websites. And then there’s privacy concerns to consider when you see pages like this. I highly recommend using an email address you can easily discard when it comes to these kinds of websites.
Even worse, you can expect that a lot of the owners have invested in staging the property with furniture and lights so that it appears far better in photos than reality. As in virtually unrecognisable. There’s nothing worse than driving an hour with children only to see at first glance that the property is a dressed up prefab holiday home, or a dodgy shell that is unlikely to pass a building inspection.
Do we want basement dungeon bedrooms reached by rickety wooden stairs you have to crouch on to avoid smacking your head on the extremely low ceiling. Eh, no. Do we want to pay upwards of $3000 a month for that? Hell no! Or for mouldy buildings with thin dirty windows. It’s hard to see how false advertising is going to help rent out these places at such prices.
When it comes to neighbourhoods it’s always difficult to decide which ones to rule out. The most popular are likely to be too expensive. You can’t rule out an entire region as being ‘bad’, but people have different opinions about what constitutes an ‘alright’ part of a generally dodgy region.
In general, house-hunting is soul-destroying. Ignoring the gorgeous palatial properties that are beyond any budget you will ever have. Squinting at blurry pictures trying to tell if maybe it isn’t as bad as it looks? Touring the occasional house which ticks quite a few boxes, but feels like you’re settling for something that’s just ok. Keep looking and risk regretting that decision? Or take something guaranteed, and then wonder for the next year what might have been around the corner?
After a very depressing run of awful viewings, our luck finally changed on a Sunday morning. I spotted a new advert, we went to view that afternoon, and it was perfect. Too good to be true. Then we were told that it was in the process of being sold. It wasn’t sounding entirely legit. It took a few nerve-wracking days to confirm that everything seemed to be legal. Then it was on to the minefield of contract negotiations.
While it still wouldn’t surprise me if this turns out horribly wrong… we’re hopeful that next month we will get to settle into our new home (at least for a year). On paper it’s awesome. In our preferred location. Close to a number of active homeschoolers, and accessible to other parts of Vancouver. Plenty of space for children and working from home to coexist.
For now there’s intense relief as we drop out of the rental search rat race. Next weekend will be the first since we arrived where we don’t have to drag ourselves out searching for a home. There’s plenty more still to do, but nothing so urgent. I’d say we’ll get a few days to just breathe now, but of course there’s a new batch of US wildfire smoke drifting into the harbour as I type. Two more weeks of big city apartment life, then we hit the road (in our new car) and leave behind downtown Vancouver for life in a smaller city.