The Tale of the Reluctant Landlords

Once upon a time, FM and I lived in a big city far, far away called Delta, BC. Our castle was a beautiful place in a convenient location with easy access to highways, shopping and reputed schools.

Our Home; Our Castle

Our Home; Our Castle

When we first acquired this castle, we could see that he had good bones but the sponge-painted walls and thick shag carpet gave a window to the neglect he had endured through the previous inhabitants.

The Castle before we updated all the windows, doors, roof and exterior colour

The Castle before we updated all the windows, doors, roof and exterior colour

Not afraid of dust nor hard work, during our first year, FM and I took on the challenge of repainting his entire interior, putting in birch hardwood floors and swapping out old appliances for modern ones with new-fangled gizmos.

We installed birch hardwood floors, a pellet stove,a  maple mantle and a stone hearth

We installed the birch hardwood floors, pellet stove and stone hearth and had the maple mantel custom-designed

We had help redesigning the kitchen layout with cork flooring, maple cabinets and glass backsplash

Our kitchen renovation included redesigning the kitchen layout, putting in cork flooring, maple cabinets and glass back splash

We gutted this bathroom, put in all new fixtures, custom tiled the walls and added a glass wall

We gutted this bathroom, put in all new fixtures, custom-tiled the shower and added a glass wall

This type of modernification carried on for the entire 9 year span that we were keepers of the castle. From new bathroom fixtures to a redesigned kitchen, from a new 50 year roof to a new exterior paint scheme, from an English Country garden to productive raised veggie beds, we did it all – with minimal help from professionals. The castle had entered the 21st Century with all the bells and whistles and he truly shone.

Corn, beans, potatoes, chard, kale, garlic, spinach, etc....

Corn, beans, potatoes, chard, kale, garlic, spinach, etc….

Broccoli, cauliflower, beets, kohlrabi, and the occasional self-seeded sunflower

But, about a year ago, FM and I got the itch and we decided that city living was not meeting our dreams. Despite our love of the castle, we could no longer suppress our need for space, quiet and endless puttering. Sooner than you can say “You better think this through a bit more thoroughly”, we jumped ship and headed off to the Queendom, in search of a simpler, quieter life on a remote island.

The life we imagined -  sipping a G&T on the Queendom's pond

The life we imagined – sipping a G&T on the Queendom’s pond

But what about the castle, you ask.

Sadly, he was left behind. He was left decorated with a ‘for sale’ sign out front and nothing more. His halls were bare, his appliances turned off and his gardens left fallow. He patiently awaited new keepers but none came. A few slightly interested folk came to admire his perennial gardens and his updates, and a few even proposed tearing him down to build a more modern mansion, but no one fell in love with him enough to make an offer. Months went by. Spring became summer, summer turned to fall and finally winter set in.

Don’t think for a minute that FM and I abandoned the castle during this long period. The truth is that we visited regularly, about once each month, to upkeep the gardens, polish the doorknobs and sweep up after the potential new residents. We even reglazed a bathtub, repainted the interior in a (boring) neutral tone and had staging furniture brought in for a few months. But our efforts made no difference to the fate of the castle.

Surprising as this may seem, FM and I do not have endless riches, even though we lived in a castle and now reside at the Queendom. The costs of holding the castle in limbo were weighing heavily upon us and causing each of us to spend long nights walking the halls in search of enlightenment. Finally we decided that the real estate market had plateaued to such a degree that we would be fools of the court to continue waiting for someone to pay our asking price. It was time to take action and the action to take was to find tenants for the castle.

But the action of renting can be a scary thing. I witnessed my parents struggle as landlords of a quadraplex at Whistler. I still have vivid memories of my dad coming home from a long day at work and heading straight out the door again to drive two hours to the cabin to deal with a clogged toilet or some such nonsense. I was raised on fearful stories of rental houses being turned into brothels and landowners being unable to evict the tenants. But our lack of endless riches forced me to downplay these stories and embrace the idea of bills being paid and cheques coming in.

On New Year’s Day, the ‘for sale’ sign was taken down and the ‘for rent’ listing was put up on craigslist. In no time at all, renters were lining up with references in hand, hoping to be the chosen ones – the stewards of the castle. Interviews were held and the selection made.

A hard-working, reliable, middle-aged couple with both a college-aged daughter and a mother-in-law were found to be the most worthy. Their obvious admiration for the finer details of the castle were noted and their references seemingly glowed. They wished to be deemed stewards for at least three years and even made mention that they may possibly want to be full-fledged keepers of the castle at some point in the future. That is a story yet untold and much of that story will depend on the recovery of the lower mainland real estate market and our financial security.

Until then, FM and I can rest more easily with fewer late night walks in our halls, although I am sure they will still occur. The honour of being the keepers of the castle resides strongly with us and its obligations weigh heavily on us still, but the decision to find renters was the wisest choice in light of the options we were given.

The Move

Moving is a bitch.  I hope that writing it here will help me retain that fact so that I never do it again.  It is impossibly exhausting, both physically and emotionally. Important decisions are made at lightning speed.  Even though this move represents an exciting choice for us, the minutiae just about put us in the looney bin.

One difficult aspect is sorting through all the old crap.  Should you sort it before you move it or should you sort it once you have the luxury of time on the other end?  In theory, I believe that you should purge things before they have a chance to clutter up the new space.  Otherwise, you end up moving boxes of stuff that never got unpacked from the previous move.  But FM is of the other mind-set.  He thinks that you should wait before throwing things away because you never know what things will suddenly be important in the new place.

Well, time is the ultimate decider in our case, so no sorting took place.  Before the ink had even dried on our real estate contract, I landed a teaching job with the Comox Valley School District.  I had applied for a job with little optimism and somehow managed to get an interview for it.  Next thing you know, I resigned from my amazing teaching position in Delta, packed up a suitcase or two and moved in with distant family in Comox in order to start this new teaching job.  All of this happened between February 20 and March 12!  My entire career did a backward somersault in a 3 week period.

Suddenly I had no part in the of the packing up our old house and readying it for the real estate market.  FM was left with all the decisions about moving companies, real estate conveyancing and bank financing while I was left to begin exploring our new town on my own.

FM had movers come in and do a partial pack, which helped to remove the main clutter around the house and get it ready for a professional photography shoot.  He had all the paperwork drawn up and, when I would arrive home for a weekend, we would go to a string of appointments with banks and lawyers.

On the first day of a 2 week school spring break, FM came over to the island with a trailer full of valuables and breakables.  We drove up to our new home and walked in, trying to take in this new reality.

Arriving Home

Home Sweet Rural Home

We spent the next day scrubbing, washing and cleaning. We wandered the land.  We slept on the living room floor and ate casseroles that I had made earlier that week.  We had no range, since we were moving ours from our old home so we had to be creative in food preparations.

Happily scrubbing

Have you ever seen such a happy cleaner?

King of all he surveys

FM surveying his newly acquired Queendom

Back to the mainland we went to oversee the frenzy of packing and the loading of the moving truck.  As the movers packed everything, we followed behind with cleaners and vacuums.  Once the moving truck left, we headed back over to the new place to start the process of moving in.


Waiting at the ferry terminal on our way to meet the moving truck

William's Moving and Storage

Here comes our 16 000 lbs of stuff. It was a bit tricky for the truck to negotiate our driveway entrance.

We used Williams Moving to pack and move our stuff and they were great.  All of the team members that unloaded this enormous truck were energetic, enthusiastic, careful and patient.

Living/Dining Room

Let the fun begin!


“I just want something cold to drink…”

We both had the luxury of 2 weeks off to deal with the move and start the unpacking process.  Luckily the house is spacious with lots of storage space so we were able to get a big chunk of it done in a short period of time.  (Although I don’t think the workshop will ever be unpacked)

The Find

As we drove around for house showings, we came across a few places with ‘for sale by owner’ signs posted at the end of the driveways.  On one occasion, while driving around with our realtor/bro-in-law, we stopped at such a sign and bro-in-law called.  The woman on the other end was hesitant to give info but said that their listing was up on craigslist, complete with asking price and photos.  All we had to do was put  ‘courtenay acreage’ in the search field.  I had never thought of looking for a house on craigslist and so a new search began.

We found about 10 acreages listed there with widely varying descriptions and information.  We entered addresses into the GPS and did drive-bys of most of them.  By this time, it was late in the day and we had to start making our way back to the ferry so we didn’t have time to call or follow-up with any of the craigslist homes we had seen.

That week, I wrote email inquiries to two of those listings.  One of them never responded (your loss, Ledingham!) but the other replied quickly and gave a good amount of information.  Here is the craigslist entry:

This property is quiet, peaceful and close to town. Zoning allows for two houses. Septic system already built for second house. Property is cleared with just the right mix of towering fir and maple trees remaining. The house is 2 years old, 2700 sq ft, 2 story, 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom, 5 stainless steel appliances, heated floors, wood stove, heat pump, Hardi Plank siding and black metal roof. The shop is 18ft x 30ft with 14ft high walls and was originally used as our residence during construction of the house. The shop has its own 200 amp service, is insulated, has a 3 piece bathroom, wood stove, washer/dryer hook up and sink. This house and property is ideal for a small hobby farm, horses or for an extended family wanting to build a second house.

When I further inquired about seeing some photos of the interior, he was able to send some that had obviously been taken by a real estate photographer.  We set up an appointment for our next trip over and left it at that.

HELLICAR!  View from the road. The lot has been over-cleared and the house is very exposed. As you can see, the ground is really wet and has drainage issues but the photo was taken in early February.

HELLICAR!  From the road, the house was a large sage-green box, sitting out on a mostly cleared 5 acre lot.  Although it sat well-back on the property, it was exposed to the road – at least it was a dead-end road.  There was a lot of big equipment and machinery around the place.  But the interior, from the photos, was what piqued our interest.  The rooms seemed large and airy.  The finishing colours and details showed that there was no need to do work on the interior.  The kitchen was enormous with wall ovens, lots of counter space and part of a great room.

2 weeks later, we went to see it.  Mike, the owner, gave us about 2 hours of his time with a complete tour of the property and the house.  He explained that he had cleared the lot and built the home himself.  He built it for his family and used the best materials available because they planned on living there permanently.  Unfortunately, through the course of building it, his marriage fell on hard times and his wife left the scene.  (although I don’t know how long I would have lasted, living in the workshop with 2 small kids while it was built).  A big feature of the property is the pond.  Mike used his excavator to dig out a marshy area and create a pond, which takes up about 1 acre.

FM and I were both really excited about the house, knowing right away that we had found our new home.  We called his brother/our realtor and asked him to fly over the next day to look at it with his unbiased construction/real estate eye.  To celebrate, FM and I went to Local’s Restaurant for a fabulous multi-course meal.  The next day, we got to roam the property again, looking more carefully at details and listening to our realtor’s feedback.  Mike was there to field questions about the well, the septic system, the pond and everything else we inquired about.  When we left, we let him know that we would be in touch shortly with an offer.  Two days later, the papers were signed and we had 6 weeks until possession.  Just like that.  I’ve spent longer deciding on a pair of jeans.

View of the front door and wrap-around deck. The driveway to the road is off to the right of the photo

View from the back fence, looking towards the road. The 1 acre pond is a big part of what attracted us to this place.

Kitchen – view #1

Kitchen view #2 The windows overlook the pond. We’ll be sipping morning coffees in this room.

Bathroom – All the counters in the kitchen and bathrooms are formed concrete. Pretty slick-looking!

Ensuite bathroom has 2 shower heads! and heated tile floors.

Crawl space is about 4 ft high and bone dry.

Mudroom – a big space to be messy with practical slate tile flooring

Outbuildings – The foreground building is a garden shed and the rest are wood storage and big tool garage bays.  The excavator in the distance wasn’t part of the sale.


The Search

House hunting is difficult when you don’t know anything about the town you will eventually call home.  I had never been to Courtenay/Comox and FM had only been there during the hiring process, which was a very limited visit.  We knew that this seaside town offered easy access to the ocean and the mountains.  We knew that the airport served the military base as well as civilians, with multiple daily flights around the island and over to the mainland.  With our recent obsession with flight paths, we soon learned that bigger airlines were now flying out of Comox to Calgary and even had charters direct to Mexico.

We studied maps of the two towns and surrounding areas, trying to figure out how far away outlying communities were from the downtown core.  We endlessly plugged addresses into google maps in order to see what kind of commute different areas would have.  Our #1 priority was quiet – away from highways, airports, railway tracks and people in general.  But from there, we couldn’t decide whether we wanted a piece of  land or views of either mountains or water.  It was time to visit and have a look-see.

Over the course of January and February, FM and I made 3 trips over to C/C.  Each time, FM’s brother set up  real estate appointments at a number of houses that had caught our interest.  The two of us (sans agent) would show up at the set time and usually let ourselves into the unlocked house for sale.  We would explore a bit and then leave, making notes and taking photos as we went.  We were able to get a feel for neighbourhoods and communities, as well as property size and views.

Over time, we narrowed our search to chunks of land – an acre or more – rather than views.  We decided that we are fit and active enough to go and see wonderful views from the tops of mountains.  Maybe we will invest in view property when we are old and no longer able to seek it out on our own.  An acre or more would act as a buffer (see priority #1) and get us away from the centre of town.

Here a few photos of our favourites:

STAPLEY! We loved the rustic charm and atmosphere of this house but it needed a lot of TLC and renos (including a new septic field!) before it would be worth the $$.

Inside Stapley! Look at the beautiful wood windows, floors and beams!

ASTRA! A really unique house with exposed logs inside and beautiful landscaping outside. But – near the runway and a strange industrial business as a neighbour.

COTTON! An unobstructed mountain view and a great custom kitchen but too close (really close!) to neighbours on one side and a public pitch n putt golf course on the other.

QUADRA! What an amazing home! It had been gutted and redone with no cost spared. But the lot was small and it backed onto a public walkway. And the indoor hot tub made the whole place smell like chlorine.

WILDWOOD! This was a 20 acre property but its closest neighbour was a sand and gravel pit with an iron cross logo at the end of the driveway. Also the outbuilding had been used as a grow-op a few owners ago. Hmmm…

There were many other places that we looked at but those didn’t even make the cut for this blog.  There is a lot of crap out there and a lot of people who put ZERO effort into making their house ready for showings.  And cats – everyone has multiple cats – which does nothing for FM’s allergies.  Every house we visited had at least one cat.

Yet after much searching, we did have some luck.  Tune in next time.

START HERE – The Background Story

As a couple of suburbanites, we resigned ourselves to our urban existence years ago.  We both have well-paying jobs that challenge us and allow us to live a more-than-comfortable life.  We have a beautiful home that we have renovated to meet our contemporary needs and a garden which gives us year-round pleasure and nourishment. We travel to races at the drop of a hat.  We make online purchases without barely a second thought.  We have both sets of parents and most of our siblings close enough for family get-togethers.  The good aspects are good and we usually manage to overlook the negative.


Urban Retreat

Our roots grow here

The fact that the flight path recently moved directly over our home is something that we quietly grumble about.  Fabulous Man’s transit commute is taking longer each month and all those buses and skytrains seem to be filled with coughing, sneezing, sick people.  Our ventures into the local mountains to run on sweet trails are becoming harrowing commutes as well.  Sometimes the time to travel to a trailhead is longer  and more exhausting than the run itself.

At least once each year (usually in November) for a few weeks, we entertain fantasies of leaving the big shitty behind and finding a new home in some small town.  During those weak moments, the realtor page sits open on the computer with the ‘acreage’ field selected and some treasure of a rural home left open for the other to peruse.  We keep tabs on the markets in Okanagan and Nelson, but we aren’t fussy about the locale.  It just has to be quiet.  I fondly remember an old friend saying that he would never live in a place that had a traffic report.   That’s all we want.