Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Big Yellow Taxi

You know how they paved paradise? And put up a parking lot? Yes, the deal on my house has gone through, and we will officially be homeless on May 31 unless we find a house in the interim. The plan is that our current house is to be demolished to provide a surface parking lot for the infamous condo development.

My house is getting knocked flat, the hole filled in, the lot paved over. So that 12 cars can park.

It strikes me as surreal. I'll be brushing my teeth, and suddenly think that eight months from now, this bathroom will no longer exist, or that the rocking chair in which I rocked then-Miss-Baby through her first day of nursing will be an undefined point in space hovering 12 feet above a Lexus parked in the partial shade of some chi-chi shrubbery. Weird.


Is it tacky to talk about money? I think so. Why? Is it a class thing? It's okay for us to tell each other we pooped nonstop on the delivery table, or that sometimes we get so angry with our children that we punch the walls after we put them in their cribs, or that we think maybe we drink to much to cope with the stress, but I can't really tell you how much money I make, or what we sold our house for?

Is it impolite? Do I worry that you will find me whiny and entitled and my problems not real enough? That you will think I'm gloating? I don't know. Probably, it's me: I'm embarrassed.

In June 2005, we agreed to purchase our current house for $183,500. It was more money that we felt we could afford, but we did it, barely scraping together a downpayment from a set-up-in-high-school RRSP of mine and an unexpected tax refund, and paying the closing fees with our credit cards.

Two weeks ago, we finalized the sale of this house for $300,000, which nets us a profit of $130,000. We have to use $20,000 to pay off our credit cards (see above comment about 'more than we felt we could afford'), but have $110,000 in cash to use as downpayment.

All the houses in our current neighbourhood, believe me, cost waaaaaay more than the $183K we paid. And so staying here, even with our profit, is going to stretch us. I've been looking at houses, in the $280K-$350K range and it's been depressing: they are smaller than our house, or in desperate need of new roof / new furnace / new wiring / major repairs, or have no yard. Or some combination of two or three of these things.

Now I'm coming to terms with imagining myself as someone who rolls her eyes while walking through houses listed for $360K, actually prefering my $183K 'dump' on the busy street. These pricey houses aren't good enough for me: the master bedroom is too small; there's no air conditioning; I don't like the corner lot; the kitchen is tiny and dark. What the hell happened? It looks like, instead of the cheap-old-house-first-time-owners, Pynchon and I are turning into people who are going to buy a really pricey house with a big chunk of down payment. Urrr, that's less boho and more bourgeois than I'm used to thinking of myself.

We could move 500 metres south, into the centre of the city we're essentially attached to, but it's not as nice as our neighbourhood: there are drug dealers, and gang fights, and no Starbucks, and empty storefronts with curling yellow newspaper taped along the windows. The area is probably going to revitalize, but, frankly? I feel like it would be a step down, and I don't know if I want my daughter in that neighbourhood. And I don't want to risk it.

!!!!!!!! ???????

I always thought we were underdogs, living an urban life eschewing suburban privilege. When I start looking at the mortgage numbers we're being offered, and start realizing how I've suddenly decided some city-centre neighbourhoods aren't good enough for me, though, I realize that we ARE gentrification, we ARE privilege. I'm still scared shitless at the prospect of being homeless soon, but I realize that, financially, we're a lot better off than most people, even though it really doesn't feel like it right now. And I'm a little worried that I'm becoming someone I don't really recognize, someone who, choosing between two equally urban neighbourhoods with red-brick century houses on generous treed lots, unhesitatingly picks the neighbourhood that doesn't have the bus depot, doesn't have the immigrant services storefronts, doesn't have the congregations of unemployed young adults smoking on streetcorners in front of head shops. Picks the one that does have the Starbucks, does have the gourmet dog treat store, does have the three or four designer clothing boutiques, the expensive shoe store, the dimly lit, well-decorated restaurants.

Maybe I'm less uncomfortable with the idea of moving, and more uncomfortable about what this new situation is revealing to me about my class entitlement, my values, my prejudices. I can't think so very highly of myself.

What do you think?


Bon said...

oooh, Mimi, serious post.

i recognize the self-assessment tied up in perceiving ourselves as bohos rather than bourgeois. we bought in spring 2005, as well, in the "hood" of Charlottetown, a neighbourhood that doesn't seem to be moving toward gentrification any time soon. and i thought it was great. but as time wears on, i find myself setting time limits on staying.

in a city as small as mine, the Starbucks and the dog treats stores aren't options, but i very much understand the place you find yourself, and what it does to how you see yourself.

all i have to add to it is, the honesty is good. and i think you can choose the amenities you want without turning into something you don't want to be.

Beck said...

Awesome post.
Okay, know what I think? There comes a time when you HAVE to realize as a parent that some of your pre-children idealism will endanger your child's well-being. And yeah, it's sad in some ways and in another, you DO have your little hostage to fortune and you must take care of her.

Beck said...

I hit comment and then realized I had more to say! It's FUNNY how we don't talk about money - but my house cost $45,000, and is now worth a bit more, thanks to a mini-boom because of some mining stuff. It's good that it only cost that much, btw, because we've had to spend a LOT on it. Mercy.

Dawn said...

Everything changes when you have children.

Given a choice, would anyone in her right mind choose to raise a child in a neighborhood populated by vagrants, drug dealers, and with dangerous empty houses?

You do not have to make it your responsibility to re-gentrify.

When we bought our house, I wanted to live "in town," but the tiniest houses were over $300K.

We ended up in the near suburbs with a much bigger house, a big yard with lots of old trees, terrific public schools, and great neighbors.

I don't think you sound entitled at all. I think you're facing the fact that neighborhoods change and as they become popular and nicer and safer home prices increase because they become attractive to young families.

Living in the suburbs doesn't necessarily mean you're blowing it out in your huge house driving a monster SUV and thinking only of yourselves.

What matters is feeling safe and comfortable in your own home as you instill your concern for others in your daughter.

Mimi said...

Oh, you see, this is why I love blogging. You guys are already leaving such great comments, and just writing the post really helped me to understand my own discomfort, to figure myself out a bit ...

Patti said...

Wow, that's some very thoughtful self-analysis.

We just bought a downtown house in an area that the real estate agent looked down his nose at...but it IS revitalizing, and more importantly - it felt like home the first time we walked in. We love it, love it, love it.

However, we don't have kids, and don't plan to. And I agree - that makes a huge difference. My sister and her family, with 3 kids, are determined to move out to the country, in part because of the downtown school that really isn't that great.

House hunting in general - I never thought of myself as a picky person - but I couldn't believe how many houses were instant "no's" in my mind when we were house hunting. Sooo many houses seemed to have weird foibles that I didn't want to live with.

And the one we bought has weird foibles too, but - I like them! :)

BTW, the first part of your post - about brushing your teeth in a bathroom that won't exist in a few months - that was good! Weirdly funny!

Kyla said...

Money is strange isn't it? We're so afraid to offend somehow.

I think the fact that you are even mindful of these perceptions shows that you, as a person, aren't changing. Your location might be, your choices may be swayed a bit by safety and motherhood, but the internal you, that is the same.

Bea said...

Ah, this is the post I've been waiting for! It is strange - I paid $116 for my current house (it's now worth around $145) and now I'm looking at houses in the $370s, and I'm not sure I'm getting more than I'm giving up. Sure, my current house has carpets and vinyl and 70s-esque bathroom fixtures, but it also has a fenced yard, mature trees, three bedrooms on the same floor, a finished basement that works for a playroom, great neighbours, and central air. If I trade all those things for hardwood floors and a spare bedroom (pitching in an extra $200 into the bargain), is that called moving up?

cinnamon gurl said...

Well, you KNOW I could have written most of this post. In the days since we didn't get the house we were thinking of, I've swung from total relief that we aren't going to stretch ourselves so badly and sadness that we aren't going to have that nice house in the nice downtown neighbourhood with the (eventually) nice schools.
All the other houses are so expensive and for so little added benefit from our house.

Anyways, I'm glad you spoke about money (and damn, girl, that's a great profit, not that you asked for it of course). I'm very sad that your adorable kitchen will be no longer, so I can only begin to fathom how strange it must be for you...

Keep me posted on mls listings, eh?

cinnamon gurl said...

Oh and in the interest of full disclosure, we bought our house for $135 in 2003, invested probably $30k into it, and can reasonably expect to sell it for $215. I'll keep an eye on the market, but I wouldn't be surprised if we end up dong renovations for way less than buying a different house, and living in it for a few (several?) more years...

Cloud said...

OK, now I'm going to make you not feel bad about looking "entitled" by looking far worse myself: when we bought, we had to move from our beach community to a neighborhood that is a bit more inland and far less diverse. We both struggled with giving up being able to walk to the beach (I know, poor us), and giving up our favorite neighborhood haunts. So I think any move involves trade offs, and it is perfectly normal to feel conflicted about them, even when they don't involve your self-image. However, for us, some of the angst was also in admitting that we needed to let another bit of our "non-parent" selves go. It didn't matter if the new neighborhood had an awesome local pub (it doesn't), because we don't hang out at pubs much anymore.

I agree with the others that it is okay to consider the safety and comfort of your child in the decision. But, I understand the angst about it, because it is another bit of how you once defined your identity being annexed by the mommy part of your identity. I really understand how that feels because I struggle with it, too.

But you know, I miss a lot of things about my old neighborhood, but I don't miss the loud parties, police sirens, or beer bottles in the street. And, since you were so honest, I'll be honest, too: I don't miss getting accosted by homeless guys when I'm out for a walk with Pumpkin.

Jenifer said...

This is much food for thought.

We bought our townhouse for about $140,000 brand new and that included all five appliances, central air and a gas fireplace. We moved our stuff in the weekend before our wedding - so that was 10 years ago.

Our complex was an infill in an already bustling neighbourhood with two schools within walking distance, a plaza with a grocery store across the street and we are on the main bus line.

For years the townhouses sold for way over the asking prices and we used to get agents knocking on our door asking if we wanted to sell. Our exact unit sold for $210,000 next door to us just last year when our neighbours moved and that was in one day.

We know we will be able to sell our house when the time comes, the problem is that we are just so picky now. The couple who so grateful to have their own house as newly marrieds and not have to rent are now never satisfied.

We love a certain older established neighbourhood that is pretty 'fancy' by our current standards, but there is always something not quite right, it is on the main road, there is no garage, the backyard is slopey - you get the idea.

So we wait in our very small 1200 square foot space. We could afford something we like in a newer development devoid of any charm and be packed in like sardines, but that would mean moving about 15-20 north of where we are and we just don't want to do it.

My husband will say to his Dad (when they are complaining about something, which is pretty rare but you get the idea) that he had nothing when he came to this country and now you are worried about the chandelier not being big enough?

Our situations change and therefore so do our perspective, what once seemed edgy and hip now seems sketchy and unsafe. You can neither feel bad or guilty about such changes, I think they are inevitable.

kittenpie said...

Oh, yes, money, the last unspoken, isn't it, among the middle classes, or perhaps it's among the puritanical WASPY mentality we still carry so much of. I have the same hangup, talking in vaguaries and numbers that give relative amounts, but no firm amount. Like our house we just sold? we bought 12 years ago at the bottom of the market, so we just sold it for 2.5 times what we paid. Enough to pay off our current house and leave a nice chunk for furnace replacement and nest egg for future much-needed renos like wiring.

I understand, too, how it can make your inner self cringe to see how you look at living choices. We moved largely for location - and our old house sold for more than we bought our new one for, but still, we like the location better for transit, for a better school, for more neighbours and a neighbourhood known for involvement and friendliness and lots of kids. We also love the tree-lined streets that were missing further south and, well, it is a more established neighbourhood. Does it make me snob? Maybe. But I also think, as some others have commented, that our perceptions change when we are respobsible for someone else's environment, and we place more emphasis on things we scoffed at before - safety, schools, backyards, other families. Who need those things five, ten years ago? But now, well, now we are looking for a nest, not just a place to call our own.

Mad Hatter said...

Sometimes we don't talk about money b/c it becomes less relevant across jurisdictions. We bought our house in 2001 for $150,000. It is huge, downtown, in a good neighbourhood though not the best one, has access to good schools, and we can walk to work. There is a neighbourhood here with drug dealers but it is small and over the river.

My sisters both live within 500 meters of you in different directions--one is tucked in behind the hospital near the former tire plant. The other, as you know, is on a busy street in a safe 'hood. Both sisters raised kids there. Are those 'hoods priced out of your reach?

Mimi said...

Hey Mad -- That's precisely the area I'm looking in: overpriced or undersized or needing major work ... or just not on the market in early March maybe. Your sisters are sitting on gold mines. I could afford it if I find something we can live with. But the inflation around here, you wouldn't believe it!

Denguy said...

I think some one needs a big ol' hug and to be told: "You're doing fine, you'll be okay, and everything will work out all right."

nomotherearth said...

They say that clothes make the man, but I believe the opposite is true. Same goes for the house. YOU are the heart of the home, and no fancy window dressing can mask the pure heart.

Debbie said...

Being completely open here:

We bought in '03 for just under $200K in the 'burbs. We could sell tomorrow for $450K. The area we are looking to move to after I'm back at work and debts are paid off we'd be looking at $600K average, for a smaller house, closer to downtown, but with a larger yard, established 'hood, etc.

We always say if we didn't have children we'd be in one of the new downtown highrise condo that are popping up all over here. It would be do-able with children, but that's not really the lifestyle I want to lead with my boys. Yes, I WANT them to have a backyard to play in. I WANT them to have a park close by. I WANT them to be able to walk to school.

I know in most of the world people don't have those choices. I'm so thankful we do.

Don't kick yourself over wanting your child to be safe. Our priorities and lifestyle needs change constantly as our family evolves and grows.

Christine said...

you know what i think? i think you are a good mom trying to do the best thing for your family. does it get complicated and confusing and does it make us look at the world differently when we have kids in tow? hell ya, but it doesn't mean you are not a good person or that your values are lessened. it means you are a mother and a human being.

Running on empty

Lisa b said...

Congrats! I am so sad you are giving up your home but happy at your tidy little profit.

Am weeping at the cost of Beck's house. My not-so-secret dream is to sell here and move to a less expensive place outside the city.

Moving to North Toronto was a real adjustment for me and my self-image too. Even though our old 'hood, where the fire occurred last week, had been gentrifing and Starbucks had finally gotten a toehold it was still very hard to leave.

I still miss living there, and wish we could have stayed but for many reasons - transit, we could afford a detached home in an area with more families, wanted a backyard, my husband's ego, etc we bought here.

We bought the smallest type of house in our new area ( the 'burbs of the 1920s). At the time these houses were going for 500+. This year two on the street went for over a million. My dream home a few blocks away just sold for 2.3. This market is just insane. I'm about a five block walk to the park that goes to my work, over the last three years over ten homes in that block have been ripped down and replaced by dream homes. It has been something to watch but I am just not willing to go there. Apparently other people are age are though and I have promised myself that if they all turn out to be materialistic arseholes I will move my kids back downtown and take our chances with urban life.

I also agree it is very odd how we share all these other intimate details of our lives but this is the final taboo.