Becoming a Homeowner, Pt 4

Note: This part was written on September 1st. Currently, it’s the last in the series, but I suspect there will be a couple more parts coming. Those ones should be written and published in real time. While this one was written on Sept 1, I do my best to catch you up on everything that happened (SO MUCH) since part three. And yes, it’s as lengthy and rambly as usual.


Part 4: In which I, the incessant rambler and over-thinker, finally become a homeowner.

Welcome to our new home! We own it 🙂

That’s right: I AM A HOMEOWNER!

How insane is that? Even more insane, it’s not the townhouse we first fell in love with.

Let me catch you up, because so much has happened in less than a week.

So last Saturday, Colin and I went to see the townhouse and fell in love (part 3 of this series). The next day, we went back to the townhouse with Margie, Colin’s mom, and our realtor, Leslie. 

We pulled up as Leslie was just coming out of the house. She greeted us and then very quickly said, “Well, they’re definitely overpriced.”

I was intrigued. Did that mean we could get in for way less than we thought? Score! But then she continued to list some of her concerns with the house. Things we hadn’t noticed, like older appliances and a hole in the basement ceiling, came to light. Leslie also mentioned how busy the open house was, how the sellers had only lived there a year and how the realtor didn’t have any strata documents for her to look at.

To say we were deflated would be an understatement.

So we went to tour the house again and it was kind of painful. While Colin and I tried to point out all the parts of the townhouse we loved, Margie and Leslie continued to voice their concerns. There were the uneven floors, the heat in the second bedroom, the paint in the basement, and so on. It hurt to hear people talking bad about our house.

Despite the issues, Colin and I still felt that if we could get it for a good price, it would be worth it. We loved the location, the amenities, the space and the fact that a townhouse gave us three separate levels. But we were ignoring some of the issues. The complex is old – built in 1970. And there’s upkeep with a three-storey 1500+ squarefoot house. Plus, all the issues like ceiling holes and slanted floors we had missed the first time we toured.

So we drove off, feeling a bit less keen on our dream house but still holding out a bit of hope. We decided to check out another open house by Gateway station. We were in the neighbourhood, so what’s the harm, right?

As we pulled up, Colin and I noted how much we liked the look of the complex. The complex, Access, is right by the skytrain, but off on a quiet road. It was much newer (built in 2002), looked great from the outside, and was a four-storey condo complex, which we like much more than the high-rise condos.

We arrived intending to look at just one apartment but ended up touring three.  The first was a one bedroom plus den loft apartment. We knew that wouldn’t be enough space for us but the realtor was waiting outside happy to show the space, and we were excited to see a loft.

We loved the loft! It was awesome to have the levels and the super high ceilings. And there were even mountain views! Unfortunately, it was more of a home for one person or two people without much stuff. A two bedroom loft might be an option but we’d get priced out of that pretty soon.

The next was the apartment we had come to see – a two bedroom on the third floor for $375,000. While I loved the wood laminate in the living space, the layout was what I’m calling “skinny rectangle.” It seems to be the default condo layout. The skinny rectangle is when you walk in and it’s just one straight line of space for the kitchen, dining room and living room. Everything always feels very tight and would be impossible to try and put desks or even a proper table in there.

As we were planning to leave, someone mentioned that there was another two bedroom having an open house in the next building over (same complex). We figured while we were here, we might as well check it out. Funny how a fluke tip to check out the next building would totally change everything for our house hunt.

We headed up to the apartment on the second floor. We stepped in, and immediately we were all smiling. The space was big, it was bright and, most importantly, it wasn’t a skinny rectangle. There were multiple spaces, little corners and tons of windows. The bedrooms were a good size, there were lots of closets, and the floors were nice. The kitchen was good and the balcony was large. We were pretty impressed. Until we heard the price.

$409,800.

Well, that’s why we hadn’t seen this place online. I generally ignore everything over $400,000. I understand paying over four in New West but in Surrey – c’mon! But at the same time, we had never seen a layout like this before.

I mentioned to the realtor that she was priced over $30,000 more than the other two bedroom we had just seen, and she replied that it was due to the space. She also slipped in that they would be reducing the price the next day. I nodded politely, assuming this had been a wasted open house for us since there’s no way we could afford it.

So we emailed our realtor and casually mentioned that we were interested in this place and the potential price drop. We also sent a couple more apartment complexes that we were interested in, Ethical Gardens and Pacifica. Our realtor let us know that this unit in Access had actually been on the market for over 40 days, which was a promising sign. On Tuesday, they reduced the price from $409,800 to $398,000. Our ears perked up.

At the same time, we were dealing with all of our mortgage issues.

The main issue was our push to use the mortgage professional we had been working with and Margie’s reluctance. To do our due diligence, we agreed to take a meeting with her bank. On the way there, Colin and I agreed that we would keep open minds, but not sign anything. We wanted to be loyal to our mortgage professional who had been so helpful thus far.

To our surprise, the meeting at the bank went way better than we thought it would. Margie’s guy, Saj, was personable, knowledgeable and definitely looking out for her best interest. He broke down all the numbers, was able to offer us a great rate and was patient with any questions we might have.

To summarise a lot of back and forth, we ended up going with Saj and Margie’s bank for our mortgage. We felt bad that we couldn’t continue with our mortgage professional. But having Margie’s support was important for our mortgage. And for Colin and me, we wanted to make sure we were getting a good rate and working with a good person. We get both of those things from Margie’s guy at her bank.

During this time, we also let go of our townhouse dream. The age of the complex and the issues brought to light were starting to make sense to us. And the fact that both our realtor and Margie were against it wasn’t a good sign. Colin and I agreed that our next home could be a townhouse, but we could let it go this time.

So on Thursday, we arranged with our realtor, Leslie, to go back and visit the unit at Access again. We were excited to tour it again and liked it even better the second time. I didn’t let myself start thinking that it could be ours yet – I didn’t want to get disappointed. But I was definitely getting attached to the place.

Leslie really liked it. She pointed out how rare the layout and location of the unit in the building was. She understood why they were trying to price high but believed there would be some wiggle room. It was really reassuring to hear Leslie speak so highly of the unit as she’s had experience in that complex. She said she hadn’t seen anything like that one before. We got even more excited.

We also checked out a unit at Ethical Gardens. I could tell as we were walking through, Colin was already sold on Access. While there were some pluses about Ethical Gardens, like a super long kitchen, giant closets and proximity to the mall, there were some noticeable downsides. For one, the living space was tiny and likely wouldn’t hold a couch and a dining room table. It wasn’t the one for us.

Ethical Gardens. Lovely building, but not the right one for us.

So as we walked back to the car, Leslie gave us some more info and said to call her if we wanted to put in an offer on Access. We headed home to crunch some numbers but I think we both knew what we wanted to do by then.

We called and officially put in an offer.

And then that’s where the real drama and waiting by the phone began. There was a counter, and another counter. There were multiple contracts to sign. There were emails. There were calls with the realtor, with the bank and with each other. And there were rushed texts and constant inbox refreshing.

All to say, just over 24 hours after our initial offer, we were signing the final contract. We accepted their latest counter and we were officially buying a house. Ahhhhhhhhh!

Of course, there’s a little asterisk next to that. We have the next week to remove subjects which means we need to do the home inspection, appraisal and make sure all our financing comes through with the bank. If no red flags come up, we’ll pay the deposit next Friday and officially be homeowners. And then we pay up on October 5th and get the keys October 6th.

How crazy is that?

It’s insane to think how fast everything has gone. In the big picture, it’s a little crazy to look back and see all that has happened in a year. Next Friday, the day our subjects are removed and we officially get the house, is September 8th – a year to the day when Colin’s dad, Randy, passed away. I would have never believed if someone told me at this time last year that by now I would be living in a condo in New West with Colin and our dog, working fulltime as a freelancer, and now buying a home. Unbelievable! Colin joked that we might as well get married and have a baby this year just to get it all done.

And while it feels like I’ve been looking at homes forever, this part of the process went way faster than I thought it would. I’ve been looking online at homes for a few months. And in that time, we’ve probably been to about a dozen or so open houses. But I never would have imagined that we’d go to an open house, schedule a viewing, put in an offer, go through negotiations and have a signed contract on a house in less than a week. We saw the place for the very first time on Sunday and had a contract signed before Friday night’s dinner. Insane!

Colin and I were also saying to each other how lucky we got on this one. The very first home we put an offer in was the one we got. Of course, our first offer wasn’t accepted; we had to negotiate. But still – it was all with just the one home. And we weren’t in a situation with multiple offers where we had to outbid someone else. I always assumed if we bought a home in the Greater Vancouver Area, we would be searching for months, putting in offers on a few places before one worked out, competing with multiple offers and being forced to pay way above list price. But nope, none of that happened! Maybe that’s why people move to Surrey…

So yeah, that’s my life right now. I still can’t truly believe that we have a house – that we are homeowners. It sounds so crazy to me. I’m not sure it’ll feel real for a while yet. I wonder if it will feel the same as just renting in a new place. I hope not. I hope it’s different. I hope it feels like home. And I hope we’re happy there for a long time. Or a long-ish time.

And until then, my brain gets to be filled with all of the logistics and stuff we need to get done. For the next week, we hold our breath and wait while the financing, inspection and appraisal get done. We cross our fingers and hope that nothing bad happens and we can get everything finalized on Friday. My mom is also coming in from Toronto on Friday, so we get to bring her to the place, which is even more exciting.

And then there’s all the fun of moving. We have to tell our landlord we’re ending our one year lease super early and hope he’s forgiving about any penalties we have to pay. We have to switch our internet over, which was such a headache when we moved here from Kits. We have to cancel our utilities and start new ones in Surrey. We have to figure out home insurance. We have to pick paint and hire painters. We have to get boxes. We have to rent a uhaul.

I sort of feel like we just moved – which I guess we did, since it was only Feb 28 that we moved in here. So crazy that we’re going to be doing it all over again in such a short amount of time. But hopefully after this one, we don’t have to move again for a long time.

I’ve never lived in the same place for very long, and even less so in my adult life in my own homes. The longest would have been 14 months at my place in Kits before this one. So it’s interesting to think that this is going to be a long-term move. We don’t think this is our forever home, but it could be good for a long time. There’s enough space for us to be comfortable there as two with a home office/guest room and space to move the office into the main room, should we want to put a kid in the second room sometime down the line.

And it’s a move to Surrey, which is bittersweet. I know Colin is so excited to be closer to his friends and close to work. I’m excited for him. And I’m excited we’re by a skytrain so I can go and see my friends. And I know our neighbourhood is just going to keep getting better. The sad part is being just that much farther from Vancouver and leaving New West after such a short time. If we are going to be looking for more space for less money in our next move, it will likely still be in Surrey or even farther out. So New West isn’t really in the cards, at least not for a long time. Maybe we can come back here as retirees 🙂

But it’s all exciting! It’s nerve wracking and there’s still so much to do and wait on. But it’s exciting! We bought a house. We’re homeowners. That is just bananas!

Advertisements

Becoming a Homeowner, Pt 3

Note: This post was written on August 26. If you’re following along in the series, this post was written after our meeting with the mortgage professional and after some refinement on our down payment number (not as huge as we once thought it would be but still a good number). It’s the third part in a long and rambly home buying journey. You’ve been warned.


So you know how window shopping is actually the worst because you see all the pretty things you can’t buy?

Yeah, that’s what open houses are like.

We’ve been to about 10 open houses by now in New West and Surrey. We popped into a couple around our neighbourhood and then scheduled out a weekend to see some in Surrey. So far, it’s been really informative. It’s great to get a feel for new neighbourhoods, see what is available, figure out what we like and don’t like, etc. When asked if we were working with a realtor, we’d say that we were just getting a feel for the market and were probably looking to buy in the new year. The selling realtor would praise us and our great decision to do some market research. Our parents were supportive and our mortgage professional thought it was a good idea.

So where did it all go wrong?

When we saw our dream house.

Okay, the outside isn’t that dreamy but I swear it’s nice in there!

During a late night scroll through my phone, I received an email alert that a new house had been listed in our Surrey areas. Curious, I clicked on the link. And I was intrigued immediately. It was a townhouse. The place was 10 minutes from the skytrain and mall, had an outdoor pool and playground, was three storeys and over 1500 square feet. Our current apartment is just over 500 square feet, so you can imagine how excited I was for the prospect of three times that!

I sent Colin (who was sleeping at the time) a message asking him to remind me to show him the place the next day. The next afternoon, I walked him through the listing. Colin was also intrigued. There weren’t too many photos so we were curious what the place really looked like. Was it actually three floors? Where did they put all that square footage?

So on Saturday, we rolled up to the open house. As we pulled into the abundant visitors’ parking across from a swingset, playground and basketball course, we began joking with each other saying, “I hope we hate it! The inside better not be very nice.”

But, it was really nice.

We had arrived a bit before the 2pm open house start time but were ushered in by the realtor. Arriving early allowed us to have the home to ourselves and we were free to ask the realtor all of our questions.

We walked into the living/dining room and were immediately impressed by how big it was. The photos online made it look way smaller. Next we checked out the good-sized back deck and discovered a shared, enclosed backyard where we could let Ellie roam free (if our neighbours were cool with it).

We headed upstairs to find two giant bedrooms. Seriously, such huge spaces! We were always thinking the second bedroom would be my office and when we have guests, we’d put a bed down on the ground. But with a second bedroom of this size, we would easily be able to fit a bed and all my office stuff at the same time. The bathroom upstairs was also giant and very modern.

One small corner of a very big second bedroom

The kitchen was updated and had pretty good cabinet space. We talked about where we might put a microwave and already I could see us living in the house.

Last, we went downstairs to see the finished basement. We were warned that it wasn’t quite finished but were pleasantly surprised. The space was huge! There was in-suite laundry, a half bath, storage and tons of space for hanging out.

Colin and I were getting kind of giddy. We started asking the realtor more serious questions such as the date for offers and when the current family was hoping to move out. We left with nervous smiles – what the hell were we going to do?

We sat in Colin’s parked car for a good 10 minutes just talking through the situation. Our original plan was to get our pre-approval in October and start looking for homes in the winter with a move-in date of Feb/March. We talked through the money situation and whether or not we could afford the $398,000 list price (or more if it goes above asking). And then we started talking about the logstics – could we get pre-approved fast enough to make an offer? Would our parents be willing to commit to down payments and get that money to us? Could we find a realtor?

ARE WE CRAZY?

The way I felt in the car is the same way I feel when I book a big trip. “Am I crazy?” keeps flashing in my mind. I’m nervous and I’m excited. I can’t stop smiling but I also can’t stop letting out exasperated breaths. It’s that feeling of taking a risk but knowing the outcome could be so good. I never thought I would feel that way about a house.

And best of all, Colin was totally on the same page. A part of me was scared that I would fall in love with the place and Colin would not be feeling it. Honestly, that might have been better because then he could have talked me down. But Colin was just as into it as I was. We both walked through the townhouse and actually felt like we were walking through a home. It felt like someplace we could live and be happy for a long time. We saw our futures there.

So after crunching a few numbers and assuring ourselves that it wouldn’t hurt to at least try, we decided to go for it. Could we pull this off? Remains to be seen.

Our first step was to talk to our parents. I texted my mom and called my dad – no reply from either. Colin’s mom had called us just as we were leaving the house to make plans for dinner – perfect. On the way to her house, we sent our mortgage professional an email asking if our crazy dream of getting the world’s fastest pre-approval was even possible.

Over the rest of the afternoon, dinner and dog walk, we talked to Margie about our dream home. I was so impressed and grateful that Colin totally took the lead on this one. He was the one who started using words like “dream house” and “we fell in love with it.” It made me feel so good to know that this wasn’t some scheme of mine I had pulled him into. Colin was just as into this as I was.

I also got to talk to my parents that evening. And to our surprise, all three of our parents were on board. Of course, they wanted to make sure we were doing our due diligence and asking all the right questions. But they were all super supportive. Colin and I kept expecting someone to say, “What? Of course you can’t buy a townhouse. Are you kidding?” But nobody did. We were expecting to be talked off the ledge but instead we were encouraged to jump.

So we emailed a realtor I had been communicating with to try and get the ball rolling. And we made plans with Margie to go back to tomorrow’s open house so we could show her the place.

When we finally got home, Colin and I were mentally and physically drained. Poor Colin had worked at 5am, so he was super tired. But I think our brains were also fried from all of the what-ifs and how-abouts of the day.

Lying in bed, Colin asked again, “Are we crazy?”

I mean, we probably are. It does seem incredibly fast. But there are also so many good points. I’ve been looking at homes for a couple of months now and I’ve never seen something this big, this nice, in this location for this price. And it’s the first one that has really felt like a home. There’s something about having multiple levels in a townhouse and not being able to see every square inch of your house from the front door that’s pretty cool. We asked the realtor about other units in the complex and he said they don’t come up often. The last unit to sell was winter 2016 – almost an entire year ago. So I’m scared if we don’t act on this one, we’ll lose out. And if this is a home we spend 5, 10, 15+ years in, will it really matter if we put in an offer two months earlier than we had planned? Doubt it.

But it still feels crazy. And maybe, even impossible. I’m trying not to get my hopes up. I know it is still such a long shot for this house to be ours. First, we have to hear back from our mortgage professional and see if she can help us out. Then, assuming she can, we’d have to get all our financial documents to her. Next we’re waiting on the lender and praying we get a good mortgage rate. Banking (pun intended) on a good rate and this place being in our price range, we then have to work with a realtor and come up with a good offer. And then there’s hoping that our offer is accepted over everyone else’s.

So yeah, we have a ton of hoops to jump through. Our mortgage professional could write us back tomorrow with a simple, “Yeah, you guys are nuts. You can’t get pre-approved fast enough and you’ll never be able to afford that place.” Or by the time we get approved, the place could have sold. Or if we manage to get an offer in on time, there could be a bidding war that totally goes over our heads. Or maybe some money bags will swoop in tomorrow and offer way more than asking and this will all be for nothing.

But despite this mountain of obstacles we’d have to climb, I’m still hopeful. I can’t deny that part of me fell in love with this house. Walking down the stairs, I actually felt like I was in a home – not just an apartment or a rental. It felt like someplace we could grow into. There were little things we’d want to change right away (like painting the very pink and very blue bedrooms) but nothing major. And there were still enough projects to keep us busy down the road (like re-doing the weird textured walls in the basement). I could see us cooking in the kitchen, Colin playing video games in the basement and me typing away in my office/second bedroom. I could see Ellie running around the backyard while Colin fires up the grill. And I could even see our future kid playing on the swings right next to our house and inviting his or her friends over to swim in our pool.

What was that about not getting my hopes up?

I know real estate isn’t supposed to be an emotional thing. But how can you not get attached to the biggest purchase of your life that you’ll spend so much time in? I can’t imagine buying a house I didn’t love. So since this one has already won my heart, I guess I just have to be prepared to have my heart broken…

… while still holding onto a glimmer of hope that we could actually end up living there!

Becoming a Homeowner, Pt 2

Note: This part of the series was written in mid-August. Again, if long and rambly posts on home buying/life updates are not your deal, feel free to skim or skip!


So this has been one fairly eventful week. It all culminates in an update on the home buying front, but there are some other life details thrown in there, because buying a home isn’t supposed to be straightforward, is it?

At the start of this week, I was thinking it would be business as usual in our disgustingly hot apartment in New West. I figured it would be lots of working from Starbucks (I need their AC), wee pup walks and absolutely no travel or home updates. Clearly, I was wrong.

We actually decided to leave New West for a bit and headed out to Kelowna to visit Colin’s brother Kyle, his girlfriend, Corbie, and their brand new baby, Jordan.

I hadn’t been to Kelowna since 2012 when I went up for Residence Advisor Orientation at the UBC-Okanagan campus. To be fair, this should barely count as visiting Kelowna since we never left campus. I’ve been up to Kelowna three times before this and every single time I only saw UBCO. So this trip was a nice change.

It was a bit of a trek up to Kelowna, but we had our awesome road trip playlist, wee pup snuggles and a really good chat about life and money. I read somewhere that the best time to have serious conversations with a guy is when he’s driving. He’s in his element, he’s able to focus on the road, he doesn’t have to look directly at you and you’re not distracted by anything since it’s just the two of you. Turns out, that advice held true. Colin and I were able to have some really good talks about our money issues/goals, mental health, plans for the future, potential wedding ideas, etc.

Once up in Kelowna, we spent some awesome time visiting with Kyle, Corbie, Jordan and Kyle’s first son, Jaxon. Their house was awesome, as was the pool and the cute little cabin we got to stay in. Even without air conditioning and in Kelowna’s heat, that cabin was way cooler than our apartment. We got to try some great restaurants and visit Kelowna’s downtown.

Colin and baby Jordan!

We were super excited to meet Jordan and spend some time with Kyle and Corbie. I’m glad we got to go up and see them since they won’t be down in Vancouver until late September. At that point, Jordy will be almost 2 months old. However, we did feel like we were in the way sometimes. I really wanted to help out with the baby but it seemed like often, the best thing for us to do was just to give them some space.

All in all, it was a great trip. While in Kelowna, we also came across an awesome flight deal. And by “we” I mean that I saw the deal on Facebook and clicked through to the booking website, confirming with Colin once I had it all loaded up.

Colin and I have been wanting to get back to Europe for a while now. He visited in high school and I was there on exchange in 2014. We had talked about doing a big Europe trip in 2018. However, with all the talk of home buying, we assumed we’d have to postpone it.

But then, this amazing flight deal fell into our laps. Colin was a bit hesitant, but even he couldn’t argue with savings like this. Plus, it’s nine months away so we have lots of time to save and plan. So we officially booked flights to Ireland! We’ll be flying roundtrip from Vancouver to Dublin, April 9-19 for only $344 per person! How insane is that?

We’re stoked on the trip. Neither of us has been to Ireland before and we both have a bit of Irish in our bloodline. I would’ve wanted to stay for 2-3 weeks to see more of Europe, but I know Colin is worried about the cost. To be fair, I should be more worried about the cost so 10 days is probably the right move. We’ll spend all of it in Ireland and have an amazing time drinking beer, driving through the Irish cliffs and praying for sun.

Image result for ireland

Can’t wait to see this in Ireland next April!

So we got Kelowna and Ireland – what more could we want out of a week? Oh, that’s right – something related to home ownership (the title of this post!).

Just before we left for Kelowna, Colin and I booked an appointment with a mortgage professional in Vancouver. I was excited about it because this is the first step we’ve taken in actually getting this househunt off of our internet browsers and into the real world. But it was also super scary. Colin remarked that we could be packing for Ireland from a new house that we OWN. Ahhhhh!

Another scary part of the mortgage meeting was filling out the online form and getting real about our finances. I’ve recently written about talking money with your SO and realize it’s something Colin and I are going to need to do if we are planning a future together. It was eye opening to see where we both were and what concerns we had.

There was also the controversy of meeting with a mortgage professional. In my research (articles I’ve found online and podcasts I’ve listened to), it seems that mortgage professionals are the way to go. They specialize in mortgages, have relationships with multiple lenders and can usually get you a better interest rate than you could get at your bank. Plus, like a realtor, they are free for buyers to work with. So what could be wrong?

Well, turns out not everyone is into that strategy. My mom immediately nixed the idea when I told her over text. She touted a friend of hers who had gone the same route and got screwed. After I explained my research findings, she softened to the idea a bit. She still wanted me to work with someone based on a personal recommendation. I get where she is coming from – it would be awesome to have a friend recommend a mortgage broker to us. But it might not be possible. We just don’t have that many friends buying homes. And personally, I prefer to go with the stats and research I am finding online over an anecdotal story from a friend who had a good or bad experience.

Colin’s mom also pushed back against the mortgage professional idea. She wants us to get a mortgage through a bank – specifically, her bank. Colin explained the research we had done but she still thinks her bank is best. And, seeing as she just bought and sold a home with them, I can see why. She has a great relationship with her bank and believes that she can use that to help us get a great deal. I’m less sure.

So all that to say, we are still meeting with our mortgage professional on Monday. But we haven’t signed anything yet and we’re not committed to her. We’ll likely take a meeting at Colin’s mom’s bank as well. It won’t hurt to try out a few avenues and see what is what.

And lastly, another big whopper on the house front: our down payment number changed. So all along, we have been counting on Margie (Colin’s mom) to help us out with our down payment. At first, we thought the money was a gift but now we understand it’s an investment. We still have to figure out all of the paperwork on that front. Our plan was to use her investment, possibly a bit of money from my parents, some of our savings and then the first time home buyers program to put together a pretty good sized down payment. 

Well, Margie just informed Colin on the phone that her contribution to our down payment was going to be more. Significantly more. So much more that we ran the numbers on some of our potential mortgage payments and they were laughable. I’m talking less than $600 for a monthly mortgage payment!

So obviously, this is a game changer. It’s way more money than we were expecting and it really could shake things up for us. Now, more than ever, do I want all of us to sit down and put this stuff in writing. Often, it’s Colin talking to his mom on the phone and then trying to relay as much of the information as he can back to me once they hang up. So it’s time to get things in writing once we meet in person. Of course, I want Margie’s investment to be protected. And I also want to make sure Colin and I are being fair to ourselves and our future. And I think it would be good to chat and get everything out in the open. It seems like the information we glean from her changes all the time – so it’s about time for us to be direct, sit down and talk like adults doing business.

We’re not quite sure what that sum of money means. Would she be signing the mortgage with us? Because if she does, we don’t qualify for the first time home buyers program. Is that bad? Or are we taking out a second mortgage with her? Colin said she mentioned something about a 0% mortgage we could do. How does this impact our other mortgage? How do we determine her investment pay off once we sell? Can we now start looking at higher priced properties because we have a larger down payment? Or should we continue looking at our current price range and just drive down our monthly payments/pay off the mortgage sooner?

So many questions! Basically, all of this new home ownership stuff has just resulted in a ton of questions. I’m hoping we can get most of them answered soon. I have phone calls planned with my parents for this weekend. I want to share all of this with them and get their opinion. Plus, if they were planning to contribute, as a gift or a loan or an investment, I’d love to know the number going into our meeting with the mortgage professional. Colin is also trying to get a ballpark figure from his mom so we have that information. He’s going to the bank with her on Tuesday but our meeting is on Monday.

And then I’m hoping everything else will get answered soon after that. I’m hoping our mortgage professional can answer a lot of questions at our meeting. And I’m hoping we can book a meeting with Margie’s bank this week and sit down with her to figure out all of the details. It’s scary! Things are really starting to move. The process is happening and the puzzle pieces are starting to fit together. Wish us luck!

Becoming a Homeowner, Pt 1

Note: This was written in early/mid August (I can’t remember exactly when) and is part of a lengthy, rambly series on our homeownership journey. Feel free to skip or skim if you’re not interested in homes! 


Image result for house hunters

No, we weren’t on this show. And no, we’re not buying a house on the water. But a girl can dream!

The first step to becoming a homeowner is deciding you want to become a homeowner.

Sounds obvious, right? Like, does this even count as a step? It sounds like it’s more of a pre-step.

But no, it is a bonafide step. At least, it was for us.

Home ownership was never something I gave much thought to. I grew up with divorced parents who would move everytime the lease was up. My mom finally bought a house when I was about 10 years old and sold it a couple of years later. My dad bought a house when I was 13 and actually still lives in that house. But by that point, I had lived in more than 20 homes between both parents so the stability of a mortgage over a lease didn’t mean too much to me.

When I moved out to Vancouver, I always assumed I would just be a renter. I liked the idea of being able to pick up and go. And I really loved the thought of moving abroad whenever I wanted.

Plus, if you know anything about Vancouver real estate, you know that buying here is a lofty aspiration. In fact, affording a home in Vancouver is more often the punchline of a joke than an actual reality.

But then we have Colin, my sweet, stable-home raised, boyfriend. Colin grew up in a single storey home in Surrey with his mom, dad and at least two pets at any given time. This is the only house Colin has ever known. He even has his height marked on the inside of a doorway. (Which, as someone who moved around a lot, is something I am so envious of).

Last year, after Colin’s dad passed away, his mom decided to sell the house. After many months of cleaning, donating items and taking truckloads of crap to the dump, the house was finally empty. Colin and I moved into an apartment in New West and his mom moved into a condo in Port Coquitlam.

The house in Surrey was no more.

Check out that stunning cherry blossom tree in front of the Surrey house!

But it lives on. We still talk about fond memories on the beautiful backyard porch. We remember the converted garage that served as Colin’s bedroom suite. And we even drive by every now and then just to see what the new homeowners are up to (they keep the blinds closed so we actually have no idea).

So that’s where we came from. I believed I would rent forever and that having a mortgage was too much of a commitment. The longest I had lived in one place as an adult was just over a year. Colin, on the other hand, was signing a rental lease with me for pretty much the first time in his life (he lived in North Van for four months during school but that barely counts).

We’re about halfway through our one year lease on our first apartment together. And naturally, the dream apartment we found in the middle of a snowstorm in December has begun to lose a bit of its charm.

The kitchen, which we loved because it was updated and had a dishwasher, is far too tiny. Two people in there trying to cook is ridiculous. The desk I bought from IKEA that we spent a few late nights spray painting and wallpapering has now become a glorified shoe rack.

Basically, our one bedroom has become too small. With me working from home full-time and our place being just over 500 square feet, this was only natural. It’s hard to make things work when my “office” is the dining room table which shares space with our TV, Colin’s desk and the couch.

This “dining room table” is now my desk

So, we knew we wanted two bedrooms in our next place. Being obsessed with research like I am, I got right to work looking up two bedrooms. I wanted to know what kind of places were available and how much more they would cost us.

I’ll be fairly open about our financials here. Our current 500+ square foot, modern, one bedroom apartment in a high rise in downtown New West costs us $1250/month. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is a pretty great deal. When we were first looking for apartments, we found that a lot of the nice new buildings in downtown New West were asking $1600+ for a one bedroom. And then the older buildings farther north had one bedrooms for around $1000, but we didn’t like the look or location. There was very little in the middle so I think we were lucky to find our place.

But my research showed that moving up to a two bedroom and still staying in our location was going to cost us. We were looking at places in the $1800-2000 range. The increase scared us a little bit. Before moving in with Colin, I was paying rent on a bachelor apartment in Kits (a steal at $850), so I was a bit more comfortable with the price jump. But I knew it would be a big change for us. Was it worth it?

I’m not sure how it happened, but I began to move my research away from Craigslist apartment ads and towards realtor.ca. I was curious! And the idea of homeownership had been dropped in my head. A friend of mine in Toronto was starting to look at the housing market with her husband (sending good vibes her way cause their market sucks like ours). And another friend and her partner had just purchased a place in Kelowna.

Plus, when we were looking for our rental last year, Colin’s mom had offhandedly mentioned that maybe we should buy instead. She was even willing to help us with the down payment, as she would have the money after selling her house. I was vehemently against the idea. I love Colin. But at that point, we hadn’t even celebrated our second anniversary. I had never lived with a partner before and Colin had barely ever lived away from home. I was not ready to sign a mortgage with him. Colin felt the same and after one morning of trying to look through house listings, we called it off and stuck with our rental plan.

But here I was, five months into our lease and looking at realtor.ca. What was happening?

I told myself it was just research. I just wanted to get educated. I was bored with the same old listings on Craigslist and I wanted to see something new. But was that it? A part of me that I hadn’t really acknowledged before was super excited scrolling through the home listings. And when I returned to the Craigslist ads, I was noticeably disappointed.

I spent a lot of my university and post-university years rejecting the ideas of traditional adulthood. I never really dreamt about settling down, marriage, kids, the mortgage and the minivan. I would’ve been just as happy travelling the world, moving countries every year and maybe having a partner by my side – kids were optional.

So I went out and I got those travelling experiences. I studied abroad in Amsterdam for five months. I volunteered in Swaziland for an entire summer. I travelled through Australia for a month. And I loved all of those experiences. But I also loved coming home. I loved decorating my apartment and picking out furniture. I loved having a neighbourhood sushi restaurant (my equivalent of having a local coffee shop) and house plants that I tried my best not to kill. I was craving a bit of a fixed life. I loved travelling, but I wanted a home.

And those home feelings definitely magnified when I met Colin. I got to see the world from his perspective, growing up in one home with both parents in the same place for his whole life. I found myself daydreaming about the fixed life we could have together. Slowly, the marriage, kid(s) and mortgage didn’t sound so bad – I’m still out on the minivan.

That’s not to say I completely gave up on all of my travel dreams the minute I got a boyfriend. It’s not like that at all. I was having those fixed life cravings long before I met Colin. In fact, I think things worked out with Colin because I was already in the mindset of placing some roots. And I haven’t given up travelling. Colin and I have gone on lots of trips together in our 2+ years of dating. And I even headed off to Vietnam for a month with a girlfriend while Colin stayed here. It was never and it will never be a matter of trading in my passport for a mortgage.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Sorry, I digress (again).

All that to say, I was looking at homes for sale and I was getting excited. And when I get excited, I have to start researching. So I started reading blogs about buying homes, what we could afford, what markets were hot and when was the best time to buy. I downloaded real estate podcasts and started sending questions to the podcast hosts. And, most importantly, I started talking to Colin.

Colin and I had already been talking about the move to a two bedroom. The idea of buying had come up but we thought it might be too expensive for us. These were all hypotheticals. And then, my research started to seep in. I would fill Colin in on everything I was learning, in small bite-sized chunks so he didn’t get too overwhelmed. Seeing as my previous obsession was talking about weddings, Colin was much more receptive to housing talk.

He started to get into it with me. I would call him over to my laptop to look through house listings. We would run the numbers together and see if we could afford it. We talked through neighbourhoods (more on this later) and sent each other links to relevant articles. Once the house hunt moved to Surrey, Colin got even more excited. We even spent one weekend in July going to open houses!

So, we were more than seriously considering it. We are more than seriously considering it. We are very much looking to buy a home when our lease ends in February 2018. We have crunched the numbers, gone to the open houses and started to reach out to realtors and mortgage brokers. We’ve started to discuss down payments with our parents and the state of our finances with each other. It’s happening! It’s kind of scary to admit but….

We want to be homeowners. We are planning to buy our first home in early 2018.

(Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Am I the only one freaking out? Typing that sentence gave me heart palpitations!)

Welcome to Our Home!

It has been exactly one week since Colin and I moved into our new place in New Westminster!

***

And I’d have to say, I think we’re doing very well for our first week together. We had the place all unpacked by Day 2. And in this first week we’ve managed to get rid of all of the empty boxes, go on multiple trips to IKEA and Walmart, grocery shop, clean, hang pictures and not kill each other 🙂

Our first night here was exhausting. We spent all day moving from my house, moving from Colin’s house, unpacking the essentials and cleaning. Luckily we had some awesome friends help us, but the 28th was still a very tiring day. We both felt like we were staying at someone else’s house for those first few nights. But now it is really starting to feel like home.

I love that our bed is finally not shoved up against a wall so we can both have nightstands. I love that we have photos of our friends and family on the wall. I love that we have giant windows which let the sun stream in (on the rare Vancouver spring day where we get sun). I love that we have fresh tulips on the table – a gift from Colin’s mom. I love that we take turn making meals in the kitchen and go grocery shopping together. And I really love that we have a garbage shoot on our floor so we don’t have to go outside to take out the garbage!

Okay, enough rambling! Basically, I am really loving our new home and living with my guy. I’m excited to finish up the last touches we need to settle in, have people over and explore our New West neighbourhood. Here are some shots of our place:

Colin’s desk and our stunning view of a construction site that will be a 40-storey building one day. Yay….

Kitchen table, bookshelf and some artfully arranged photos

Our second bookshelf, which is pretty much all Colin’s

Our collection of Funko Pop Dolls and shot glasses. Do we sound like an 18 year old boy?

Our kitchen! Check out that fancy fridge

The other side of our kitchen. Eventually we’ll get a dishwasher where those bags are sitting

You would not believe how much crap we have shoved into this closet

Our bedroom! Featuring Bear and the curtains that we struggled to put up

My little desk. Grainy photo but we spray painted and papered that desk ourselves

Tulips! I love fresh blooms in the house 🙂

Our bathroom!

Our closet. It was a work of art to get all of our stuff in there

Our couch with some new pillows and our first piece of “artwork” (a print from IKEA, but we like it)

Home sweet home!

Fixed life or a big trip?

Today Colin, my friend Malindi, and I stumbled into a few open houses after grabbing lunch in Olympic Village.  Every time we see an “Open House” sign, I always joke with Colin that we should go in but today we actually did it.  And even though we are no where close to being able to afford a house, it was interesting to walk through and consider what it might be like a few (or maybe a dozen, given Vancouver’s housing market) years down the road.

We ended up looking at three places: two one-bedroom condos in Olympic Village and then a three-bedroom here in Kits.  That last one was a bit more serendipitous than realistic; I kept saying we had to see three places just like they do on House Hunters and we happened to pass an “Open House” sign on our walk from the bus stop to my apartment.

And, oddly enough, the prices didn’t really shock us. Sure, half a million for a one-bedroom sounds horrendous but after all of the Vancouver housing market horror stories we’ve heard, it really didn’t seem that outrageous.  And after talking to the real estate agents, it became easier and easier to picture us house hunting for real.

But just a few days before this, I was knee-deep (aka on the 4th page of my Google Doc) into planning a 2-week Central America vacation for Colin and I: exploring the jungles and mountains of Costa Rica and then relaxing at a resort in Cancun.  And the night before that I was researching Alaskan cruises.  And then just yesterday I got all caught up in figuring out how Colin’s x-ray technologist certification would transfer abroad if we were to say, live in the UK for a year.

Travel has been a huge aspect and aspiration of my life for the last 5+ years. It’s been tough living full-time in Vancouver since I returned in Sept 2014 and not having a plan for a big trip anywhere. I can feel myself sort of grasping at straws to make any kind of vacation or travel plan come to life. I just want to go.

But at the exact same time, I love it here. I love that I have my own place, relationships, a job.  I love having a community and a cute neighbourhood (that’s not too far from the beach!). And while I know I could find all of those things abroad, I’m also starting to love the idea of a permanent fixed life in Vancouver.  Yes, real estate prices are insane but this city has really become my home and I do find myself wanting to put down roots here for a future.

So basically, I don’t really know what I want! I mean, in an ideal world, I have the money to take big trips, experience living abroad for a while and then return here to settle permanently.  And maybe that ideal world will come to be one day.  But for now, I almost feel like I have to make choices between enhancing my fixed life or planning for something bigger farther away.  When I put money into my savings account am I saving for a down payment or for a plane ticket?

Maybe the answer is both? A down payment is not a reality in my near future but a two-week trip to Central America definitely could be.  So maybe I save a bit for both of those things. And then maybe we put off moving abroad for a longer stretch until we’re more settled.  I guess I just don’t want to miss out on anything. I don’t want to have a mortgage but look back and wish I had traveled more or taken that opportunity to live overseas.  But I also don’t want to look back on years of travel and wonder why I can’t afford to buy a home or figure out my career path.

I think about my Aunt Deborah in times like this.  She traveled extensively when she was younger: living in Australia, backpacking through China, studying abroad in Europe.  But she also got married, had children and bought a house in Etobicoke. And despite having met those fixed life goals, she, and her family, still find the time to travel.  Deborah and my Uncle Chris took their first child Nathaniel backpacking through Southeast Asia when he was still being carried in a sling.  And right now, they’re on a house exchange in Europe with their two children for the summer.  So, I guess it can be done. Maybe I just need to call up Deb for some tips 🙂

 

How to visit everyone you know in 4 days flat*

*So “everyone” might be a slight exaggeration, but let me have it

In the last week of August, my guy and I headed back to my hometown of Toronto for an absolute whirlwind trip of family, friends and (of course) food.  We also had to sneak in a few tourist highlights, as it was someone’s first trip to #the6ix.

***

Wednesday (Day 1)

We started with a delayed red-eye on Tuesday evening that didn’t have us flying out of Vancouver until 2 in the morning! My family met us at the airport and greeted our groggy bodies and blood shot eyes with giant hugs.

Back at home we dined on a lovely homecooked breakfast before passing out hard for a much-need mid-morning siesta.  By 1:00pm we were awake and on our way to the Toronto Zoo with my siblings.

Getting to know the wildlife at the Toronto Zoo!

Getting to know the wildlife at the zoo!

The zoo was actually a great time. I’m not always a huge fan of zoos and I hadn’t been to one in about a year, and not to the Toronto one in many years.  We took in the special exhibit on the Giant Pandas and then made sure to see everyone’s favourites: gorillas for me, wolves for my sister, careful following of the map for my brother, and a Beaver Tail snack break for my guy.

After a few hours at the zoo and right about when we had had it with Lee’s complaints of sore feet, we headed back to the car and home for a Lee Family BBQ!

It was so nice to catch up with my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents from the Lee side. I love our family get-togethers and know I had missed quite a few. It’s always tough to find time to actually chat with everyone especially when there are dogs trying to steal food, baseball games to watch, adorable babies to play with and way more food than necessary waiting to be consumed.

After all that family fun, our fivesome (who were six for the night) decided to fit in a little more bonding over a friendly game of Texas Hold ‘Em. My sister and I spent the majority of our childhood trying to convince our parents to play boardgames with us or attend disco parties we had planned.  It was kind of nice to spend a few hours doing the adult version of that.  Everyone enjoyed it, even Lee, who I think ended up winning a few hands and then pulling a Robin Hood (stealing from the bank to help his sisters out).  I don’t know who won but I’m pretty sure I came top 3 🙂

Day 1 recap: arrival, zoo & family bbq
Day 1 total # of fam/friends visited: 14

——————————————————————————————————————-

Thursday (Day 2)

We had to head out straight away Thursday morning to make it downtown in time to join the Ladies Lunching (my mom, aunts and a few cousins) at a cool spot between the financial and entertainment districts.  The food was a bit strange and the company was all female, but my guy pulled through.

After lunch, we loaded my mom up with our suitcases (sorry, mom!) and headed over to The Hockey Hall of Fame. I was preparing for 3-4 hours of absolute boredom.  Turns out, it was actually a good time (and only 2 hours!).  I needed a lot of interpreting but even I could appreciate some of the awesome trophies, the 4D movie and the interactive areas.  Partners of hockey lovers: do not fear! The HHOF is not all that bad!

From there we headed up to Nathan Phillips Square to pose with the newly iconic Toronto sign (courtesy of the Pan Am games) and to meet my wonderful friend, Kimberley, over a few beers.  We got to catch up with Kim, I got asked to be a co-MOH and then we jumped on the subway en route to the Annex.

 

#typicaltourists

#typicaltourists

Reunion over board games!

Reunion over board games!

In the Annex we met up with some more of my high school friends for a great night of cheap food and board games at Snakes and Lattes. I’ve been to S&L lots of times but it’s always more fun with a big group. The 7 of us thoroughly enjoyed ourselves over a number of fast-paced and quick-witted games.

Day 2 recap: lunch, HHOF, beers, boardgames
Day 2 total # of fam/friends visited: 13

——————————————————————————————————————-

Friday (Day 3)

Friday started with Toronto’s must-do tourist attraction: The CN Tower! Again, I hadn’t been for years so it was a kind of cool (and horribly expensive) experience for me to go back up.  The security is tight (at one point, you walk through a machine that blasts air at you while supposedly searching for explosives) and the views are awesome.  It was fun to get a great view of the city on a non-cloudy day and to try and point out different spots (“I used to live right there!” “Where?” “Look where I’m pointing!”)

View from the top!

View from the top!

We stopped for lunch at the Jack Astor’s outside the big ScotiaBank Theatre and then carried on to Yonge and Dundas where Buskerfest was in full swing.  It was a pretty great time to experience the area, though the mob we got stuck in on the way home (when I desperately needed to pee) was not the best.

Back at my mom’s, we packed up our stuff and caught a ride with my cousin.  Thanks to rush hour traffic, we got to Mississauga about 90 minutes later.  In Missisauga we picked up my other cousin and then headed on to Fort Erie where the Ang Family would be cottaging for the week.

Around 9pm, we pulled into the cottage site and got to explore our new home for the weekend. It was too dark to head down to the beach so we lazed around the living room and got our butts handed to us in a few rounds of Big 2 by my pre-teen cousins.

Day 3 recap: CN Tower, Buskerfest, cottage
Day 3 total # of fam/friends visited: 9

——————————————————————————————————————-

Saturday (Day 4)

On Saturday morning we woke up and got to appreciate the beautiful lakefront cottage we were staying in.  Our room that night looked right out to the water and we decided to take our breakfast out on the lawn.  A little while later (because it takes a while to get 10 people going) we headed out to Niagara Falls!

Another off the tourist bucket list: seeing the falls! We got to experience them up close with a ride on the Hornblower (formerly known as the Maid of The Mist which apparently the US has copyrighted for boats leaving from their side). I remembered the Maid of The Mist as, just that, misty.  I knew you got the plastic ponchos but I didn’t remember actually needing them.  Well, either I was wrong or something has changed because on the Hornblower we got SOAKED! Even in our ponchos, it felt like we had gone swimming. But it was a great time and no better way to appreciate the beauty and power of Niagara Falls.

IMG_20150829_134140332

We followed our swim with a walk up Clifton Hills and lunch at the world’s slowest burger joint.  From there we headed back to the cottage for the main festivities: Grandpa Ang’s 80th Birthday! The rest of the family started pouring in and the cooking began in earnest.  We feasted on fish, chicken and 4 different cakes until our stomachs ached.

When you turn 80, you get 4 cakes

When you turn 80, you get 4 cakes!

Family by the fire

Family by the fire

After dinner and dessert, we headed down to the beach so my man could earn his keep by building us a campfire.  12 years in the Boy Scouts proved useful and soon we were roasting marshmallows, singing along to a ukulele and praying the rain would stay away.  There’s something about singing with my family, whether it be to Jason Mraz tunes around a campfire or classic carols on Christmas Eve, that always warms my heart.

Day 4 recap: Niagara Falls, birthday dinner, campfire
Day 4 total # of fam/friends visited: 8

——————————————————————————————————————-

Early the next morning my extremely kind cousin drove us to Pearson so we could catch our noon flight to NYC.  I love every opportunity to see my family and I think we really made the most of four very short days in Toronto.  We got to see a lot of people and fit in a few tourist classics.  Granted, it wasn’t the most relaxing trip and it sucks that I could only see most people for a single meal, if that.  But any chance to be with my loved ones in Toronto is always worth it.

Grand total: 44! We managed to see 44 members of my friends/family in only 4 days! And that’s not double counting; 44 different people were graced with our presence 😉

Until next time, Toronto!

6 months worth of updates

So about a year ago, I realized I had been neglecting my blog.  It kind of made sense, since this blog was born out of dream to travel and I wasn’t doing too much traveling a year ago.  But I found new things to write about: simple pleasures of everyday life, moving to a new home, family vacations and enjoying the on-going adventure that is living in Vancouver.

***

And then in March, I forgot I had a blog again.

This time, it wasn’t for any lack of travel or adventure.  In fact, too much was happening in my life and I kept forgetting to write it all down.  So here are a few of the biggest updates from the last few months:

March: In March, I moved (again!) into an adorable and cosy 2-bedroom with my wonderful friend from work, Sophie.  Sophie and I had only met in January but barely a month later we were already looking at places together.  While it was rushed, here we are 6 months later and I couldn’t be happier.  Living alone was exciting, but I do tend to hermit when I’m solo (read: late nights in front of the TV with take-out and week-old dishes in the sink).  But now I have someone to watch TV with! We’re in a bit of a suburban neighbourhood of East Van but we’re enjoying it so far.  This was the first time either of us had signed a year lease and was the biggest step in settling that I’ve ever taken.

The bed I ordered and put together myself in my first unfurnished room!

The bed I ordered and put together myself in my first unfurnished room!

April: April was a pretty busy month for me! Unfortunately, it started on a sad note with my grandmother’s passing.  I flew back to Toronto for a quick weekend visit to be with family.  But back in Vancouver, things did seem to turn around.  I met a very special someone and we’ll be celebrating six months together in October.

Grandparents Canning on their wedding day :)

Grandparents Canning on their wedding day 🙂

May: May (and you might start to notice a trend here) was also incredibly busy.  It started with me fostering a gorgeous little puppy named Waffles who was the cutest and most clingy dog in the world.  We only had Waffles for 3 weeks and I still miss her, but I think I realized I’m not quite ready for full-time dog ownership.  Maybe when I live with a partner and have a flexible work schedule, I can revisit the dog situation.  But I wouldn’t be opposed to fostering again!

How cute is this puppy??

How cute is this puppy??

May was also the month where I officially graduated from UBC! My parents and siblings made the big trek from Toronto to watch me walk across the stage with 300+ other students at the ungodly hour of 8:30am on a Friday morning.

Quick snap of my diploma while I get ready to walk the stage!

Quick snap of my diploma while I got ready to walk the stage!

June: June was a bit of an up and down month.  Most notably, I set off for 6 weeks of facilitating in China through my job with Free The Children.  And while I have no desire to rehash the details, suffice to say that trip did not really work out and I was home shortly after Canada Day.  I also finished up my 10 months of serving at the Arbutus Club in June!

Last shift selfie!

Last shift selfie!

July: Coming home early was actually a huge blessing in disguise.  I got to take part in so many amazing summer activities and finally spend this season in beautiful Vancouver.  Bonus: I also got to see my mom who was in town for a wedding! Some of those summer activities included: concerts (One Direction, Journey and Taylor Swift (in order from worst to best performance)), camping (without running water, unless you count the insane amount of rain we got), kayaking (not my forte), FIFA World Cup soccer games and visiting Pender Harbour on the Sunshine Coast. I turned 23 in July and got to celebrate with my mom, my guy and some wonderful friends in my beloved city.

The beautiful Pender Harbour

The beautiful Pender Harbour

Kayaking: not my sport...

Kayaking: not my sport…

Swifties for life!

Swifties for life!

I don't know about thee, but I'm feeling 23!

I don’t know about thee, but I’m feeling 23!

August: August was a month of some big changes.  I decided to move on from my position at Free The Children to try something new.  And I got to go on another trip! This trip was a whirlwind 10 days in Toronto, Fort Erie and New York with my guy along for the ride. **I’ll probably do a separate blog about this trip, so more stories & photos to come!**  We did a lot of family bonding, friend meeting and sight seeing in a crazy but so wonderful 10 days.  I can’t wait to see my loved ones again, do New York in a less humid season and get in some more air miles with my new travel companion.

Brooklyn Bridge! One of my fave NY spots

Brooklyn Bridge! One of my fave NY spots

September: September has been all about settling into my new routine.  I’m working in an admin role at a counselling office which has a much different feel and different hours than my previous job.  I’m enjoying my new position, but it’s definitely a change from what I had been doing for the last nine months.  I think it was a good change, and important for me, but it does come with a few low points – such as missing all of my wonderful colleagues at my old job.

What’s next? I can almost guarantee that whatever I predict here is going to change but here I go!

I definitely want to continue blogging.  I love to write and use this medium to express myself and share my life with loved ones far away.  I should problem tie myself down to a schedule, but I’m not quite ready to make that commitment.  Can we tentatively say 2x per month?

I intend to continue in my current position and keep learning and growing in it.  But I also want to take on some side projects.  In January, I’ll be taking a course online at UBC in preparation for hopefully applying for a Master’s program in counselling.  Less than a month working at a counselling office and I’m already seriously considering a future in this field.  I’m still doing my research and won’t apply for some time, but I do want to start lining things up to make it happen.

In addition to my school course, I want to look for a volunteer or part time job opportunity.  I’d love to get some counselling experience, maybe through a mentorship or crisis line volunteer position.  I’d also love to do some freelance writing.  I’m still in the research stage on this too, but I’m definitely open to some new opportunities.

And then, in terms of my personal life, I definitely want to be more intentional.  Now that I don’t spend my 9-5 with most of my friends, I have to put in the effort to make plans to see the people I care about.  I have so many amazing friends here, one of the reasons I feel at home in Vancouver, and I want to cherish those relationships and not let them slip away.  I also want to do some things to better my daily life: try new recipes and pack lunches for work as much as possible, plan fun date nights that take advantage of this awesome city, head to the library and always have a book in my purse, keep on top of house cleaning, institute some sort of workout regime (my new office has a gym in it that I really need to take advantage of!) and still find time to indulge in take out sushi, my colouring book and nightly ritual of Jeopardy and House Hunters.

And I’m off again!

So after anticipating a slow travel year for 2015, what with my full-time job in Vancouver and no convenient school holidays to take advantage of, it struck me that I’m already off to a not so slow start.

***

In less than 24 hours, I’m headed back to Toronto (wasn’t I just there?) for a week of training at Free The Children HQ.  I’m pretty excited to go through this FTC process and meet a bunch of new long-distance colleagues in our Toronto office.  But I’m a little nervous for keeping up with my on-going work in the Vancouver office at the same time.  And the onslaught of out-going people I’m sure to meet is a little daunting.  However, I am really looking forward to catching up with a few friends and family members during my short 5 day visit.  If only the frigid negative temperatures could stay away for those 5 days!

And then I’ll be back in Vancouver for a week and a half before taking off to… San Francisco! I found a pretty cheap flight (less than $200 roundtrip, leaving from Bellingham) and wanted to take advantage of our Family Day long weekend.  It was a fairly spontaneous decision, and I’m sacrificing 3 vacation days (of my 10 for the year), but I’m so stoked to be going to SF.  I first visited “Frannie” back in 2012 with my mom.  In fact, it was one of my first blog posts and moments of solo travel.  I’m really excited to revisit a city that I love and to spend time with some awesome friends who call Frannie home.

I cross back into Canada during the wee hours of the morning on Feb 10, only to return to the States two days later! This time, it’s for work.  And, it’s only to Mount Vernon (2 hours from Vancouver).  But I’ll be meeting with some of my Washington State youth and educators for the first time and get to practice some facilitation skills. Plus, I’ll be going down with my Team Washington crew and rumour has it we might stop at the outlet mall on the way back 🙂

Granted these upcoming trips (to Toronto, San Francisco and Mount Vernon) kind of pale in comparison to where I was headed in Jan/Feb of 2014 (5 days in Iceland before moving into my new apartment in Amsterdam and spending a long weekend in Milan).  But that’s okay.  Now that I’m more settled, I anticipate many more small trips to closer places.  There are a ton of places around Vancouver I’ve only been to once (like Victoria and Whistler) or haven’t explored at all.  And with my position at FTC, I have the opportunity to head down to Seattle a few times a year.

That’s not to say I’m turning my back on big trips and far off cities.  My scratch-off world map isn’t going to scratch itself! But I do plan to appreciate the more local travel opportunities that I can take advantage of at this point in my life.  I get to be a tourist in my own backyard and keep the ever-present travel bug at bay!

***

Holy blog updates, Batman! Seriously, this is like the 3rd post I’ve written this week! I doubt I’ll keep up this publishing schedule, or stick to any schedule religiously, so bare with me during my wordy weeks 🙂 

Coming home?

Okay, I’m way behind on blog posts. Like 3 weeks behind. But in my defence, I’ve been really busy!

***

In the last couple of weeks I’ve flown to Toronto, celebrated Christmas, flown to the Dominican Republic for a family vacation, rang in the new year, flown back to Toronto and (finally) flown home to Vancouver.

And while I’m no stranger to flights and coast-hopping, this time felt a bit different.  To start with, it was a whirlwind visit.  I only had about 4 days in Toronto before we left for the DR.  In those few days I managed to squeeze in quite a few family and friend catch ups.  My Toronto days essential broke down to: gift wrapping, brunch with James & Zab, gift shopping, x-mas dinner with my high school girlfriends, Brantford visit with my grandma and cousins, dinner with Auntie Hayley & Kaitlyn, brunch with Shelby, more gift shopping and wrapping, dinner with Kim & Sash, lunch and shopping with Simon, hair cut, dim sum dinner and sleepover with Pamela & Andrea, brunch with mom and, finally, Christmas Eve dinner with the Angs before getting to the airport for 4am for our DR flight! So, you could say things were busy 🙂

Christmas Eve with the Angs!

Christmas Eve with the Angs!

Donated 10 inches of hair!

Donated 10 inches of hair!

Dinner at Origin with Kaity, Mom & A. Hayley

Dinner at Origin with Kaity, Mom & A. Hayley

Headed to Brantford full of Christmas cheer

Headed to Brantford full of Christmas cheer

Christmas dinner with PRALM

Christmas dinner with PRALM

Brunch with my favourite Toronto boys

Brunch with my favourite Toronto boys

But busy was beneficial; I got to see so many people who I love and haven’t seen for a little while.  My dearest (but not necessarily nearest) are still in Toronto and it’s so important to me to be able to catch up with them whenever I can.  But, something did feel a bit different this time.

Toronto will always be my home. I’ve spent most of my life there.  All of my family and childhood friends are there. But this time didn’t feel like a homecoming. It felt like a tour.  Part of that is definitely due to the crazy schedule of dinners and brunches I set up for myself.  It’s hard to feel like you’re home when “home” is a series of meals with different people all around the city.  But the other part was my new definition of “home”.

Home has always been a bit of fluid term for me.  I attach it pretty loosely to just about anywhere.  The hostels of Europe became home to me in the Spring, my tatami mat bedroom was home for a month this summer in Japan and now, Vancouver is definitely home.  I don’t know if I could rank one home as more “homey” than the others, but there is definitely a new permanency with my Vancouver home that is pushing the status of Toronto home.

Now that school is done and I’ve started a full time job and am living in my own apartment, my Vancouver life is a bit more established.  My residency here is no longer determined by a four month school term.  There isn’t a set date when I’ll be leaving Vancouver.  And there isn’t a set date when I’ll be returning to Toronto for anything more than a week-long visit.  That both terrifies and excites me.

Sitting in my apartment, lunch packed for work tomorrow and a mountainous recycling box staring at me, I do feel at home. I’ve put up some photos, and my treasured scratch-off map, and things are really starting to feel homey.  I’m excited to get into a work routine and start some non-school after work activities.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss my family and friends in Toronto.  And it doesn’t mean I’m done with Toronto or closing the door on ever living there again.

***

Because no matter where in the world I’m calling home, Toronto will always have a huge part of my heart.