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Pique N Your Interest

A home for the holidays

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It’s one thing to sit down with your banker and throw around numbers when discussing your mortgage, and another to actually wake up in the middle of the night — usually at about 3 a.m., usually in a cold sweat — and realize you’re in the hole by a couple of hundred thousand dollars. People get their kneecaps broken for less.

You try to console yourself with the thought that almost everyone is in the same boat, on an ocean of debt, and that you’ll muddle through somehow.

Muddling, you realized long ago, is what life is all about. As long as you always have slightly more cash coming in than going out every month, you’re a muddling success.

Another benefit of buying a home is that my wife and I are building up “equity” — something that seems slow and pointless now, but which I’ll probably feel good about in about 25 years. Wish I started 25 years ago instead of naively blowing my allowance on comic books and popsicles.

I’ve done some rough number crunching, and I’m guessing we’ll get about 50 cents on the dollar back from all the money we put into our home after interest. It beats getting nothing back when paying rent, but it makes us a lot poorer now and for the foreseeable future.

Still, it’s a home, and you can’t put a price on that. It’s ours and nobody can take it away from us — with the possible exception of the bank and the municipality if we break the WHA terms of sale. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

My wife and I spent maybe 15 minutes appraising our Whistler Housing Authority home, and had about 18 hours to make a decision on whether or not we wanted to make a bid. As a result of our flyby appraisal we missed a few faults here and there that will take some time and money to repair, and even got into a fight with the previous owner over fixtures that were supposed to come with the place.

All things considered it was probably the best place we house we can afford in Whistler, but when you bury yourself under a mountain of debt even the smallest of scratches take on monstrous proportions. Most of the work we’ll need to do is minor — a little paint, some drywall putty, a few new fixtures and maybe some tiling down the road — but I had myself convinced we were in for some major renovations. I’ve never hyperventilated before, but I came close on moving day when I made a quick inventory.

Now that some time has passed, I’ve calmed down a lot and I’m starting to feel at home at Casa Mitchell. We’ve even purchased some art to start decorating our mostly blank walls, which I admire every single day.

I have to say I’m also enjoying being the man around a house, tackling jobs big and small with my trusty hammer, a selection of screwdrivers, and a paintbrush. The measuring tape and level also come in handy, although it would probably be better if I knew how to use them properly. And I can’t emphasize enough the importance of my new stud finder, which has already paid for itself many times over.

Thanks to the growing home improvement industry, I now believe I can do anything with a little expert advice from men and women in aprons — not true of course, but companies like Rona and Home Depot have firmly convinced me otherwise. Regardless of results I intend to enjoy the ride.

I still have some lingering concerns about the house, mostly in regards to all the ongoing employee housing projects in Whistler — Rainbow, athletes’ village, the Shoestring Lodge, Lakecrest, Nita Lake, Function Junction. I worry that Whistler may be building an oversupply of employee restricted housing that will make it all but impossible for existing owners to resell their places at the maximum resale value.

Fair enough for the people who bought low under the old Standard Charge Terms and saw the value of their homes go up about 50 per cent in the last few years, but less fair for people who bought in near the peak and will soon have to compete with homes that are being built for less per square foot and will appreciate more slowly under the new Standard Charge Terms.

My wife and I recognize we may have to sell for less than we paid if it comes down to the wire, although I’m fairly certain we’ll be here long enough for everything to even itself out over time.

The uncertainty only makes the whole warm and fuzzy idea of owning a home that much more important. This wasn’t a financial decision for us, it was a life decision — we wanted a home in Whistler and the WHA made it possible. Expensive for our ways and means maybe, but possible. And we can muddle with the best of them.

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