Brian and I went to look at a house yesterday afternoon – a bit of a lark really, because we wanted to see what 4000 square foot home was selling for $600,000 that had wrap around decks and a great room with a view of Nanaimo harbour.
What we discovered was in fact, the house where dreams (and marriages) go to die.
No photos because I didn’t take any and the real estate pics are from some other time. Short version: what we walked into was someone’s passion project that didn’t go well, and a story about how the sale of the house was part of a contentious divorce.
But for more details: this thing is built on a straight up/down vertical interface (a 25% grade) with a sheer rock to its back and 1500 linear feet of retaining walls holding up the foundation of the home. It’s pretty apparent that someone did most of the work themselves, finished none of it to completion, and then the house (and likely marriage) started to fall apart before substantial finishing was done. For example, the ensuite bathroom off the master bedroom has no bathtub. Closets have no doors. Electrical switches and outlets have no plates. Dramatic and architectural posts in the vaulted ceiling of the great room, don’t quite meet up at right angles. The floor with radiant heating installed seems to have some warped spots in the underlying structure as though it wasn’t laid correctly. And so on.
Damage immediately evident upon entering the house was pooling water (coming from a leak in the ceiling) in the hot tub room, warped doors, and broken appliances. And although there *is* a spectacular view from the upper wrap-around deck, there is so much water damage (and rot), that we and the realtor didn’t feel very safe standing on it. Oh, and as we left we noted that the retaining walls appear to be bulging outward in two places likely due to a drainage problem.
What little property exists around the house (it’s half an acre, but all vertical), is home to an abandoned outhouse with no door, a play structure with the roof ripped off, and piles of garbage everywhere.
While our realtor didn’t know much about the owners or the history of the place, it wasn’t hard to surmise that the house itself was a likely culprit in the end of the marriage. For one thing, building on that lot would have been a stressful and expensive undertaking from the get go. I’m not sure why one would buy a steeply vertical lot at the bottom of a sheer rock face, but I do know that it takes a hell of a lot of money to build in a spot like that. And while it’s clear that someone had a big vision for a showpiece home, so much money was spent in engineering the build, than nothing was left for inside finishing and so countertops, fixtures, and cabinetry are all of the cheapest home depot quality. Paperwork on file also indicates that the owners were living in the build as it was going up – for perhaps as long as 15 years (the septic was approved in 1996, but the occupancy wasn’t legal until 2005, and it still wasn’t finished). You couldn’t design a building situation that would put more strain on a marriage than this.
The house has now been unoccupied for a couple of years, probably more – so in addition to the many inborn defects, it also feels like its people have fled, leaving plant pots to rot on the balconies, and a stripped down marital bed in the unfinished master bedroom. As I told Brian on our way home – everything about the place made me sad, like it was hard to envision that the house had ever seen a happier time. Although the house is advertised as “built for entertaining” it’s unlikely that many guests were ever invited into the never-ending process tinged with family despair. (The house is also advertised as “ready for your finishing touches” when in fact it needs structural repair and a new geotechnical review.)
Someone bought that lot in the throes of a new marriage and a dream, and appears to have left with neither. It’s not an unfamiliar story on these islands. At first glance on a B&B holiday they seem like magical enclaves, and it’s easy to get swept up in the romance of it all. But then there are the realities of rural living, groundwater limitations, geological aspects of living on a rock rising out of the sea, the fact that no bylaw enforcement exists to make your neighbours clean up their derelict vehicles, a shortage of available builders, and so on. It is certainly not uncommon to find new-ish places for sale which have occupancy permits, but have never been occupied or even full finished. Which I suppose just goes to show how the best laid plans….. But in this case, there weren’t even well laid plans and it shows from top to bottom, leaving me with a deeply unsettled feeling about how many people are running around in this world with such poor judgement. It also made me profoundly grateful that I am not partnered to someone prone to flights of grandiosity or throwing money away on hopeless projects.
Curiosity satisfied, though I’m still trying to shake off the bad house vibes.
I have often thanked my stars that I did not chase the dream of building my own home on a shoestring. At a certain age it was so compelling to imagine DIY everything! But now I think of the stresses of regular home care and maintenance on a modest older house and I shudder to think what it would have been like living in an actual construction site for years. For me and many, madness that way lies… Curiosity satisfied indeed.