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Home, sweet home

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On the very same day almost 300 employee-restricted homeowners and wannabes turned out to a public information session at the Westin – mostly to complain about the Whistler Housing Authority’s decision to switch to a new appreciation system – my wife and I signed the dotted line to purchase a two-bedroom townhouse in Bear Ridge. Despite all the present controversy we really couldn’t be happier.

We can certainly understand why some people are upset – the fear nobody will want to buy houses made more expensive by the previous appreciation formula; doubts about the recent decision to appreciate homes in step with the Canadian Consumer Price Index (CCPI); the fact that this is the second major change to the formula, and different owners will be governed by three different rules based on where and when they bought; anger that future WHA home purchases will no longer appreciate in step with the white hot Vancouver housing market.

(Believe it or not some people did buy into employee restricted homes under the previous formula expecting to make money, and hoping to make even more when they trade up to Rainbow, Shoestring or Athletes’ village developments.)

My wife and I had heard all of these concerns when we bought in. And while I admit they did give us more to think about, in the end we realized a few things:

The first is that we really do want to live in Whistler for the rest of our lives, and that the WHA is the only realistic way to make that happen – whatever appreciation formula is used.

The second is that the unit we bought, which appreciated massively in just three years along with the Vancouver housing boom, was still fairly priced compared to Vancouver itself. In terms of square footage costs, buying in Bear Ridge is still about 75 per cent cheaper than buying in Yaletown.

The third is that real estate is always an uncertain investment. If the Vancouver market goes down, which some are predicting, our home would lose value under the previous system, while the CCPI almost always goes up – not by much maybe, but up is up.

I also have some family history with real estate to guide my decision. My parents were forced to sell our Toronto home during the last major recession in the early ’90s, and got about two thirds of what it was worth just a few years before (and less than half of what it’s worth now). It goes to show that there are no guarantees in real estate, even if it usually is the closest thing to a sure thing.

The last realization had to do with the place itself. It’s a decent size, and was well designed with the needs of employees in mind. For example, it has lots of storage, including a bike/ski storage closet in the carport, a full-sized den/office, and a small backyard. It’s also close to where we work, and the neighbourhood is great with a daycare, elementary school, biking and running trails, and more. It should get even better when the nearby athletes’ village is completed.

Once we went over the positives, negatives and unknowns it was a no-brainer for us to buy in. At the end of the day all we really wanted was a place to live, not an investment to fret over and sell off the moment we think the market has reached its peak. You know, a HOME.

Now our biggest obstacle is furnishing said home. We have next to nothing, having lived in a one-bedroom suite for the last few years and in a furnished home before that.

Our sofa is an old, packed out futon that I’m pretty sure is responsible for my sore back, and the sore backs of many a houseguest.

We eat off a small side table we use as a coffee table, placed in front of that packed out futon – although I usually sit on the floor to eat because I get less food on myself that way. We also have two side chairs I picked up at a garage sale two years ago for 30 bucks.

Our vacuum is a Shop Vac – big and powerful, but clearly too clumsy for a multi-level townhouse.

Some nice neighbours gave us a barbecue, and the landlords of a friend gave us some patio furniture we probably won’t have room for. We keep our clothes in a chest of drawers given to us by a friend who was moving out of town, which might not fit in the new place.

Our most expensive piece of furniture is probably our bed, which we recently bought after sleeping on a used mattress from a local hotel for three uncomfortable years. Still no frame for it though, which is one more item on a long list of things we’ll need to buy.

Still, it promises to be an exciting, though expensive first month at Casa Mitchell. By October we should start to feel right at home.

Home… I like the sound of that.

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