Real Estate Santa Claus?

26 09 2010

I would swear that some of the people selling houses in Calgary nowadays really think there is, in actual fact, a Santa Claus. My wife and I are eyeing houses for an investment property and it is visibly, and statistically, a buyer’s market. I am a busy fellow as I teach full time, have three children and we have the plethora of other commitments that go with the times. We do not have spare time for people to present ridiculous proposals to us. So, when we looked at a crummy dump on a busy street in our neighbourhood, I was exasperated at the asking price – around $450,000. After seeing the mostly-original add-ons, that the furnace was broken, that the roof was shot, I went up to the realtor and had to calm down before I commented that the house was overpriced by about $80,000. She quickly agreed. The poor woman was cold, and the seller was clearly wasting her time. My wife and I are seeing this overpricing trend a lot and savvy sellers are lowering prices. The others’ minds seem to still suppose it is a seller’s market. Well, in fact, it is not. We are not selling anything right now.

   There is a house near to ours that was on the market when real estate in Calgary was insanely frenetic. The asking price was near $600,000, and the sellers were insisting that they needed compensation for the $85,000 in renovations they had put in. Hello? There was no Santa Claus then either, even when it vividly was a seller’s market. “I want my price,” the owner insisted. The place has been on and off the market for three years now. We have never considered making an offer, for obvious reasons.

   Some time ago, I had the rare privilege of watching a bit of television. On the HGTV Channel there was a show about a couple who were trying to sell their modest house. I was actually roaring about what I witnessed! The husband thought he was veritably omnipotent, where, in fact, he was a blatant buffoon. He wanted something like $50,000 over the market price. I actually felt sorry for the gaudy realtor on the show, especially when she had to listen to another realtor complaining about the inflated price and how showing the house was an embarrassment, and emphatic waste of his time. On the television screen the seller sat on his couch, his little wife looking at him lovingly, and he was saying dim-witted things, something like, “The realtor should sell the property for the seller’s price, not the market price.” At the end of the show, the house was not sold and the realtor, wisely, made it clear that she would not be dealing with the fellow again.

   So, my wife and I are still looking over properties and we know enough to hold onto what we have and to purchase a place now, while it is a buyer’s market. We are not planning to even look at a place down the road from us, that is listed in the upper five-hundred thousands. It is a source of amusement for us, however.


The Kinder Egg

18 09 2010

My little boy, Sunny Jim, adores Kinder Eggs. While he eagerly munches on the chocolate shell of the egg, he is full of anticipation as to what the surprise will be inside the plastic container. When he gets to the surprise, he is usually delighted! Last night, he unwrapped a ghost figurine with a tiny die inside, adding to his ‘ghost with dice collection’ arrayed on his desk. Today, he got a tiny, colourful building toy. Only when we are children can we know the naked joy of these sorts of experiences. They are special, and parents need to help make them special.

James got two eggs in two days for a good reason. When I got home from school last night, I had had a hectic, whirlwind week where it was full-on for 16 hours a day. I was really tired, after a week of being a teacher and a father. I arrived home after 6 p.m. and rushed in so that I could grab a copy of my novel, to send to a newspaper for a review. James happily asked if he could come to the post office in Shopper’s Drugmart, so he could use his saved-up coins to buy a Kinder Egg. He had been asking to buy one for days, and was excited. I replied it was fine, but that he had to eat the egg after he had finished his dinner. During dinner, he was writhing around in his seat too much and ended up falling onto the floor. The chair hitting the floor made me jump. I snarled at him. Then, he kept putting his feet up and rocking his chair, etc. I exploded and shouted, “SIT-IN-YOUR-CHAIR-PROPERLY!” He did, and then quickly finished his food. I heard him sobbing. I next saw him go retrieve his Kinder Egg from a special hiding place. Wow, did I ever feel bad about how I reacted. Yes, I was tired out. Yes, he did not listen to pleas to sit properly. I realized, however, that my reaction had wrecked his joy over finally getting the much-sought Kinder Egg. I had a flashback of what it was like when I was a boy. I remember anticipating enjoying items like James had, only to have the experience utterly destroyed by an insulting, bitter and bellowing family member. I was remorseful about losing my temper. I had James come to me, and I told him I was sorry about shouting at him and that I wanted him to enjoy the treat. He said that he had cried, but, “That’s alright, Daddy.” I bought him another Kinder Egg today, and I made sure that he enjoyed the whole experience. I really do not like it when I react negatively to things the way my parents did when I was a boy. I do not want that behaviour to continue in my family. I am grateful that I can see the behaviour, and then make efforts to make amends when it rears its horrible head. The next time James has a Kinder Egg, I am going to be careful to make it a special experience for him.

Changing Rooms

12 09 2010

Oh, how often we perceive a task will be straightforward and then it develops into something convoluted and complicated. The time had come. Early yesterday evening, we embarked upon a long-awaited rearrangement in the house, so all the children could have private rooms. We have two girls who are tweens (at that ‘interesting’ age), and a six-year-old boy. The move started with the eldest, who is nearly 12. When trying to determine how she wanted her chattels arranged, it was quite a Tower of Babel scenario – the parents could not understand the child and vice versa. Ultimately, it got done but we had to restrain our emotions and resist the temptation to roll our eyes. Next came the clean up of her old room, which involved gingerly taking down all the precious posters, mementoes and artwork. Then the more simple task of moving Sunny Jim into his new digs, with rock collections and other treasures just moved en mass from one room to the next. No debate about arranging furniture in this scenario. The clutter remains the same. This was nothing, however, compared with the precocious middle child. She had been in the same room for over four years, in which time the hoarding was approaching that of TV-show proportions. Shifting her things was something like a geologic study, with sedimentary layers of debris dating back to Gr. 2. After some resistance, she agreed to dump a large pile of ‘treasures’. While helping her move the golden hoard, I actually found myself spinning in circles while holding sundry items, as there really was nowhere to put them down. My wife and I became more forgiving when we pulled our things from our old room, to find incredible accumulations of dust and tumbleweed-like balls of debris. A rhetorical question is, where does it all come from? Finally, at 1:20 a.m., we gave up on the idea of getting everything sorted out. The dining room is stuffed with the furniture from the old guest room, all for sale, and the rest of the house is piled up with other things that will have to go. Really, my wife and I are tired of our house looking like a second-hand furniture storage facility. I’m all for dumping the lot! It seems like we are often doing this, and things just keep coming in to accumulate ad infinitum. Just two years ago, I gave a friend a couple of loads of furniture that was stored in our rental property’s garage. We could fill that garage again! By the way, I chose the title of this blog as ‘Changing Rooms’ because ‘changing’ can be read as a noun, verb, or, even, a gerund. We do change in our rooms, not only pertaining to clothes but in many ways. Also, my children will change the rooms as more things accumulate and their tastes change. I do not want to CHANGE rooms again for a long, long, while.

Meaningful Innocence

6 09 2010


Photo by Joel Duncan

Although we live in an appallingly material world, the greatest things in life cost naught. Above is a picture of my son, James, perching on every boy’s daydream – a pile of stones! The possibilities for imaginative enjoyment are boundless here! The hill of pebbles is a slide, a source of fascinating fossils, a supply of enticing sedimentary rocks for study, a boundless stockpile of projectiles, a place to create patterns of different shapes and colours. . . . It is even a place to lounge upon while studying morphing clouds, something every youngster needs to try!

The picture above was taken on Nose Hill, a gigantic urban natural park in Calgary, Alberta. Parts of the area used to be a gravel pit and the pile of stones in the picture was left when the area was designated as a public area. It is a blessing that the heap of rocks was left, as it is a wonderful destination to stroll to. Often, James will inquire “When are we going to Rock Mountain?” We go there in all seasons, and it is a fine destination if you want to pick wild strawberries or appreciate autumn. There is always wildlife around, whether it is a deer bounding about or a hawk floating in the big blue skies. From time to time, my family has found slithering garter snakes and flailing frogs around ‘Rock Mountain’.

The aspect that I most appreciate about this place is that it is where innocence reigns. The instant-gratification shopping malls, insane traffic and other modern illnesses are all pushed into the background. It is similar to the secret spaces I used to haunt in my childhood, like a hidden lean-to I created by the Sheep River. These special places are where children and their families can share meaningful experiences and be free.