The Big Move – 5 September 2012

On January 3, 2012, the jet-style water pump in the basement of my house in Manotick stopped working. It would have been dead wrong and probably not possible to replace it in kind, so I had to find a contractor to come out and dig up the frozen front yard to find the well head and install a new submersible pump. Because the well head was buried, we had to guess at its location, based on the recollection of neighbours and the measurement of a fish wire inserted by the plumbers who had been brought in. Of course the ground was frozen, so it took the backhoe operator a little time to get a hole started once we decided on a location. He excavated to a depth of about eight feet with no success, so he moved a few feet further south, and then east and tried again. Then he went back to the original location, all the while slipping and sliding in really soupy mud caused by the high water table. This time he dug down to about ten feet and found it. Then it took the specialized welder another half hour to install an extension to the well head which would leave it about a foot above ground. It took several days to install the pump and then a new line from the basement to the well, and then to backfill all of the earth. By the time they finished in March, the yard was a complete mess and I was short $8700!

That was probably what prompted me in late February to contact my favorite real estate agent. That house was 35 years old and was not well built, having been of modular construction and being situated on a low lot with a high water table. Something told me that I would be dealing with structural and drainage issues as time wore on, especially around the garage, which had no drainage tiles around its three sides. In addition, although the house was paid for, I was running up a significant balance on my line of credit (for which the house was collateral), to pay for my third son’s university education. He had another year to go before graduation and I couldn’t foresee an alternative to paying off that debt other than withdrawing the money from my retirement savings plan. It seemed pretty clear that a better strategy would be to trade that house for a cheaper, better one and use the proceeds to eliminate the debt. After reviewing this plan with the realtor and discussing the housing market in Manotick, it seemed highly likely that I could achieve this objective if I was prepared to move to a smaller community, some distance from Ottawa. So that’s what I decided to do.

Beginning in March, I began reviewing the real estate listings throughout eastern Ontario. I was looking for a smaller house with a large garage, or with the space to build a large garage, anywhere in eastern Ontario. I was connected to a real estate agent based in Brockville, whom I was assured would be better equipped to help me in the various outlying towns I’d be interested in. Between site visits with her and on-line searching, I looked at hundreds of homes. Virtually every house I visited had basement water issues or recent repairs for same, or had some other structural or locale issues that turned me off. It wasn’t until I visited this house in Perth where I ultimately landed that I found one that satisfied all of my criteria. In the last week of May I finally found this house and made an offer a week later. The house was only 23 years old, sits on an acre of land just outside of Perth, has an oversized garage big enough for two cars and a shop, and has more living space and unfinished basement space than the Manotick house. As a community, Perth has a lot to offer and is missing only a movie theatre, a Home Depot and a Best Buy store – all things that I could do without. It is known as the prettiest little town in Ontario for good reason, and is located only an hour west of Ottawa. I had to wait until Labour Day weekend to take possession and move in, but it was worth al the effort since I took $100,000 out of the deal and ended up with a bigger, newer, better house.

The only major negative arising from the move is that the new house had wallpaper in all of the rooms except the bedrooms and bathrooms, which was as old as the house and looked it. In addition, the vendors were both heavy smokers, so there were nicotine stains everywhere. Over the next 16 months I would strip all of the wallpaper and repaint every paintable surface, making it clean, fresh, bright and my own. I also installed a propane-powered generator to protect the sump pump against power failures and I finished the garage to make it as nice as most people’s living rooms. With all of these improvements and many more maintenance projects, I have increased the value of the house by at least $50,000. Now I just have to decide whether to stay 🙂

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