the thirties grind

get up, go to work, raise kids, pay bills, sleep. repeat.

Archive for the month “April, 2012”

As if we aren’t stressed out enough as parents…here come the Fraser Institute rankings for schools.

I never realized just how much I would stress out about where to send my child to school.  I thought I had it all figured out…when the time came, my kids would go to an independent parochial school like I did.  What I did not realize was that the decision was not as easy as I thought…and I ended up going in a different direction then I had planned.

Read more…

Having an Opinion About Foreign Real Estate Investment in Vancouver: Is it Racist?

Mark Hasiuk has been addressing this issue in his recent articles featured the Vancouver Courier, which have been considered controversial.  I’ve even heard it said outright that he is a racist.

The conversational pot about housing unaffordability and foreign investment in Vancouver has been stirred yet again.  Peter Ladner, former Vancouver City Councillor and Mayoral Candidate, took quite a bit of heat when he addressed this issue last year.  When I was interviewed on the Bill Good show about my Absurd Vancouver Property posts, I was asked about the “elephant in the room” (i.e. foreign investors).  Cam Good of thekey.com,  followed me  and insinuated that people who think foreign investment is a factor in lack of affordability to the average Vancouverite are “unfairly blaming visible minorities.”  Mike Smyth, anchoring for Bill that day, shared the same view as me which is that, for most people, it’s not about racism.  People are simply frustrated by and concerned about the inability for local buyers (or those who want to be) to get into a house.

Allen Garr, also of the  Courier, states that “blaming Chinese for high house prices in Vancouver is racist.”

Pete McMartin, in his recent Vancouver Sun article, says “…as multicultural as Metro Vancouver is, and as tolerant as it claims to be, real racial resentments exist here.  We may voice these resentments in our homes and among friends and we may dress them up in terms of dollars and cents, but we are too polite, or too cowed, to admit to them openly.”

People believe what they see and hear with their own eyes and ears.  When we see empty houses in our neighbourhoods, we wonder who owns them and where they are.  When our friends and children move away because they cannot afford to stay in their hometown, we wonder why.  Perhaps a better job needs to be done by our media and government in explaining all of the contributing factors behind the lack of housing affordability in Vancouver?  Because, like it or not, lots of us are talking about this and we are feeling confused and frustrated and angry.

Personally, I do not consider myself to be racist.  I love the diversity and ethnicity in my neighbourhood and city.  Further, isn’t almost everyone from Vancouver originally from somewhere else?  Aren’t most of us the product of years and years of immigration into this country?   One of the concerns  I hear from people is particularly with foreign investors who are using the city as a place to “bank” their money.  Not having restrictions on this, as Ladner points out (in the YouTube video below) can have “…unpleasant effects on entire communities and neighbourhoods” (which we saw illustrated in Hasiuk’s most recent article about the Trafalgar neighbourhood on Vancouver’s westside).

I believe that there are many contributors to the high cost of real estate in Vancouver and foreign investment is only one of them.  However, labeling those who see foreign investment as a factor in the state of local real estate as “racist” is as absurd as placing the blame solely on foreign investors themselves.

A “Bucket List” for kids? Are you f*%#ing kidding me?

I recently read an article in the Globe and Mail, which talked about a checklist released by the National Trust, a charity that looks after historic buildings, gardens and forests throughout Britain.  It was a bucket list for young children and it suggested 50 activities they should undertake before they are 12 years old…

Seriously.

The article states that these days

…there’s much more focus on the danger of being outside of the home…We’re a bit more paranoid than we need to be.  Conversely, parents seem less concerned about how a couch-potato lifestyle is hurting their children. The World Health Organization has warned that obesity rates among kids are rising at an “alarming rate.” A study published this month in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine showed that half of preschool children in the United States don’t go outside to play on a daily basis.

Are we, as parents, really so buttoned up, paranoid and regimented that our kids are really no longer just “going outside to play?”  Not the case for my kids.  My mom has a saying, “a dirty child is a happy child.”  I love this rule of thumb and it is so true.  My kids are the happiest when they are outside in our garden digging in the dirt, playing with worms and making mud pies.  Sure, they love watching tv and playing on the computer, too, but their imaginations are engaged and energy burned off (can I get an AMEN??!!) so much more effectively when they are crafting, chasing, climbing and, generally, mucking about.

Most of the items on this list are things we all did as children.  Our parents likely didn’t show or direct us to do the many of them as they are part of “experimental” play that comes naturally to children (or should – and perhaps, herein lies the real problem).  Other items do require an adult’s help and I think it is sad to think that any parent wouldn’t think to introduce these activities to their children without a reminder of how much fun they are.  Having a child is one’s chance to  re-live your own childhood!  So, my suggestion would be that this list not just be for kids under 12; it should also be for their parents — you will be surprised how much fun you will have doing many of these things (with or without your kids).

Here are a few examples of the “bucket list” activities:

1. Climb a tree

2. Roll down a really big hill

3. Run around in the rain

4. Fly a kite

5. Play conkers

6. Throw some snow

7. Make a mud pie

8. Dam a stream

9. Set up a snail race

10. Swing on a rope swing

11. Watch the sun wake up

12. Catch a crab

13. Go on a nature walk at night

14. Plant it, grow it, eat it

 

Absurd Vancouver Property of the Week (April 24, 2012)

This week’s Absurd Property is truly a steal by Vancouver standards.  Described on Realtor.ca as an “Old Timer” this house “needs renovation.”  Seriously?  Is someone really going to renovate this?  Who are we kidding?  It’s a tear down.  The “motivated overseas seller” is getting $1430/month rent for this beauty, but wants to cash in…

Listing price $1.68 million.  Located about 20 minutes outside of downtown in prestigious Kerrisdale (home to “the creme de la creme in Vancouver” – sorry, Pamela Sauder, you are never living that one down), the house is right on busy West 41st Avenue.  Transit is super accessible; the bus stop is right outside your front door!   The home is a few blocks away from the property I featured a few weeks ago…and is $1 million dollars less.  Hooray!!!

Or…for $1.6 Million you could purchase this 8 Bedroom 4 Bathroom home in Brooklyn, NY (20 minutes outside Manhattan):

Or this seaside home in Dublin, Ireland (Howth is 15 Km outside of Dublin’s City Centre) – you can be certain this low price is the result of Ireland’s own recent real estate bubble burst.

Or, finally, you could have owned a piece of cinematic history.  The home used in the famous John Hughes’ film “Home Alone”, located in the Chicago North Shore suburb of Winnetka, was recently sold for $1.6 million:

Vancouver…are you f*%#ing kidding me!!???






Birth “Rape” – VBAC vs. C-section: is “rape” really the correct word to use here?

Recently, an article has been circulating on the internet entitled  “Birth Rape: Why is This Happening in Our Hospitals?”   When I saw this on my Facebook news feed, I was intrigued and shocked by the title and was compelled to have a look.  What I read was shocking, but not in the way I expected.  I was offended by how one person had taken another’s very personal account of their child birth experience and re-framed it in a scandalous way.  The original post was in a birthing discussion forum on BabyCenter.com.  It was written as a first account by a woman named Dawn Luehrs and was entitled “VBAC Denied, horried experience”…hardly as shocking as the “Birth Rape” title chosen by danielle625.  While my heart ached for the original poster whose experience sounded, at minimum, traumatizing – I kind of felt like the use of the word “rape” by the re-poster was sensationalist.  Perhaps her goal was to draw attention to the issue of women delivering by c-section without informed consent.  Perhaps she wanted to inform expectant mothers about what can potentially happen in the hospital, even if you are diligent in expressing your desires and plans for the birth of your child.  However, “rape” is a loaded term and I am not convinced it was well used here.

Typically, when we hear the word rape we associate it with its common definition, i.e. “the unlawful compelling of a person through physical force or duress to have sexual intercourse.” (Dictionary.com)  A less common, but still valid explanation of the term is “an act of plunder, violent seizure, or abuse; despoliation; violation.”  I do believe this is the meaning that danielle625 was insinuating.  However, I am, unfortunately, also tempted to believe she used the word with the hope of drawing the audience in.  Many readers who commented on her post expressed concern with and disapproval of her choice of word:

“This word should not be used in this content. It is very disrespectful to those women that have been sexually assaulted.”
“I find it…offensive as a reader to have been manipulated into reading it because of the sensational title the author chose here! Birth rape? Really? You did not have to use such a disgusting title to elicit readers engagement about an important educational health care related issue! Please be sensitive to those who use terminology appropriately- especially when referring to something so traumatic and real as rape.”
“Birth “rape”?? While my heart goes out the any mother who has experienced this I feel as if the classification of it as “rape” is overly dramatic and an insult to any woman who has actually been raped.”

As I said, as a mother of two, and someone who was very, very invested in and educated about my options around the birth of my child, I am horrified by and so sorry for the original poster’s experience.  She describes how she is

“…having an extremely hard time coming to grips with having been lied to and operated on against my will.  I love my son, but I did not give birth to him.  I was not present at his birth.  That moment in my life has been taken from me.  I had a birth plan.  It included my desire to bathe my son myself for his first bath.  A nurse bathed him while I was knocked out.  My birth plan included my desire to hold my son immediately upon birth.  God knows how many medical professionalls held my son before I did.  I’ve seen pictures of the first time I held him.  I do not remember it.  I don’t know if I’ll ever again be capable of trusting a medical professional to respect me as a whole person, instead of just a slab of meat ready for their whim.  I thought that it was required of medical professionals to obtain informed consent whenever possible prior to performing surgery.”

I cannot imagine how she must be feeling.  As a mother-to-be, all you dream about is the birth of your healthy child and those first few miraculous moments of his or her life.  Was Dawn Luehrs raped of this experience?  It was taken against her will.  She said “no” to medical interventions.  While I think this is a message that is important to get across, we do not know the other side of the story (i.e. no medical professionals involved in this situation have commented).  If, indeed, her life, or the life of her child, were in danger perhaps a decision needed to be made and keeping the mother calm was of the utmost importance.   I sincerely hope this mom gets some kind of resolution and explanation of why this happened to her.  Was she “birth raped”, though?  What do you think?  Is this the correct way to describe what happened here?

Absurd Vancouver Property Realtor Challenge: how much house can $250k get you outside of Metro Vancouver?

Earlier this week, I brought you my latest post about Absurd Vancouver Property.  In it, I discussed the average income for Vancouver families and what is affordable to them in terms of real estate.  I challenged my friend, and Vancouver realtor, Larry Rahn*, to find properties that are within the price range of a family with Metro Vancouver’s median family income of $67, 550 (with a minimum 5% down payment).  My specifications were that the homes (a) needed to be suitable for a family of 3-4 (b) needed to be a freehold – i.e. a house on land (c) must be close to rapid transit accessing downtown Vancouver and (d) must be under $350K

“ Having a young family of my own, I completely understand the challenges that face people today when trying to make the move towards home ownership.  The way I approach this with my clients is to have a game plan early on, define what the goals are, then work towards them.  I find this always works best.  The following homes fit the specifications set out by Melissa, however, with a larger down payment, purchasing a home with a mortgage helper or a willingness to consider strata vs. free title, more possibilities would be available.”

Here are the options Larry found, fitting my specifications, at 3 price points:

Option 1 – house in Mission:

Price: $244,900 (has been on the market 57 days)

Description: 3 bedroom rancher on a large 50 by 122 lot.  5 blocks from the West Coast Express station.  Updates include hardwood floors and crown moldings plus a 3 yr old roof.  Prefect starter home for small family especially if the husband enjoys week-end projects to update this home slowly.

MLS®: F1204334

Option 2 – house in Surrey

Price: $229,900

Description: This is the lowest priced home in Surrey,  just off King George blvd and 88th.  You can take one bus to the King George skytrain station in under 10 min.  3 bedrooms, 2 bath, and over 1500 square feet of living space.

MLS®: F1205552

Option 3 – House in Squamish

Price: $350,000

Description: A little more budget can get you into this small starter home in downtown Squamish with recent upgrades including windows, furnace, roof, and appliances.  On a 50 by 122 lot, it has 2 bedrooms and one bathroom over 850 square feet.  Walking distance to shopping and transit.  Currently, however, there is no rapid transit system between Squamish and downtown Vancouver.  It is 45 minutes by car to Whistler and about an hour to Vancouver.

MLS®: V941550

Larry notes that, “obviously, all of these homes will need some updating and minor repairs given their age and present condition, however, for the most part, they can be move in ready.  Note, that there are currently no houses available for under $350,000 in New west, Burnaby, Vancouver east, west, west van, north van.”

However, there are a few nice apartments within this price range (i.e. rather than a house).  They include:

MLS®: V943663 (New Westminster)

MLS®: V926532 (Coquitlam)

MLS®: V938153 (Port Moody)

Definitely a challenge to find a house at this price point even well outside Metro Vancouver.  It is becoming clear that home-ownership is becoming less of an option for a large contingent of Vancouverites.   Perhaps we truly are moving towards becoming a city like New York or London, where most people who own their homes live in suburbs well outside the downtown core, and those who live within city limits either own or rent small apartments.  I am interested to hear your thoughts.   If you know of more/better homes that are currently on the market, or any great affordable communities outside Vancouver Metro, I’m sure our readers would be interested in hearing about those, also!  Thanks to Larry Rahn, for taking on this challenge.  If you are looking for a knowledgeable, reliable and patient realtor – give him a call!

*LARRY RAHN – VANCOUVER’S DOWNTOWN REALTOR®

PHONE: (604) 760-6040     TOLL FREE: 1-888-960-6040

EMAIL: larry@larryrahn.ca  FAX: (604) 608-9661

SUTTON GROUP – WEST COAST REALTY

AN INDEPENDENT BROKER
#301 – 1508 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC V6J 1W8

Absurd Vancouver Property of the Week (4/16/2012)

This week I thought I would try something a little different from my previous posts about Absurd Vancouver Properties.  I consulted with a financial professional about what “affordability” really is for the average Vancouver family, when it comes to real estate.

The median family income in Vancouver is $67,550 (Statistics Canada).  Based on that, I asked Bradley Bumsted*, a Certified Financial Planner, what he would see as being a responsible and affordable mortgage amount.

Bradley says:

When asked by my clients to help with their budgeting needs I tend to reference CMHC (Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation) when advising how much to allocate towards their housing expenses.  According to CMHC monthly housing costs shouldn’t exceed more than 32% of your gross monthly income (income before taxes and deductions).  Housing costs should take into account your monthly mortgage payments (principal and interest), property taxes and heating expenses.  For the average Vancouver household making $67,550/year that would equate to a monthly payment of $1801.33.  However it is important to note that your monthly mortgage payments are a function of your chosen amortization period and given interest rates so the size of your mortgage will vary depending on those factors.  Another very important variable in determining how much house you can afford is the size of your initial down payment.  The larger the down payment the more house you can afford.  A general rule of  thumb that can be used quickly to determine how much should be spent on purchasing a home is multiplying your gross annual income by 3.4.  Applying this rule of thumb to the median household income in Vancouver of $67,550 and assuming a minimum down payment of 5% the average Vancouver household can afford a property of $229,670 with a 5% down payment of $11,483.50.  Keep in mind that these numbers are prescribed maximums and that it would be prudent to strive for lower ratios in order to maintain a more affordable lifestyle.

So to summarize:

  1. Average family income for Metro Vancouver is $67,550/year
  2. The average family could, therefore, afford a mortgage payment of $1801.33/month
  3. Based on the “rule of thumb” of multiplying annual income by 3.4 – the average Vancouver family could afford a home that costs approximately $230K (with a 5% down payment).**

So…what will $230K buy you in Vancouver (and we’ll concentrate on housing that would accommodate a family of 3-4 – so at least 2 bedrooms and 1 bathroom).  Let’s have a look, shall we?

Without crossing city boundaries, I found at total of  4 properties on Realtor.ca  in Vancouver for under $250K including the following:

Looks, nice right?  At $156, 500, this 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom condo seems like a steal by Vancouver standards.  Until you find out that (a) this is a foreclosure property that requires a down payment of at least 20% and (b) there is an assessment on the building (to fix leaks) for over $144K per unit, bumping you up to just over $300K for a 750 square foot apartment.  Update – this property is now SOLD.

Moving on to another option:

Slightly larger at 930 square feet, this apartment is located on the corner of East Broadway and Nanaimo.  It is close to the skytrain and schools.  At $228K this has also been assessed as a “leaky” condo.  Still waiting to hear back from the realtor as to what the extra cost will be to the purchaser for that…Please do note that if you are interested, this property already has an accepted offer on it.

And finally:

This condo is listed at $239K, is in “original condition”,  and is awaiting your “decorating ideas.”  It is 811 square feet with 2 bedrooms, a den and 1 bathroom on busy Dundas Street, however, the unit itself faces the alley way and not the main street.

Vancouver…are you f*%#ing kidding me?

Tune in later this week where I challenge a local Vancouver realtor to find a home within the price range of an “average” Vancouver family…is it even possible?

*Bradley Bumstead is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) and  Senior partner at Bumstead Financial Services.  An independent financial planning firm focused on creating customized financial plans for individuals and businesses.

http://www.bumsteadfinancial.com/
http://blog.bumsteadfinancial.com/
http://www.facebook.com/BumsteadFinancial

**Note some people can qualify for a larger mortgage if they have help with a larger down payment from family or a guarantor signature on their mortgage loan.

These Are the People in my (East) Vancouver Neighbourhood: Le Marché St. George

Some people would argue that East side Vancouver neighbourhoods are “less than perfect”.  I beg to differ and so I want to highlight some of the awesome people, businesses and features found in my own Eastside hood!

When I was thinking about who/where I wanted to profile first, one place sprang to mind.  Le Marché St. George.  Hidden on a quiet corner (St. George and East 28th), this gem of a cafe has a quindesential, old school  neighbourhood vibe.  Bikes of local residents are typically parked out front beside rows of wooden crates containing freshly grown, colourful, local produce.  The interior decor is rustic and simple.  Shelves are lined with beautifully packaged products ranging from organic honeys and preserves to eco-friendly baby diapers.

The cafe has been featured in numerous publications including Canadian House and Home, the New York Times, and Monocle Magazine.  Pascal Roy and his wife, Janaki Larsen are the shop-owners.  They have also renovated the building to include housing above the store (the decor here should really be featured on its own – stunning).  Le Marché is a communal, family-based business where the goal, “has never been about making money.”  Roy states, “our concept is to carry the best Vancouver has to offer, so we carry local foods, we have farmers framing our land (and) we have beehives.”

The coffee here is reliably fantastic, as are the daily special flat bread pizzas.  My favorite was one topped with figs, goat cheese, balsamic and rosemary.

Best of all, they make amazing Pain Au Chocolat, which is a special treat for my kids who absolutely love coming to this wonderful, friendly local establishment.

Le Marché St. George
4393 St. George at the corner of 28th.
Phone | +1 604 565 5107
E-Mail | info@marchestgeorge.com

If you know of a fantastic person, business, restaurant or cafe in the Riley Park/Mount Pleasant neighbourhood that deserves to be featured, e-mail me!

Our “Less than Perfect” Neighbourhood: My Response to the Vancouver Courier Letter of the Week

I am not the only person talking about real estate in Vancouver and I am certainly not the only one who sees the inflated pricing of homes as absurd.  However, I recently read a letter to the editor in the Vancouver Courier that kind of got my back up.  In it the author, Rebecca Kovacs, expresses her frustrations that:

(a) she and her husband, who “has an excellent job in finance with a great salary”, cannot to afford to purchase a home. – Fair enough!

(b) they watch as house upon house  in their Westside neighbourhood is bought for over $2 million and “torn down so that another huge empty house can take its place.” – I totally hear you!

(c) their “trust fund friends” can only afford to buy “on the Eastside…in less than perfect neighbourhoods.”  Whoa…what did you just say?

I understand how frustrating it is to not be able to purchase a home in the neighbourhood of your choice, particularly when you work hard, earn a good income and have a family you want to raise.  I, myself, grew up on the Westside and originally thought I would like to buy a home and raise my kids there.  However, it was not because I viewed other neighbourhoods as “less perfect” than where I grew up.  I simply wanted the convenience and comfort of being near my family.  However, pricing on the Westside was too much for us, so we moved as close to my family as we could – on the Eastside.  Honestly, it was a great move and I absolutely LOVE where we live.

Let me tell you a little about my “less than perfect” Eastside neighbourhood.

  1. We have amazing schools.  My daughter goes to a school a block from our home that is absolutely incredible.  Our principal was named Canada’s 2011 Outstanding Principle, our librarian is B.C.’s 2011 Librarian-teacher of the year, we have amazing traditional and technology-based learning, a recycling program, rich after school activities, involved parents…the list goes on and on.
  2. Our neighbours are diverse and awesome and…we actually speak to each other!  In the summer you will find people out on their front porches sipping a glass of wine, having block parties, or out in their gardens pottering around.  People take the time to stop and say hi.  We make the effort to know the people we live around and share our community with.
  3. Our local business people are invested in our community and want to serve the people in the neighbourhood.
  4. Never, in the 4 years that I have lived here, have I ever felt unsafe or been the victim of a crime (and, actually, I cannot say the same for when I did live on the Westside)

Rebecca, it is totally your choice to determine what neighbourhood is best for you and your family (be it in Vancouver or anywhere else)…and I absolutely empathize with your frustration with pricing and new houses being built and left empty.  However, I think you chose your words (in fairness, perhaps mistakenly or unintentionally) poorly after you made those first two points.  Please don’t assume that because a house is on the Eastside that the neighbourhood is undesirable.  The price tag for what you are getting house-wise, maybe, but not the neighbourhood or community itself.  You say Vancouver doesn’t want you here?  Maybe it’s because you only want a very particular part of Vancouver.

Changing The Conversation…

When I recently started reading Ashley Judd’s response to media criticism surrounding her “puffy” face, I braced myself for the party-line response from celebrities who come under siege for their changing appearances.  Seems there are usually two responses (1) mind your own damn business or (2) mind your own damn business.  Instead, I read a response that was articulate, intelligent and inspiring.

Judd, who sates she has learned through the years to “abstain from all media” written about her (good or bad), took the opportunity to not just address the attacks on her own appearance, but to address the larger issue at hand.  “The Conversation” (or #TheConversation – now trending on Twitter) about women’s bodies and appearance has become so engrained in our society.  As women we, often without realizing, take pleasure in knocking each other down, criticizing each other’s appearances and speculating about what we are doing to maintain/achieve a certain “desirable” look.  The pleasure that comes from this is normalized by reality TV shows like The Bachelor, The Real Housewives and others.  I have often wondered if the women who sign up for these shows realize just what they are going to be subjected to…but after reading Judd’s piece, it hit me – they are already being subjected to it every single day…what difference does it make if it is in the public eye?  It is plausible that some of these women might even feel that as long as they are getting attention it doesn’t matter what kind of attention it is.  Misogyny, it seems, is what sells to today’s prime time audiences.

Next time you are having a “broad-bashing” conversation with your girlfriends about another woman’s appearance, think about this…that very conversation you are engaging in is a driving factor behind why women continue to feel the need to “alter” or “maintain” or “touch up”…it is a contributor to why we feel so bad about ourselves and need to tear others down to make ourselves feel better.  Ms. Judd makes a good point that until we become hyper-aware of this fact, until we change The Conversation we are having, the normalization of misogyny, our acceptance of it and the pleasure we derive from it will never cease.  As a mother, I fear what this will mean for my daughter and, ultimately, how she will feel about herself.

How do we begin to change The Conversation?  Simple, age old advice, might be a good place to start.  “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”…Oh, and, mind your own damn business.

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