Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Slow Home Househunting: Better Not Bigger

I know, I know, it has been forever since I've posted. I've been busy with some other projects, and the big news is that we are house-hunting again, which is time consuming and not ideal blog fodder.

Why move? Much as we love our home, the two-up-one-down arrangement of the bedrooms in our multi-level-split really does not work so well when you have two young children. Neither does our floorplan's disconnection of the backyard from the waking-hours parts of the house, which makes it hard to watch kids playing outside, or barbeque, or entertain. So we're looking for a new place with a more suitable floorplan. We like our neighborhood, an island of walkability with new schools and groceries within an easy bike ride, but unfortunately our in-demand new-urbanist subdivision doesn't have many houses available that will meet our needs. So, we've stretched our search into the neighboring subdivisions (which are also quite walkable, and closer to the protected natural areas in the North Saskatchewan River valley and the Whitemud Ravine) and held our noses over the garage-mahal-ness of most of the views from the curb while we look for the right house.

Our criteria for a suitable slow home for us:
- it has to have at least 3 bedrooms on the same floor, and a 4th space that can act as a guest bedroom when family come to visit from Nova Scotia
- it has to have either large bedrooms or a separate playroom for the kids (who are now old enough to need some privacy while they play)
- it has to have easy access to the backyard from a kitchen - dining - family room area
- it has to have a well-designed kitchen for baking (you'd be amazed how many houses we've looked at that have kitchens with no decent work triangle)
- it has to be enough of an upgrade (in interior finish quality, not in square footage) that it's worth the trouble and expense of moving - although I have discovered that when push comes to shove, more square footage makes a home a 'better investment' and that weighs heavily for my husband
- it has to have a yard suitable for gardening, and we'd prefer some solar exposure so panels can be installed someday
- it needs to be reasonably energy and water efficient, or easily renovated to be made so (Aside: I have learnt during viewings that, locally at least, third-party certifications such as BuiltGreen are viewed by real estate professionals as adding marketability, not investment value, to a home. I wonder how we can turn that around?)
- it needs to not ring too many alarm bells on Slow Home Studio's Slow Home Test checklist
- it needs to (including any immediately needed renos) fit into our budget

So far we have seen what feels like dozens of houses, and seriously considered an early-80s bungalow with sunken living rooms (too much work needed, and the yard was too shady), an almost-new home that backed out onto a park (the kids' bedrooms were too tiny to grow with them), and an early-90s former show home with a ridiculously huge cathedral-ceilinged great room (that had low-e window film that made the whole interior look violet, and would be a substantial investment to scrape off and replace). We ended up deciding to bump up our budget a bit, and now are looking at two almost-new homes built with lots of energy efficiency features that check all our boxes. We've put an offer in on one of them, and are waiting to hear back from the seller. Wish us luck!

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