One would think that the hardest part was making the decision to leave behind a decent regular paycheque with benefits. Indeed, that choice didn’t come easily, especially to someone like me who thrives on security and hates to take risks. In the years leading up to “the decision” I was miserable, and I knew that my exaggerated mood swings and temper tantrums were, at the very least, difficult to live with. Every Sunday night brought a wave of nausea and migraine. I could only attribute it to anticipation of the week to come. Even so, I held fast to that paycheque and continued the routine, unable to believe there was an alternative. Until I found the lump.
It was a week before my 43rd birthday. Sitting at my office desk I reached up to scratch my collarbone. My fingers met a cushiony mass under the skin that was absolutely not normal. I felt my face blanch and I poked again. There was undoubtedly something there that shouldn’t be.
I was shocked, but I was not surprised. The stress and pressure of my workplace had increased enormously over years of financial instability and uncertainty about where we’d end up. In an effort to make changes to the things I complained about, I volunteered to be a union rep. I firmly believe that if you are going to complain about something you are obligated to help be a part of the solution. That job proved to be far more stressful than I ever imagined, and I had no doubt that my resulting abandon of the gym, lack of time to bike, and search for solace in comfort food and booze had led to this thing under my skin. For the next two days I freaked out, wondering what to do. My beloved doctor had recently left, so I searched for a new one in my area. And then before I found one, the lump disappeared, as quickly as it came. Overwhelmingly relieved and in a slightly more rational frame of mind I realized that the lump was in close proximity to the spot I’d received a flu vaccination a couple of days before. It had to be a reaction. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and then counted my blessings. This time I was lucky and I didn’t want there to be a next time.
At the same time that all this was happening, my small hobby farm was growing and I was becoming more and more involved in the rewards of producing my own food. Troy certainly recognized that, aside from the money, my job wasn’t doing us any good at all. After several brainstorming sessions and much discussion we decided that farming was a future we’d enjoy. We began the plan to sell our 4.5 acres and move to a place big enough that we could become self-sufficient and make a living off the land.
Once I’d set my mind and determined that there was no turning back, I thought the hard part was over. Little did I know what lay ahead, and if I had, I doubt I ever would have jumped in the deep end.
After a couple of weeks furiously preparing the house for listing, we finally put it on the market. It wasn’t long before people were traipsing through and within a couple of weeks we had our first offer. The amount was exactly what we were looking for. We signed a conditional agreement and waited for the inspection madness to begin.
In the meantime, we decided to place a conditional offer on a property we had our eye on. The house needed to be completely gutted, but the 70 acre property was a dream farm come true. I contacted the realtor to make the offer, only to discover that the day prior someone had beaten us to it. Kick in the pants number one. The realtor encouraged us to place a backup offer, so with heavy hearts we did just that. And then we contacted the bank.
We had just renewed the mortgage on our place with the Royal Bank and so Troy gave them a call. He explained that we wanted to buy a farm and they assured him that we were good for a more-than-adequate mortgage at 10% down, with one caveat. They wanted to talk to Troy about his budgeting skills and why he hadn’t made any payments on his $6000 Telus account. This came as a shock to Troy, who never ever had a Telus account, to his knowledge. Troy took full charge and, failing to get satisfaction through the fraud investigation department at Telus, found the email for a Telus CEO and sent him a personal email. Within hours the slate was wiped clean and we were back in business.
A few days later, RBC asked us to send them the property listing and shortly after we received a phone call.”We didn’t realize you meant a REAL farm. That’s a different story. We won’t finance a property over 10 acres with less than 35% down.”
Troy told me the news and I almost choked. 35% down?!? Even making a decent profit on our place, there was just no way.
We hemmed and hawed about what to do next and then someone suggested the Credit Union. I gave them a call and they were, thankfully, much more open to our plans. 35% down became a minimum of 5% down. Good to go once again, but the emotional roller coaster was just beginning.
The buyers for our place arranged to do the home inspection on a soggy weekend day. The inspection was slated for 4:30, but at 10 past the hour Milo went berserk and I looked out to see the inspector’s white pickup in the driveway. We had planned that I would take the 3 dogs away from the house while the inspection occurred. Before I could even load them in the car, the inspector was out poking around under the front deck. He didn’t even introduce himself. I asked how long he would need, and then decided to take a little drive around Gaspereau for the hour and half he requested. I really wanted to take the dogs for a walk, but it was just too wet.
After two hours of exploring back roads and wine country, the dogs started complaining about their confinement so I returned home to see the truck and cars still in the driveway. I kept on driving for another 1/2 hour, swung by again, they were still there. After several drive-bys and three and a half hours I finally returned to an empty driveway. Annoyed, but happy to finally be home, I unloaded the beasts and waited to hear the results of the inspection.
Two days passed without a peep. We decided the inspection must have gone alright. Then, the phone call from our realtor. The buyers had decided to back out based on the inspection report. My stomach flipped and flopped for two days wondering what they had found that was so bad. Finally we were emailed a copy of the document. There was really nothing in there that I hadn’t talked about with the buyers beforehand.
Well, nothing except for a few things that were blatant and outright inaccuracies.
Among the inspector’s finds: missing window screens (we looked, and the only 2 windows that didn’t have screens were the attic windows, which didn’t open), a laundry tub with questionable drainage (it was being stored in the basement but it wasn’t actually plumbed, so there’s nothing to drain), and a comment that hot water tanks have an expected lifespan of 10 years, so our tank stamped with a manufacture date of 2010 was already past its useful lifespan. I looked at my phone for confirmation that I wasn’t crazy. Yup, the current date was still 2013.
We gnashed our teeth and cursed a few times, but we were confident that another buyer would come through soon. It was early in the game.
And then the house we’d made the backup offer on sold.
The showings on our place were still frequent and our searches on Viewpoint were not showing any more properties that met our criteria. We hashed through some numbers, and against my better judgment, went back to revisit a property that we had earlier fallen in love with but deemed too expensive. We convinced ourselves that somehow we could do it and told the owners that when we received another offer we would be contacting them to make a purchase.
The next offer wasn’t long in presenting itself. The price was even better this time, but the time line was tight, so things had to start moving. We met with the people who owned the expensive farm we liked and put forth an offer to buy, which they accepted.
Gun shy after the first offer, I decided we wouldn’t pack anything until the sale of our place was final. I didn’t want to jinx the process. We settled in and waited for inspections to start.
First, the home inspection. This time it went much better. The new buyers came back asking for a slight price reduction so they could replace some windows and doors. We were feeling congenial and wanted the sale to go smoothly, so we agreed.
As the buyers set about looking for insurance, the question came up as to whether our new woodstove insert was WETT certified. It hadn’t been, so we offered to pay for an inspector to come and do the certification. That, at least, went off without a hitch, although $120 for 15 minutes work was a little hard to swallow.
Then came the water test. We had a UV filter and a sediment filter on the line already, so we weren’t too worried. With a normal water test – the same one we’d done when we purchased – everything should have been fine. Alas, the buyers asked for the full meal deal at the lab, essentially a test so extensive that it’s normally reserved for forensic applications. The test revealed something we had known all along. Our water was hard.
Although there was a water softener in the basement, we hadn’t used it for some time. Troy had read somewhere that water softeners can rust out dishwashers faster, and because we didn’t mind a little hard water, we disconnected it. I was still able to take bubble baths without a problem, and besides a little staining in the toilet, the hard water was really a non-issue for us. Unfortunately the new buyers felt differently. Convinced that their clothes and dishes would be ruined, they began a process of negotiations to fix the water situation, even suggesting that we drill a new well. We countered with an offer to have the softener professionally serviced and re-installed. After much deliberation and back-and-forthing, they reluctantly settled for that solution.
One more hurdle to jump… the septic inspection.
Knowing that we’d be putting the house on the market in the spring when the ground might be frozen, we’d had the tank pumped the previous fall. With that already completed, we were hopeful that we were on our way to a sale.
When the septic inspection was over, Troy returned home to find the buyers’ real estate agent waiting for him in the driveway. Apparently the tests had not only failed, but the entire system was shot and needed to be replaced. When Troy called me at work and asked, “Are you sitting down?”, I knew the news was going to suck.
We arranged to get a quote on a new system and then began negotiations once again to see how the $11,000 expense of a new system was going to affect the sale. At this point I was preparing to put my farming dream aside for a year and then re-list the house at a higher price to pay for our new septic.
Negotiations didn’t go well this time. We were willing to take a hit for half of the price of the system, but there was no way we were willing, or even able, to cover the whole thing, which was what the buyers seemed to expect. Even worse, this extra expense meant that there was no way in hell that we could afford to buy the place we had put the offer on. We had to call them and back out of the deal, citing lack of funds. The whole situation was a mess.
Time was also running out and, if our closing date was still going to stand, we had less than a month to find a new home, pack, get the septic system fixed, arrange to house the animals in the interim if necessary, and move.
I hit Viewpoint hard once again, this time willing to see what it would mean to sacrifice some of our “must haves”. Initially 40 acres had been our very smallest acceptable property, but now I searched anything over 20, desperate for a place to call home. It wasn’t long before a property near Greenwood popped up and I made arrangements to view. At 29 acres it was significantly less land than I wanted, but from the pictures it was obvious that the house was vacant – that meant we could probably move in quickly. The pictures depicted a farm that had obviously been working at sometime in the not too distant past, and two barns with lots of space. Yet another bonus.
Not much discussion was necessary after we saw the property in person. The land was all usable, there were hayfields and pastures and a little forest as well. The house was bigger than we wanted, but cozy and we could easily see ourselves living there. The big barn needed some work, but the little one was fine for the animals we currently had, and ready to move into right away. Best of all, the price was right. We put in an offer conditional on the sale of our place and then went back to the battle.
A week or so after the septic discussions began, we presented what we considered to be our final amendment to the offer of sale. We would pay for half of a new septic and the buyers would cover the other half. We held our breath and waited for a response, which didn’t come quickly, and when it did, it certainly wasn’t what we wanted to hear. Our real estate agent called with the news. The buyers hadn’t formally rejected our offer, but their agent had passed on an email they had sent him which essentially indicated that there wasn’t going to be a deal unless we paid for the septic in full. I asked our agent to forward the email to me, and then Troy and I carefully considered our next move.
The email from the buyers to their agent stated that they felt they had nothing to lose by walking away from the deal and that we had everything to lose as we’d probably have to forfeit the property we wanted to buy. It was fairly obvious from the tone that, even though it had never been addressed to us, they expected it would make its way into our hands.
I put my foot down and decided it was time to call their bluff. They were wrong about who had what to lose. They had already paid for many expensive inspections, and except for the WETT certification and the softener servicing (both which would benefit us regardless) we hadn’t spent a cent. Furthermore, we had mixed feelings about leaving as we loved our house very much, and we were very sad to leave our amazing neighbours and friends behind. I rationalized that if we had to spend another year there it would be fine, and I decided that they should know that, too.
It was high time to use some of those skills that I’ve learned as a result of multiple times at the collective bargaining table. I called our agent back and asked, “So, if I just happened to write an email in response and send it to you, is there any chance it might just happen to find its way to the buyers?” She confirmed that it was quite likely that it might if that was the path I would like it to take. She confessed that she was pretty much convinced the deal was over so anything was worth a shot.
I set about crafting an email outlining why we wouldn’t settle for less and why we wouldn’t be heartbroken if the deal fell through. I showed it to Troy who confirmed my suspicion that it was one of the better things I’d ever written. I sent it to our agent, and once again, waited at the edge of my seat.
Later that evening the phone rang again. “I’m emailing you the new agreement to sign. Congratulations, you’ve sold your house.”
None of us could believe it. Finally, something was going right.
The next day, after Shauna came out to put up the SOLD sign, I had a sudden reality check. We had lots of work and planning to do. The closing date on our new place and our old place was the same day and we didn’t have long to make it happen. I booked a moving truck and arranged to have it for a couple of extra days, we started packing, we negotiated the ability to fence and move the animals to the new place a few days before closing, and then found a nearby motel to stay at so we could be close to the critters before we took possession of the house. I also had to get the horse trailer inspected and licensed, and we had to get the septic underway. Chaos set in like a bout of bad gas. I came up with a scheme so complicated and intense that if one single thing failed to go as planned we would be completely and utterly screwed. We had a little over 2 weeks. I had some vacation time to work with, and so convinced myself it was doable. I started packing with a vengeance, but a day in, I started t feel sick to my stomach. For three days straight I could only pack a thing or two and then go lie down, pack another thing or two and then retire to the couch again. I’m not sure if it was a flu bug or stress, but it definitely wasn’t helping.
I licensed the trailer a day before the inspection ran out and then we hauled it down to our mechanic for a new sticker. He had a quick look and informed us that new government regulations required the trailer to have more lights. Fortunately for us, he claimed to have some lights he could install, but it would take a week before he’d have it ready. We were cutting it close, but what could we do?
A week went by, and with our chosen date to move the animals just a few days away, we called to see if it was ready. He hadn’t touched it.
Although we had absolutely no time set aside for wiring trailers, we brought it home again and decided to do it ourselves. Troy took a crack at it but things didn’t go well. The first parts he bought didn’t fit, we had to go buy more lights which needed modification to attach to the trailer, and in the end I pulled my frustrated husband off the job and said, “I’m off tomorrow, I’ll take care of it.”
I had never wired a trailer before, and although the internet tutorials I looked at made it seem reasonably straightforward, reality was anything but. The colour coding of the wiring harnesses on the trailer didn’t match any example I could find online and there were way more wires than there should have been. Our multimeter was lost in one of the umpteen boxes marked “Shed”. I cursed Troy’s labeling system, cursed the trailer, and then set about trying to figure out what was what through trial and error. Even if none of the other wires were logical I reasoned that the green had to be ground. Starting there, I hooked up lights, turned the truck on, tested them, and then unhooked again. This went on for a couple of hours, until hot, sweaty and completely frustrated I walked away to collect my wits. When I finally went back to try another combination I turned the ignition key of the truck and heard the click that one hears right before realizing that the battery is dead. I had left the lights on without running the truck. There would be no more progress until Troy came home.
The next day was my last opportunity to get things working before we had to take the trailer back to the mechanic for a sticker. Colin came over from next door with his multimeter and we quickly determined that half the wires in the harness served no purpose whatsoever, that the green wire was NOT in fact the ground, and that whoever wired the trailer in the first place must have been on crack. With a new plan in place, I got down to wiring and, 3 hours later, the trailer was ready to roll. One more disaster averted.
In the meantime, Troy was hot on the heels of the septic installers. As soon as we got the news that we were sold, he contacted them to set the wheels in motion. Before they could start the work they needed a permit from the Department of Environment. “That takes about 10 days,” they warned us. We were running out of time, and fast. 5 days before our Monday closing date, the permit arrived and the excavators rolled into our yard. By Friday night the work was done but it looked like there was a beach volleyball court on the lawn. They told us that regulations required them to leave the septic uncovered for 3 days in case the Dept. of Environment required an inspection, after which time they could cover it and reseed the grass.
We passed on the info to our real estate agent and Troy suggested that it would be prudent to let the buyers know that when they showed up on Monday for the final inspection, the seeding would be outstanding.
The actual move happened in stages. First we spent a day fencing at the new place and then moved the animals in. Although tense, that part went better than anticipated. Once they saw the pasture at their disposal, the animals were happy campers.
Then came our stuff. On the day of the move we were lucky to have help from several amazing friends. Unfortunately, as they started showing up to hump boxes around, I was still packing. Despite our most valiant efforts, we had simply run out of time. I packed like a demon while everyone else loaded box after box onto the truck. Several hours later we were done. And exhausted. And so very thankful for the help. Without them we would never have made it.
We said goodbye to everyone and the house, loaded the dogs in the back seat of the pickup, and too tired to even feel sad about leaving, bade our home farewell and headed for Greenwood. We would stay at the motel that night and then be at our new place bright and early the next morning to feed the animals and wait for our final inspection. We couldn’t believe that we’d made it. Little did we know the stress that was yet to come.
At 9 the next morning we met the real estate agent at our new place to do the final walk through and complete the sale. As expected, it went without a hitch. She informed us that as soon as the bank released the funds from the sale of our house, she’d be able to give us the key and we could start unpacking. She promised to call as soon as she heard from the lawyer that we were good to go. We settled in to hang out with the animals and wait for the go ahead to unload the truck.
We waited about an hour before Troy got a message that our lawyer needed to talk with us, pronto. He called her office and my heart sank as I heard his tone sour. Apparently the people buying our house had shown up for their final inspection to discover a beach volleyball court where the septic had been installed. Somehow the message about the delayed reseeding hadn’t gotten through, and they weren’t happy. Funds could not be released and we couldn’t move in. We were, in effect, homeless. Grass hadn’t even been a part of the conditions of sale. We had promised a new septic system; the fact that they would eventually get a new lawn was a bonus.
As lawyers hashed out the details of the sandy lawn, we sat on the back of our moving truck and waited. The day was getting uncomfortably hot and we were getting irritable with each other. As the afternoon slipped towards supper, a sense of doom crept in. We both had to work in the morning, we had nowhere to leave our stuff, and the moving truck was due back. We had no control over the situation, and although others were working to resolve things, we were completely helpless.
At 4pm when the banks closed we settled into deep despair. We still had no news and we were quite aware that there was no way the funds could get transferred before the next morning. Troy called our lawyer back and was shocked to discover that suddenly things were happening on the other end. Somehow our real estate agent had been given the go ahead to come and give us the key. Moments later we were in our house. We didn’t have time to think about how it had happened. In a frenzy we started hauling boxes and furniture through the doors. At 11 that night with the truck returned, pizza and beer in our bellies, and the animals fed for the night, we finally collapsed on a semi-made bed. We congratulated each other on an insanely stressful job well done, we said a little thank you to the universe for our amazingly calm and level-headed lawyer Lola Doucet and her ability to work miracles, and then we passed out. In our new home.
I thought that the hardest thing about the whole process would be giving up the stability of my paycheque and a life that I’ve known for almost 20 years. Looking back at that decision from where we are now, though, I’m realizing that I’m more prepared to take on the challenge than I thought.
Farming won’t be easy, but compared to moving the farm it’s going to be a piece of cake. A little perspective goes a long way.