August 15th, 2018 was a very big day for m’lady and I. We awoke with just a few hours to pack up, get the cat to the sitters, and load up the car with as many implements of fun and camping that we thought we could get across the border. We were on our way to Curveball, Phish’s eleventh free-standing music festival and the third one they booked to take place at the speedway in Watkins Glen, New York.
A Phish festival is a major, major deal ‘round our house and for the first time ever we had sprung for VIP camping which would include free merch and extremely close access to the concert area, an onsite concierge, full-on toilets and showers, and if I’m not mistaken a free beer garden or some other such craziness. Our VIP status even allowed us to arrive onsite a full day before everyone else so we were champing at the bit to get an early jump on what was sure to be an epic weekend. But believe it or not we had even bigger fish to fry.
Impossible, you say? Well, try this on for size:
For the previous dozen years I had it in my mind that I wanted to move to rural Newfoundland. No reason in particular, I just liked it there. Anyway, a few years before this story m’lady had agreed (!) and we started looking for a house. It took several trips out there driving far and wide following around our poor real estate agent who we nearly ran ragged, but we had finally found a place. Not only a place; we had discovered a dream home.
It was priced very much higher than the houses we were generally looking at, but we poked our heads in on a lark because it was across the road from another listing. The house was in a tiny village called Hickman’s Harbour (pop. +/-100) on Random Island not too far from Clarenville. We were so stunned with the house we decided to toss our budget out the window and make an offer.
The house was a 1 1/2 storey two bedroom modern build/reno directly on the water, and when I say “directly on the water” I mean it. You could literally drop your line in the ocean while standing on the seventy-foot deck that lined the back of the house. Inside it was all wood and open-concept with a two-sided stone fireplace in the centre and an entire wall of ocean-facing windows. The views were magnificent and omnipresent no matter where you were in the house. Oh the kitchen! The ensuite! The double-wide staircase rising through the middle of the living room! It was spectacular in every way and after a bunch of crazy back-and-forth negotiations (which were very inconvenient as we happened to be in Ghana at the time) we got it for somewhere around $240,000, fully furnished.
And this very day was the closing day! The first house either of us had ever owned was about to be officially ours, and then we’d get to spend the weekend celebrating with all of our friends at Phish!
Perhaps I should back up a bit and explain the phrase “new build/reno”. Y’see, in Newfoundland you are not allowed to build anything within fifteen metres of the water, though any waterfront house that was built before 1954 is allowed to stay, and you can renovate them however you want. However, they made a rule in the 1970’s that you are not allowed to expand the footprint of any of these grandfathered houses.
So, the place we were buying was a new build from 2016 that basically rebuilt an old house that dated far enough back keep it legal. So it was an old place that looked, felt, and smelled brand new. Oh man, we were over the moon. It was all I had been able to think about for months!
As we were packing the car an email came in from our lawyer telling us that the new survey we had ordered revealed that during the rebuild the owners had added significantly to the house’s footprint. They had dumped some fill into the water to expand the small property a wee bit and it turned out that the kitchen was sitting on Crown Land. And they had been sneaky about it too; they had given us a previous survey that showed all was fine, but they didn’t tell us that it was in fact a survey of the old house. And given that the rebuild was the same basic shape as the old house we were easily fooled. Bottom line is we would never be able to legally own our kitchen.
To be honest, the email from the lawyer was dramatically less detailed than this. It merely stated that the new survey showed that the kitchen was built on Crown Land, and asking me to: “Please advise.”
Please advise?!?! No, no. You’re the lawyer, you’re the one that should be doing the advising! Worried and full of fear we called the lawyer, called the Crown Land people, rented our clothes and gnashed our teeth, and by noon we had cancelled the entire deal, no dream home for us. We were heartbroken, so much so that neither of us even felt like going to Curveball anymore. Utterly dejected, we finally decided that it would be too depressing to unpack everything so we decided what the hell and we got in the car to begin our four and-a-half hour journey after all…
…and the car wouldn’t start. For the first time ever and without a hint of any trouble the damn car wouldn’t start. I closed my eyes and put my head down on the steering wheel for a long, long time.
I’ll save you some reading and tell you now that it was the battery, and a very helpful mechanic from up the street actually came to my house and switched out the battery while my car was in its own driveway. We crossed the border and binge-purchased way too many IPA beers and put them on ice. We made it to the festival grounds, got our plastic bottle of whiskey inexplicably confiscated on the way in and pitched our tent literally in the shadow of the stage by dinnertime. We spent the rest of the evening giddily meeting our VIP neighbours and hooking up with countless friends who had also made it on site early. Over and over we related our tale of housing woe and over and over friends and strangers alike offered us wonderful words of encouragement and plenty of pity-drinks.
When night fell one of our camping neighbours set up a mondo-telescope and trained it on Saturn, which was blue sky mining at the time or something like that. He offered me a peek and I was amazed; I could see the rings and everything! The guitars came out, the craft beers flowed freely and everyone was in pretty great spirits. I sure was glad we had decided to come after all.
When I finally put my smile to bed for the night I was pretty confident that we were in for a very, very grand weekend. We didn’t know the half of it…