Housing in Vancouver–Part 2 (Intermediate)

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Here is the second part of Steve and Jill’s discussion about housing in Vancouver.

Steve: Hi, Jill.

Jill: Hi, Steve.

Steve: EnglishLingQ.com, again.

Jill and I were talking the last time about houses and places to live. You were telling me that you and your brother and sister-in-law and your husband were thinking of living in the same house which, for many people, would be a formula for trouble.

Jill: Disaster! Except for I think in many countries in the world it’s very common to live with your extended family. Steve: Right.

Jill: But in Canada, it’s not so common in North America. Steve: No, not so common. So, but I’m sure you’ll be successful in doing that. What kind of a house would you want to buy?

Jill: Well ideally, we would like some sort of heritage house; an old house probably, you know, 80-90-100 years old that has a lot of character. We really like character. Chris and I, we don’t like really brand new really ultra-modern homes, generally. There are some that are beautiful that we really like, of course, but we do like the style with the porches and a lot of dark wood and stuff like that. So, there are a lot of beautiful old heritage homes. The problem with them is they need a lot of work.

Steve: I was going to say, I mean, a heritage home sounds very nice, but people today are very conscious of energy issues and, of course, we have this great discussion of global warming and just the fact, even leaving aside global warming, that the energy costs are going up and typically older houses are not very well insulated.

Jill: Right.

Steve: They have poorer windows; the walls are not properly insulated. It can be quite expensive to maintain, to heat or to maintain an older home.

Jill: Yeah.

Steve: The other thing too is you don’t know what’s in the walls. There could be some problems with it, so how do you deal with all of this uncertainty?

Jill: Well, you have to I mean, thankfully, Chris is actually very knowledgeable when it comes to a lot of this sort of thing. He’s an engineer too, so he really looks into things and figures things out and is interested. He does a lot of home improvements himself for his friends and stuff like that because he enjoys it. And so, I think definitely, you would install double pane windows. You would definitely have the electrical looked at; probably, it would need to be updated.

Steve: When we say the electrical, you mean the electrical systems or the wiring.

Jill: Yes, the wiring throughout the house.

Steve: Yes, throughout the house.

Jill: Exactly.

Steve: Right.

Jill: Plumbing would probably have to be looked at.

Steve: When you say looked at, before you buy the house or after you buy the house?

Jill: Well, before. You would definitely want an inspector to come in and have a look and, you know, give you some advice.

Steve: And now these people exist. I mean, inspectors will come and inspect a house on behalf of the buyer of a house before that person commits to buying the house.

Jill: Right.

Steve: So that’s quite a common service to have an inspector. Jill: Right.

Steve: For the structural aspects as well as for plumbing and electrical, what do the inspectors look at?

Jill: Well, you know, I’m not entirely sure to tell you the truth. I think they have a look at everything; I’m not sure.

And, you know, some inspectors are better than others so you want to be there. You want to know a little bit about what’s going on when they are there so that you can ask some questions and maybe not just leave it up to them completely. Steve: I’m sure Chris would want to be there. Jill: Oh, yes, he would be there for sure grilling the poor guy. But, no, I think most heritage homes that have not had some work put into them in the last, you know, 20 years, need work and you would have to buy it with that in mind that you would probably be spending $1 or $200,000 to update it and make it more livable.

So, that is a consideration because often these old heritage homes are on very big lots so they are very expensive. Obviously, we can’t buy something very expensive and then put in another couple hundred thousand dollars into making it even better. Steve: Right.

Jill: So, I mean, that’s what we would like, but who knows if that’s what will happen. Steve: Is there a lot of that kind of thing going on? Are there many people buying older homes and fixing them up?

Jill: Yeah, I think it’s become quite popular again; going back to hard wood, natural hard wood. You know, people are ripping up carpet now that is covering hard wood because it’s in fashion again.

You know, you have the big molding in these old homes, usually big crown molding, which people are paying a lot of money to have in their new homes.

Steve: We might explain that too. Moldings, of course, refer to the woodwork that’s molded, therefore. Jill: Or the frame or the boarders kind of around the wall.

Steve: Well, that’s right. It deals with…it can be the crown molding,

Jill: …baseboards,

Steve: connecting the ceiling to the walls and it will have a fancy pattern which is supposed to represent, I think, the tops of the old columns from Greek architecture. You also have a baseboard which is basically the corner of where the floor meets the wall. There are all kinds of fancy names, plinths and I don’t know what.

Jill: Oh, I don’t know either. Steve: Then, of course, you have the molding that goes around the doorframe,

Jill: …window casings and door casings. These are all things you do not need to have in homes and it’s much cheaper to build a home without those things and the home is just fine, but they are very attractive so a lot of people want them. Steve: I mean after all, nowadays, I mean, yeah, you could live in a shack; a one-room shack. You don’t even have to have a separate room for the toilet for that matter; it’s probably cheaper to have everything in one big room. So, yeah, we do spend money on things to make the homes more comfortable; to make them more pleasant.

I know that nowadays, even in very relatively, I would say, inexpensive homes, it’s not uncommon for people to want granite kitchen countertops. Whereas 20 years ago, everything was Formica; everything was…call it fake, you know,

Jill: …like plastic substances,

Steve: …plastic, synthetic material; nowadays, people want real.

Jill: They want real rock and granite and tile ceramic.

Steve: That’s right and, of course, the trouble is…and we were involved in building a house, you know, 10 years ago…of course, each individual item; it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. Well, yeah, we can spend a little more money to have a granite countertop; it’s not so much.

But, we would like to spend a little more money to get better windows; per window it’s not so much. Jill: A little bit more for appliances.

Steve: We want the better quality fridge and maybe my wife wants a better stove for her cooking and, pretty soon, you add all of these things up and it is just a fortune.

Jill: Yes, yes.

Steve: It adds up very, very quickly.

Jill: Yes. I mean I think the cost of materials right now is very, very high so it’s certainly not cheap to do this. Steve: I am amazed, actually. When we built our home you could build a very good home with granite. I mean, a granite countertop was kind of the thing you had to have.

Obviously, wooden floors, good quality kitchen appliances, good quality double-glazed windows with this argon gas, you know, between and what they call special ultra violet, you know, whatever coatings they put on the glass; the whole thing.

Jill: So that the sun doesn’t ruin your furniture when it’s coming in? Steve: Well, A: it reduces the heat gain so that you have a window facing the south and the west which is designed to reduce heat gain and the windows that face the north and the east are designed to reduce heat loss.

Jill: Right.

Steve: Okay? So these are some of the things that you can…because depending on how the coatings are applied and which surface because there are actually four surfaces.

If you have two panes of glass in your window, there’s the outside surface of the outside pane and the inside surface of the outside pane and then so forth and so on. So, depending on where you apply what coatings you can get different functions.

Jill: It’s keeping heat in your home better or keeping it out. Steve: Out; depending whether you are facing south and west or east and north.

Jill: Right.

Steve: So, with all of these things, we were able to build a house for $120.00 a square foot. I think today to build the same house is at least,

Jill: …$300.00.

Steve: Yeah, it’s amazing to me!

So, it’s not only the cost of land that’s gone up, it’s the cost of building and the reason for that is that Vancouver has been such an active construction market that what we call the trades people, the carpenter, the electrician, the plumber, the painter, Jill: …the framers,

Steve: all of the framers, the people who lay your floors, the drywallers…, because people who put up the gypsum board…and, of course, in building the trades are all, you know, very much divided into different specialty skills.

So, even for drywall, you have one group of people who come in and put up the gypsum board and they typically have to be quite strong because the gypsum board can be 4 feet x 8 feet, 4 feet x 10 feet, 4 feet x 12 feet and those are not easy to pick up.

Jill: No.

Steve: So, they tend to be stronger people and they have dedicated tools for that activity. Then you have the people who come in and they put the mud on and they put the tape on and they sandpaper it and they get this very smooth finish,

Jill: …which is quite a difficult thing to do.

Steve: Very difficult.

And so those people tend to be more detail-oriented and so they have to give you a very, very smooth finish so that when the painter comes in that he can do a good job and so they are all specialized. All of these trades people, because it’s supply and demand, it’s like anything else, now that Vancouver has been in a very strong construction market for year after year after year, the wages of these trades have just gone up and up and up and it’s difficult to even find people. Jill: They are so busy.

Steve: They are so busy and if you don’t have a large project they come around, they have one look; they say okay, I’ll send you an estimate and you never hear from them again.

Jill: Yeah, if you just want your bathroom re-plumbed or painted or whatever, they are not interested because they have so much work that they can just pick and choose who they want to work for. And so, yeah, wages have gone way up and then materials are very expensive.

Steve: So, it’s tough for young people. Jill: Well, I think the younger generations, you know, maybe my generation and younger, will not be living in single-family homes for much longer. I think the trend will be…we’ve already seen it actually in North Vancouver where lots of single-family homes are being torn down and there have been triplex complexes put up. Steve: Right.

In other words, three homes.

Jill: Three homes that are

Steve: We talk about a duplex which is two homes and a triplex or triplex which is three homes, yeah.

Jill: Or fourplex or whatever which is…they can be quite large, but they are all attached so almost more like a townhouse. And that’s going to, I think, start to be more of the trend because the average family is just not going to be able to afford a house with land. Steve: Or, some people move further out.

Jill: Or they move a long way out of the city and then commute for two-three hours everyday to their job. So, that’s an option which some people choose but I’m not interested in that.

Steve: No, for sure. Okay, well, maybe we should end today’s conversation here.

We’ve talked again about houses and renovating houses and construction costs and so forth. Again, this is all available at EnglishLingQ.com. We hope this is useful to people in their language learning. Go to EnglishLingQ.com and please work on your language and we hope you enjoy what you are listening to and let us know if you have any comments. Thank you.

Jill: Thank you.

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