Love, change

For the first time in a few years, change abounds. New opportunities, new people, new ways of working. Change is a friend not a foe and often signals opportunity more often than not. Each change seemingly a positive bit of momentum towards something better.

Curve balls

I tweaked a glute muscle in January at the track. I had a minor slip on some water, but at the root of it was some weakness that I should have long ago tended to. So I’ve been off running largely, relegated to short under 5k runs when I can (the exception was a 10k trail race in North Vancouver that I did at the end of February).

As one of my t-shirts says “Not Running Sucks”. What I miss the most is the peace and thinking time it affords me. When running it’s just me and there are few times when I am alone.

I’m hoping to be back at things soon. The physiotherapist has me on the mend with a batch of exercises and some unreal stretches. I’m still pondering a May BMO half marathon after a decent 8k this past weekend and looking forward to being back on-track with my running goals.

The Number 13

I read this article the other day about the number 13. I also read recently that President Franklin D. Roosevelt didn’t like the number 13. He hated to travel on Friday the 13th and having 13 people at dinner (he even avoided it at death as he died on Thursday, April 12, 1945, just before Friday the 13th).

What tweaked my interest was the fact that the number 13 has been a huge part of my life, and frankly a great number:

  • My wife’s wedding ring has 13 diamonds
  • My son was born on the 13th day of the month
  • I’ve been happily married for 13 years
  • Our address “616” when you add each of the numbers equals 13
  • If you take the birthdays of each of our family members (30, 24, 13) and add each of the individual numbers, it equals 13

Thirteen isn’t that bad. Besides, life’s too short to worry about numbers.

A look back at 2014

I rolled into 2014 while on vacation in Brussels, Belgium with my family. Post our New Year’s Eve dinner I made three resolutions, here’s how I fared:

A guideline: smile more

I honestly tried at this every day and made a point of the first thing when I woke up being a smile. It started my day on the right foot and kept me focussed on being a happier person. This will be a habit I stick with going forward. I also dived deeper into meditation which helped me appreciate the many great things in my life to be happy for.

A lifestyle change: eat more vegetarian and in moderation

Each time my wife travelled, I got in more vegetarian eating. I also took up calorie counting using MyFitnessPal in the later part of the year on the advise of a nutritionist. Surprisingly what I learned was that I wasn’t eating enough calories, and what I was eating was too slanted towards fat over protein. With some minor tweaks to my diet my weight finally fell and levelled off. I still have some way to go here to land at my desired body composition, but progress is good. I also cut out sugar for a month and will likely make a hard stop on this in 2015. Overall I felt better here.

An achievable milestone(s): 2-hour half marathon, get back playing with a band

I had a better year of running, but I ran only 764.4km – way less than I hoped, and my very minimal training miles from January to June were clearly to blame. The good news was that I remained injury-free and healthy and the minimalist running has been key. In June, Dave Cressman from Distance Runwear dismantled my form and helped me understand what I had been doing so wrong and where I needed to work on improving. I also joined the South Hill Striders run club in September (and will be sticking with it this year) to push my run speed and training.  Strava gave me 27 PRs over the year — most from July to September — which reflected my training.

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My main goal though was a 2-hour half marathon. I did 2:07:14 at BMO (in the pouring rain), then 2:06:58 at Scotiabank (which was hot and sunny), but finally met my goal in the Portland Half Marathon with a 1:53:22 — a new PR! It was great to have my family at the finish line. I also threw in a 00:50:00 10km at the Fall Classic to finish out the year though lost out on a PB due to a shoelace that came untied.

On the music side, while my son wanted me to “get back at it”, I wasn’t able to find a band or people I wanted to play with. I had some early bites over Craigslist, but everyone wants to tour and live out of a van — not conducive when you’re 45, married, and have family.

New Year’s Resolutions – 2014

Here’s my 2014 resolutions:

A guideline: smile more

A smile makes a better introduction and keeps you positive. Can’t go wrong with this.

A lifestyle change: eat more vegetarian and in moderation

I love food, but food does not love me at times. With a carnivore wife and son, finding a balance can be hard, but I always feel better when I eat less and slanted heavily towards veg.

An achievable milestone: 2-hour half marathon, get back playing with a band

My son called me out on this while we were on holidays in Europe telling me I should “get back at it”. Friends too have been pushing, especially my good friend who saw me play last May in Portland at a bar.

A look back at 2013

Coming into 2013 I made three resolutions. Here’s how I progressed with each of them:

A guideline: listen more, talk less

I felt I made some good progress here. Feedback from others was that I seemed more patient and that I was giving them the room they needed. That said, this might come back as more of a permanent guideline, than a one off experiment for the a year.

A lifestyle change: more running

I did ok here, but no where near what I hoped. Overall my RunKeeper app notes a total distance of 775.1km and a total time of 74 hours, 6 minutes in my shoes.

RunKeeper for 2013

My running dropped off dramatically in the later part of 2013 due to work commitments and my wife’s busy work travel schedule. That of course led me to look for new work at Yellow Pencil where work/life balance could be better.

I’ll have to improve here in 2014 as not running sucked.

An achievable milestone: run a half marathon or two

I did the BMO half in May with a time of 2:10, and the Fall Classic out at UBC in November with a time of 2:18. BMO I was on a path to 2:00 but a lack of water in the last 4km killed me. UBC was fine, but the lack of training made for a much different race than May’s race.

Next year, hoping for more miles and maybe a 2:00 half.

New Year’s Resolutions – 2013

Here’s my resolutions for 2013:

A guideline: listen more, talk less

Sometimes my excitement for things and desire to lead means I’m the first to jump in. This year I’m going to focus on listening more. As they say, you have two ears and one mouth and use should use them in the same ratio.

A lifestyle change: more running

Running keeps me free from stress, healthy, and helps balance weight and keep blood pressure in check. Plus I love it.

An achievable milestone: run a half marathon or two

I’m book in for the BMO half in May, and the Fall Classic out at UBC is in my plans for the end of the year.

Update: read about how I did with these resolutions in my look back at 2013

Our fire story on TV

Global TV aired our fire story tonight on the 6pm news. Nice to see they used a lot of the video and even some of us talking about it.

A fire story

This post is a true story. Oddly it’s a story I feel like I’ve been telling for many years, ingrained and intertwined in the fabric of my family. It is a sad story, a personal story and a story I’m glad I can finally share.

In February 2010, 2.5 years after moving from Vancouver to Calgary, I accepted a job that brought my family and I back to Vancouver. A couple months later we bought a house and for the next few months I travelled back-and-forth every other week while our son finished up kindergarten. I stayed in the house when in town and slowly unpacked after work each night. In late June with school done, we headed back to the West Coast.

The house we bought, an old-timer (Edwardian) built in 1908, had been renovated top-to-bottom. Overall it was in pretty good shape for its age. It needed some work in a few areas, but nothing we weren’t accustomed to doing. Having purchased homes before, we knew what we were getting into. We didn’t get caught up in the hype, money battles with other bidders, nor did we buy blindly or without subjects. We did our due diligence and had a detailed house inspection and also brought a structural engineer in to review a slight tilt in the foundation to make sure there was nothing to be concerned with. In addition, we spoke with the current owner of the home and the owners prior to them.

Like many Vancouver houses, our house had an illegal suite in the ground floor walkout basement. It was a decent sized one bedroom, suitable for a student or someone single. With a college/university nearby and easy access to transit, we’d have no problem renting it out.

We were fortunate that we didn’t need the income from the suite to make our mortgage payment or to afford the home, but decided to have it legalized with the City of Vancouver so we could rent it out. Our thinking was that the revenue would be helpful in offsetting future renovations and even ongoing maintenance of the house. In addition, we were OK with a smaller footprint since we really didn’t need the downstairs space with only three of us living here. And if in the end we didn’t like having a tenant or our needs changed, we could easily convert it back to living space. So we had three City inspectors — building, electrical and plumbing — inspect the whole house. A month later we got a letter from the City summarizing the work that needed to be done and began work.

It was at this time that found out that the house had once had a major fire. At this point in the story, most people get a picture in their mind of some smoke damage, isolated to a small area, but rectified. Or maybe of a bit of fire damage later contained by firefighters and repaired. In actuality it was quite the opposite. Looking up at the basement ceiling, all you could see was char. Every joist, the sub-floor and most of the structure was burnt crisp and looked more like the stuff you see near the end of a weekend of camping. The pictures below will give you a better idea of what I mean.

Following the discovery, the electrician and his helper progressively peeled drywall back and it just kept revealing even more fire damage. By the end of the day our basement was stripped to stud and there was a huge pile of debris on our driveway. What was once supposed to be a small electrical and contracting job was suddenly something much larger.

Our first step was to bring the City of Vancouver building inspector and a structural engineer to the house. Given the damages it wasn’t clear whether we could even still live here or whether it was even safe. We got the OK, had some bracing installed, got a 60-day extension to submit a new plan and drawings to the City and tried to figure out what was next. Because we had started the process with the City, we had to complete the process. But given the damage, the scope of estimating and planning had to involve numerous others including a fire remediation company, structural and other building experts to determine a path forward. We did drawings, got things stamped and sealed and submitted to the City for review and filed our permit application. All this cost money.

Our second step was to contact a lawyer – one who specialized in construction and real estate litigation. Thankfully we got a good one.

Our legal efforts started with a demand letter to the person we purchased the home from. Shortly thereafter we received a reply – they knew nothing of a fire. Some dialogue ensued between counsel, new counsel was hired by the other party and denials continued. As we proceeded down the legal path, I set out to investigate and gather details and as much proof as I could uncover. This turned out to be a smart decision, as it helped us piece together the story of our house, this fire and the many people involved. Here’s what we learned:

  • We think the fire took place in our house sometime ago. As to when exactly the fire occurred we may never know. The Vancouver Fire Department hasn’t located any fire records. The City of Vancouver never went back to ensure that the fire damage was properly repaired and no information was ever put on the title to make future purchasers aware of the fire.
  • We know that the house was sold back in 1995 in a probate sale from a person we’ll call “B”. The owner had occupied the house for some time. The fire may or may not have occurred when B owned the house and when B sold the house the realtor who sold the home knew nothing of a prior fire nor was anything disclosed that we’ve been able to find.
  • The couple, who purchased from B, we’ll call “M”. This was the M’s first house. They did extensive renovations to the house shortly after purchase. The renovations were top-to-bottom and included plumbing, electrical, framing, some foundational work, drywall, a new kitchen, roof, etc. There’s likely more. To what extent we don’t really know, as they’ve never disclosed this information to us. We’ve been able to surmise what work they likely undertook from dates on materials (wiring, plumbing, drywall are all date/time stamped when manufactured). M’s work would have shown the fire damage in it’s entirety. Electrical wire and plumbing was run through burnt joists and framing and drywall was screwed directly to burnt materials. M later, in a without prejudice meeting, revealed that they knew about the fire.
  • M sold the house to “Q”, a friend of theirs. From the copy of the property disclosure statement between M and Q that we were able to get, the fire was not mentioned. Chances are good that Q didn’t know about it, at least on paper. Q lived in the house with her family. About a year after moving into the house someone did renovations in an untouched area of the basement. Like M’s renovations these were done without permit, but they show a level of quality that aligns to a weekend warrior, not a tradesman. Those renovations included framing, drywall and electrical that also would have revealed the fire damage. These renovations also covered up some other defects. They also revealed a set of initials on the ceiling and a date – that of Q’s now deceased husband. Q moved out a few years later after her husband was killed and rented out the house until she sold it to us in 2010. When it came time for Q to sell the house, the fire damage, the work Q did without permit, nor the work that M did without permit was disclosed to us.

The case

From a legal standpoint, we only really had a case against Q. The burden of proof was on us and we had to prove that Q knew about the fire damage. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. In fact, all Q had to say was “I didn’t know”. Unless we could prove otherwise, we were unlikely to recover anything. Later on as we pieced together details on the house, we decided to involve M as well – this was a good decision. How the law works is that we sue Q and she in turn sues M if she felt they weren’t forthright in their disclosure. It was in M’s interest to avoid being dragged into this matter indirectly and to help find a resolution.

In the end we explored all angles we could, but nothing could be found to help us prove things conclusively. In the meantime the other two parties came forth with a settlement offer – and we rejected it. They came back with another counter offer – and we rejected it. They then came back with a final offer, this one time-limited – so we had some decisions in front of us:

  • We could settle without going to court. The sum was not great, but likely better than proceeding to trial.
  • We could push forward, hoping for a larger dollar amount to come out prior to trial. In all likelihood though, the parties involved would have taken their chances and both had deep pockets.
  • We could proceed to trial, dropped the writ, attempt to carry the legal costs over the next couple years (expected to be in excess of $150K) and hope for a sympathetic judge who would have sided in our favour. At best that would have gotten us a judgment with no guarantees that we’d be able to collect. In the meantime we’d still have a damaged home and all of our legal costs to contend with.
  • We could have rode it out, went to court and lost. In this case we would have been on the hook for our legal costs, a substantial portion of both M and Q’s legal costs, and still had a damaged house to deal with.

During all of these we’d be living in a substantially damaged home.

The outcome

We recently settled with M and Q. The decision to settle was a difficult one. It didn’t feel satisfying. I liken it to having some food you’ve been thinking about for days only to find out that it was not what you were craving. We got some money, but still have our legal costs to pay, so the balance will be less than is needed to remedy the fire damages.

The path in front of us is complicated and each of the options – selling, repairing or rebuilding – all pose challenges for us financially.

I’ve spent many sleepless nights and have beaten myself up, wondering what else we could have done. I’ve pulled at small threads hoping that something would lead to a bigger piece of yarn and that they would maybe eventually expose a silver bullet that we could use to win our case. But those never came.

I’m mad about the options ahead. We may have to sell at a major loss. Our equity that we’ve worked hard to build will be gone. The prospects of starting over are daunting and not something I had expected to have to do in my 40’s. It is compounded by where we live, in a city of multi-million dollar homes, where we may be unable to find a new home. If we choose to stay in the house, the costs to repair – in the multi-hundreds of thousands of dollars – are extensive and are going to place additional burdens on us financially. They are also likely to be full of surprises given the limited disclosure we’ve had from the prior owners during this legal process.

I’m mad that the organizations that should protect us in the end really don’t. The City of Vancouver who’s fireman likely put out the blaze years ago but didn’t take the time to ensure proper repairs were undertaken or that records were attached to the home for future buyers to consider; BC Assessment and the City who happily noted a “major improvement” to the property in 2000 so they could collect more taxes and show an ever-increasing valuation, but who never explored the work undertaken; and the courts – who really didn’t protect our investment and who offer up a weak Property Disclosure Statement that holds few sellers accountable.

But mostly, I’m mad because along the way seemingly intelligent people made decisions, evaluated risk and made choices that brought us to this point. They elected not to be honest and that when given the opportunity to stand up and doing something right, they chose not to take responsibility. In the meantime, their lives go on, a bit lighter in their pocketbooks, but getting essentially getting away with murder.