Monday, January 16, 2012

From Ruins to Happiness

(2nd in series “Real Real Estate”)

The “Beach Strip”

We call it “the Beach Strip”...actually known as Lakeshore Road as it follows from Toronto through mid-Burlington along the north shore of Lake Ontario. 
At this juncture, Lakeshore Road bends around the western tip of the lake 
to the canal entry from the Lake into Burlington Bay and Hamilton Harbour. 
The Skyway Bridge soars high above the canal permitting ships from the
Great Lakes and abroad to reach Hamilton's berthing piers.

The “Beach Strip” is a unique community with peoples who “hang together” participating in year round activities. There were homes on both lake-side 
and bay. Today, most of the lakefront properties were purchased by the 
City of Burlington (home owners were on land-lease contracts which expired). Today, parkland from Spencer Smith Park extends to the Skyway Bridge (canal). Same situation occurred on the Hamilton side.

All these homes along the Beach Strip were initially “summer homes” for Hamilton's working class families. My Aunt Inez told me of times when she 
and a couple secretaries from her office rented one of these homes for several summers. Each morning before busing to work, they would have a dip in the 
Bay waters...and again upon return to their summer “retreat”.

I had business acquaintances who engaged my services to market their property on the bay side along this section of Lakeshore Road. The owners, who had moved to Grimsby, rented the bungalow near the street; at the rear of the property was also a small two-bedroom house rented to a middle aged bachelor who loved life there, under the traffic noise of the bridge. This was a “grand-fathered property”...illegal today, yet permissible at time of construction
several years previously.

Within a couple months we had an acceptable offer on the property...with the transaction closing in two months. One day, when returning from Hamilton to Burlington, I noticed the access to the Lakeshore Road extension to the Skyway Bridge was closed. Seeing gray smoke rising into the sky, it was evident there must be a fire. Unbelievable! It was the home I had recently sold! The family 
had left on a Saturday afternoon to shop...and someone had inadvertently 
flipped a cigarette butt into the garbage bag on the back porch. The house 
could not be saved! The family lost all their possessions! The Buyer cancelled 
his contract! The owners put in claims for insurance coverage.

What a Mess it was! Hanging wires! Dilapidated roof! Walls ready to tumble!
Debris all over the place! When all was resolved, the owners decided
to sell the property “as is”!

It was a Sunday morning that I received a message on my pager to call a certain party. They were a couple ( late 20's to 30ish in age) out for a spin on their bicycles ...enquiring about the situation of this said property. Could they view it inside? No!...due to safety hazards! I advised them that the property needed a total removal of debris, wires, etc. and total rebuilding from the foundation up. 
I left my apartment immediately to meet with Russell and Helga in front off this “place of shambles”. They were delightful and ambitious...with a dream
of owning their own home. Her employment was with a bank in downtown Toronto. He was a Home Renovation Specialist with cabinetry skills. Their desire was to make this property an appellation of their dreams! We prepared an Offer to Purchase, accepted by the Grimsby owners; notice was given to the tenant in the rear home on the property to vacate. The transaction closed in 60 days.

The Reconstruction

There were obstacles to overcome: removal of all the debris; gutting the house to its foundation; land study revealed a new septic system be installed; permits required for construction demanded that he NOT extend the foundation; nor could he alter the size of the secondary house on the property; finally a building plan of construction requiring approval from the Building Department. His designed plan was for a 1 1/2 story house which would provide a “lake view” from the upper level.

Their first project was to “update” the rental house at the rear...installing new flooring, new cabinets and counters, remodelled bathroom, re shingled roof. From the rental income (a woman with small boy and a dog), they purchased construction materials for their own house to be rebuilt on its original foundation.

Russell worked daily on their “Dream Home”; Helga assisted him every weekend...erecting drywall and taping; learning construction tasks as he 
taught her; she installed flagstone walkways both front and rear. Their enthusiasm was amazing! Frequently, I was invited to observe their progress: 
an open-concept Living Room/Kitchen; spacious windows offering views
unseen previously; the exterior facade was of modern acrylic siding; a front covered verandah. Then, we'd lunch and coffee at Tim Horton's following 
which they returned to their Sunday project. I was So Proud of their endeavours.

Beside this property was a vacant grassy lot owned by the City...which Russell and Helga accepted as “their little park”. When friends came to visit, they played baseball, catch football...even a few games of croquet. Sometimes...with a picnic basket and blanket they strolled across the road and up a sloping sand dune to “view the view“ of the Lake's expansive waters.

It came as a surprise in the mail ~ a Wedding Invitation, to the marriage of Russell and Helga! Location? Their new home on Lakeshore Road...with permission from the City for cars to park on “the grassy lot” adjacent to their home!

Comfortable chairs were placed in the home for their guests. Yes, Russell 
wore a tuxedo and Helga a gorgeous satin gown. Her parents walked her 
from their car, along the flagstone walkway to the veranda and the flower-bedecked altar. The Reception was in the back garden, set with tables, candles and flowers. A violinist accompanied the wedding ceremony and reception.

What an Achievement! And a Dream Come True...for this most deserving couple!

(Names have been changed to protect their identity)

Merle's  Pearl of Wisdom:
"If God sends us on strong paths,
we are provided strong shoes"!
(Corrie ten Boon) 

Merle Baird-Kerr . . . written December 18, 2011
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  1. Merle,

    This is a fabulous story... I have tingles all over me for this wonderful couple.
    Such a feel good story to begin our week with ... It must have been so much work but kept them focused and together. Hoping they are still there enchanted with the property you helped purchase for them... I will drive by someday !


    1. Certainly, "a story that needed to be told"!
      I am confident they are still residing in this
      "dream home". We'll drive by one day soon.