Thursday, March 17, 2016

Home Sweet Home

It's hard to believe it was just a year ago - today - that Doug and I made an offer on our first home.  (To clarify, it wasn't the first offer we had made - we had made an offer on another home, but there were multiple offers and ours wasn't accepted.)  Yet somehow, it seem like we have been in this house for much longer than that.

We had talked about buying a home in London, but it had all been rather abstract.  Something we could do "someday" if we decided London was where we wanted to "settle down."  It wasn't until we saw a small house on the market in the neighbourhood where we were renting, that we started to seriously discuss buying.

Now to get the full picture, I have to explain that housing prices were fairly high in the area where we had been renting (I realize that "high housing prices" are relative - but I'm speaking for London specifically.) We didn't think that we would be able to find anything in our price range - and at this point we were still guesstimating our price range - in the Old South/Wortley Village neighbourhood. So when we saw a small house go on the market just a couple blocks from our apartment, I looked it up on, mostly out of curiosity.  When we found it fell within the price range (albeit at the top) of what we thought we could afford, we figured "what the heck - might as well check it out."  So we did.  It was small, but we don't need a huge house, and we liked the location, so we were considering it.  In the meantime I mentioned to a colleague at work that we had look at the house and she enthusiastically recommended a realtor.  Since I knew we should consult a realtor if we were seriously thinking of buying, I contacted Kristen and we went on a second walk-through of the house.

Doug salvaged the bricks used to landscape the
front yard from the basement.

After much discussion of budgets, size, neighbourhood, renovations, and lack of closet space - we decided not to make an offer on the house, but we asked Kristen to keep her eyes open for us.  As soon as we mentioned that we would be interested in homes in Old East Village (OEV) as well as Old South, she got excited. It was much more likely that we would find what we wanted, in our price range, in OEV.

Allow me a moment to rave about our realtor.  Kristen Clowry is amazing.  If you are a looking to buy a home in London or Toronto - especially if you are a first time home buyer - call her, you will not regret it!

Anyway, Kristen kept her eyes open in Old East, and had us in two homes for viewings the day after they were on the market. We ended up making offers on both homes.  After meeting with us once, finding out what we liked, and touring one home with us - she clearly had us figured out and was able to direct us to the homes she knew we would love!

When we first walked up to our current home, I was immediately struck by how cute it is.  I loved the brick, the large front window, the stained glass above the original door - seriously, great character! Fortunately for us, the character continued on the inside.  The current owner had made some great updates, but had kept a lot of the original features as well (the house was built in the 1890's.)  As Doug and I drove away, we knew we had found the right house for us.  Working with Kristen, we made an offer that night.  It wasn't immediately accepted, but with some back and forth we were eventually able to come to an agreement that worked for all of us, and the offer was signed!

Now, never having purchased a house before, I don't have anything to compare this experience to.  It wasn't nearly as complicated to buy a house in a country where we weren't permanent residents as I thought it would be.  I think that was due, in large part, to the hard-working staff at Mortgage Teacher. They patiently walked us through the process, explaining things in ways that we could understand.  The most complicated part was verifying our income, and with that our status in the country.  Fortunately, this was all before our permits had expired, and we realized what a pain that process would become.  Also, we had to show the provenance of our down-payment, which meant painstakingly documenting the movement of those funds from the US into Canada.  In our favour, we moved this money after the Canadian dollar had started to fall, so we made a fair amount by just moving the money.  (Not as much as we would make today - but we try not to think about that...)

After a thorough inspection, which didn't reveal anything we didn't anticipate finding in a 100+ year old home, and officially getting approved for the mortgage, we signed our life away and took possession of the house on April 16th.  (One of the things the seller wanted was a quick possession.)  It gave us the luxury of being able to do all the painting we wanted before moving in on April 27th. 

We have been thrilled with our home.  Along with the painting, Doug has done a lot of work in the basement and on the back yard, and we have added insulation under the kitchen.  We have a long list of "to-do's" some that will have to come sooner than others (isn't that the case with every home), but overall we are happy with our decision.

We have been fortunate that many family and friends have come to town since we've moved in (and now have a sleeper-sofa they can stay on) which has been nice since we're stranded here.  However, many aren't able to make it, so we included a link to this video in our Christmas card.  So if you would like a virtual tour of our home, you can check it out here:

You know what they say about real estate - it's all about location.  Stay tuned for an update on why we love Old East Village so much, and we're confident this home is a great investment!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Adventures with Citizenship & Immigration Canada...

…or why we can’t currently leave the country.

Doug and I have found ourselves doing a lot of explaining recently as to why we can’t leave Canada.  So, to get everyone up to date, I thought I would provide the whole, long, confusing story here.

As most people are aware, Doug and I are currently residing in Canada with temporary permit status.  He has a Student Permit, which was granted for the length of his program, and I have a Spousal Work Permit, which matches the length of his student permit.  As often happens, completing his PhD has taken longer than the four years originally granted for his student permit.  So, we had to apply for extensions to our permits.

Now, in theory, getting an extension on our permits is a pretty easy process.  The only “new” documentation we had to provide (other than what we supplied to get our original permits) was a letter from Western University indicating that Doug was still enrolled full-time in the graduate program, and would be for an additional year.  The whole application can be completed online, and per the instructions on the back of our current permits, as long as we submitted them more than 30 days before our current applications expired we would be fine.

Since we had already submitted applications for residency (which is the topic for another post) and were hoping that would come through, rather than having to extend our permits again, we waited until 45 days before our permits expired to apply for the extensions.  So, when I went through the whole process online, and clicked “submit” I was a bit dismayed when a box popped up that told me the processing time for extension was currently 50 days.  What would happen if our permits expired before we received the new ones? I was momentarily panicked.  However, I quickly discovered that if you apply for an extension within the appropriate time frame (which I had) after the expiration date you have what’s called “implied status.”  This means we can remain in Canada with our current status – Doug as a student, and me a worker – as long as we don’t leave the country.  If we leave Canada we forfeit our implied status, which means that Doug couldn’t be enrolled at Western, and I wouldn’t be legally able to work.  So, while technically we could leave, we really can’t.

Want a little perspective on why this is so frustrating?  I submitted our application for extensions on March 19, 2015.  Yep, you read that correctly.  Our old permits expired on May 1, 2015 and we haven’t been able to leave the country since. Read on for the craziness that has ensued since.

So, as you have figured out by now, the 50 days came and went with no new permits and no communication from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC.) We regularly checked the website, and each time we did, the processing times for permit extensions got longer.  The website also told us that we were not to contact CIC regarding the status of our permits, until we had passed the processing time currently listed on the website, not the number of days we were originally given.  In the meantime that processing time had increased from 50 days to over 100. 

Once we had finally passed the current processing time we called the CIC number. The first couple times we called we got an automated message that told us they were experiencing a large volume of calls and to try back later, then our call was dropped.  That was it, not option to hold, our call was just disconnected and we had to try back again.  When Doug did get through, the person he talked to told him that our applications had been flagged and sent to another office.  Why were they flagged? He didn’t know - there wasn’t a note or any other information in our file.  Could we call the other office to find out why the applications were flagged? Nope, the number for that office isn’t available to the public.  We couldn’t get any other information.  So we called back the next week, same story.  Then we called back the following week, this time Doug was told that if we kept calling it would be noted in our files.  And still, we didn’t have any answers.

By now, it’s into September.  We’ve missed no fewer than three scheduled trips back to the States.  Thank goodness we have awesome family and friends who kept coming to see us!

Left with no other options we could think of, we went to the office of our local Member of Parliament (MP.)  There, we gave the details of our situation to someone in the office who deals with immigration issues.  After that representative in the MP’s office made calls, we ended up with the same information – our application had been flagged and she didn’t know why. (They were able to find out that our residency application, which we had submitted the previous December, had been rejected due to quota. We had never received that information from CIC, so were under the impression that application was still being reviewed. Nope, we’d have to resubmit that one too. But again, that’s for another post…)

Meanwhile, Canada held elections, and the MP we had been working with was not re-elected. We collected our information, and prepared to talk with the new MP once he was settled in office.

But – finally – we heard something! On November 14, Doug received an email from CIC asking that he see an immigration doctor to have a medical exam.  We were surprised, as we didn’t recall any medical questions on the permit application (there are medical questions on the residency application), and of course a bit concerned.  Could our extensions be denied due to medical issues?

As instructed, he scheduled an appointment with an immigration doctor (it couldn’t be with his GP, it had to be one of the doctors specified), had the tests done, form completed and submitted by November 18th. We were not going to let our actions hold up this process at all!  Then again, we heard nothing.

Finally, the first week of January, we reached out to the office of our new MP. We had wanted to give him enough time to get settled in office, and then through the holidays.  After a representative from the office made inquiries, we started to hear from people.  First, someone from the medical office at CIC contacted Doug – they hadn’t received the results from all of his tests.  Doug called the lab where the tests had been done, and someone had not submitted the results correctly, so we got that sorted out.

Then, he was told that he needed to go back to the immigration doctor, because they wanted a follow-up with a neurologist.  Due to complications from the EDS, Doug has a weak spot in one of his carotid arteries. CIC wants a letter from a neurologist, stating that the spot is not of immediate concern.  In order to get an appointment with a neurologist he needs to have a head CT.  Fortunately, his GP had already put in a request for a CT appointment in January.  Unfortunately, the earliest appointment that Doug could get, as a non-emergent case, is in July.

So, we remain in limbo, unable to leave Canada.

Next week, it will be one year since I applied for the extension – an extension that was only requested to be good until August 2016. 

What options does that leave us? Well, we are currently in the process of reapplying for permanent residency.  With the new residency system, once your application is submitted, it’s supposed to only take six months, max, to process.  So, in theory, that could come through before the extensions.  Alternatively, once Doug finishes his studies, he’ll qualify for a post-graduate work permit, and I’ll qualify for a spousal permit to match the length of that one.  So we could submit applications for all new permits.  Or, there could be a cancellation for a CT appointment and Doug could get in a lot earlier and we could finally get the extensions. 

In the meantime we have missed: family vacations, planned reunions, holidays, and innumerable events that we would have otherwise attended.  Most recently Doug has experienced two significant losses – one the mother of a close friend he grew up with, and another an important mentor from undergrad. We can’t leave to be there to support friends, or attend memorial services.

I recognize that our immigration struggles pale in comparison to some – especially with the news coverage of Syrian refugees coming to North America. I also know that if ever there was a year for us not to be able to leave, the year after we purchased our first home is probably the most convenient. In this situation, with all the stress and frustration, attempting to be optimistic has been crucial.

So – let this be a cautionary tale to all those of you threatening to move to Canada if the US election doesn’t go your way…It may not be as easy as you think!