‘Rusty pot’ shines on Beach Drive

First home purchase of Oak Bay cottage teaches life-long real estate lessons

  • Aug. 14, 2015 6:00 p.m.

Jane A. Miller

News Contributor

“Rusty pot at the end of the rainbow…”

…is how the ad read in the paper.

I had just moved to Victoria from Ottawa in 1978 – a single mother with an eight-year-old boy in tow, looking for a suitable home.

The ad described an old cottage on Beach Drive, near Willows Beach, with a large garden.  Sounded perfect, but the price was $72,000, which exceeded my $50,000 budget.

When I read the amusing ad out loud to my father, he said:  “We should take a look.”

When I told him I couldn’t afford it, he gave me my first real estate advice: “Look at properties above and below your budget…in order to know what you can expect in your price range.

In other words, value is established by comparison. We made an appointment to see the cottage.

The real estate agent was going through a divorce, and she had been allowed to store about 40 boxes of her personal belongings in the living room…which just about filled the space.

I was daunted by the stack of boxes, dark-stained wood everywhere, and the overgrown garden. My mother was giddy, saying: “the house has good bones!”

My father inspected the floor joists and declared it “solidly built.”  In no time at all, my father urged me to put in an offer.

I was too embarrassed, to put in my low-budget offer. That is, until my father gave me my second lesson in negotiating real estate:  “Put in an honest offer, and see what happens … the worst they can say is no.”

I apologetically explained to the realtor that I was humiliated to put in such a low offer, but it was all I could afford as a single mother, going through a divorce myself.

I’ll always be grateful for the kind respect she showed me.

The agent wrote up my offer to present that evening. While doing so, she told me the property’s back story: The seller was a wealthy man who had at one time been a garbage collector on Beach Drive.

At that time, the cottage was owned by a retired bishop who had always been kind to the garbage collector.

Over the years, the garbage collector invested in penny stocks and then real estate. When the bishop died, the former garbage collector wanted to save the cottage from demolition, and bought the cottage for $50,000 and put in $22,000 worth of improvements.

He put the cottage on the market, in hopes someone would live in it. The agent said he would give priority to a buyer who didn’t want to tear down the cottage. I assured her I could not afford to tear down the cottage.

An hour after the offer was presented, I got a call to say the seller had accepted my offer.

All he wanted was written assurance that I wouldn’t tear down the cottage!

As soon as I moved in, I painted out the dark wood and my mother untangled the garden, and it became a cozy home.

Unfortunately mortgage interest rates were rapidly climbing..and it became necessary for me to sell four years later.

I am happy to report the cottage is still standing 37 years after I bought it, with a small addition added.

And by all appearances, it is lovingly maintained … as the former garbage collector would have wanted.

It is no longer a rusty pot at the end of the rainbow. This year, the cottage was assessed at $754,000.