Superfluous Matter
Almost a House

Sorry for the lack of updates lately, things have been busier and more stressful than usual over the last week. For the last three months (since about the middle of April) Kim and I have been working with a realtor to try to buy a house. We've been all over the city and seen dozens of places. Toronto real estate is crazy and things are all expensive or crappy or weird or whatever and everything moves very fast. It's been a pretty special experience so far.

Last week the stress-o-meter went up a notch. We found a house we liked enough to put in an offer on! It was a detached, three-bedroom house with a decent yard and beautiful deck out in south-west Scarborough (near Danforth and Warden). It was in our price range and was in really good shape.

The only problem was that the attic had vermiculite insulation in it. Vermiculite is a normally harmless substance that is very good for insulating attics. In fact the Canadian government gave substantial tax credits for installing it back in the energy crisis of the 1970s. Unfortunately a lot of vermiculite came from this one mine in Libby, Montana which happened to be contaminated with asbestos. Thus, the vermiculite was also contaminated and now sits in many homes threatening to become a health hazard if it is ever disturbed.

The owner of the house we were looking at disclosed the presence of vermiculite, but did not know if it was contaminated or not. She also dropped the price of the house by $15,000 due to the vermiculite scaring people away. After talking to asbestos people we determined first that on average the removal costs for contaminated vermiculite range between $12,000 and $15,000 (although if there are complications it can go as high as $40,000) and second that there would be about a 50-50 chance the vermiculite was contaminated.

We tried to get the seller to agree to split the removal costs (and thus the risk) with us but she wasn't interested. Nor was she interested in reducing her price any further. So we decided to give an offer anyway, conditional on testing the vermiculite for the asbestos. We hoped we might get lucky and score an awesome deal on a great house. And if there was asbestos, at least we could back out if we didn't want to take the risk ourselves.

Well as you can imagine there was asbestos. Lots of happy asbestos. Boo. We talked it over and decided we were too scared, especially on our first house, to take on the risk of removal. Although it is technically harmless if undisturbed we didn't want to leave it there as it would have been an issue again in the future when we went to sell the house. So we backed out of the offer and felt sad (and a bit sleazy).

So no house yet. But now I know lots and lots about vermiculite. Woooo.

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