It was a perfect little abode, a lemon-yellow Toronto coach house that was pretty and affordable, just the thing for first-time buyer Karen Hines, the successful playwright and cult comedienne. Then she moved in. What was that awful odour? A decomposing raccoon in what was advertised as a crawlspace, but really was a tomb. The carcass was almost impossible to remove.
Other things were wrong with the house as well – it was unlivable. Smelling a raccoon? What she should have smelt was a rat, in the form of an unprincipled realtor, a lazy inspector and a greedy house flipper.
Eventually Ms. Hines fixed, freshened and sold the residence, and now she's premiering a dark comedy based on her experience with the house of horror. Her play, the surreal cautionary tale Crawlspace, is being intimately presented at Videofag in Kensington Market. We spoke to Ms. Hines, now living in Calgary, about her real estate debacle and the do's and don'ts of a virgin house-purchaser.
Father knows best: "I should have taken my dad to look at the house. I was in the sway of my realtor, who obviously didn't have the same investment that your dad has. My father, being of his generation, knew a thing or two about construction. I mean, he built his own cottage. So, I shouldn't have put so much faith in the professionals around me, who were all invested in this sale happening."
Follow one rule, buyer beware: "I was so naive. I just kept thinking, 'This is Canada – there are rules.' I thought with something as huge as a house purchase, I just kept presuming that there were laws and guidelines that everybody would naturally adhere to. And that's just not the case. Real estate is a murky area."
Sometimes, you just gotta laugh: "These sort of catastrophes make for good comedy, but it takes a while. At the time I wasn't feeling particularly comedic about it, but I was aware I was searching for meaning in the meaningless of it all. So many of the problems that my house revealed were symptomatic of a greedy flip – something done on the cheap, something done to look good on the surface or to look good for a while."
Don't lose faith: "All the people who were so-called professionals, who were involved in the sale and the renovations, their actions were questionable. But everybody else was great – the movers, the animal proofers, the people who installed the air cleaner. And then when it came time to sell the house, my new realtor was very principled. As in any industry, it's about individuals. I haven't lost faith in humanity, but I would say that I'm a lot more cynical. And I'm much wiser."
Crawlspace, to Sept. 29, 7 p.m. $15 to $30 (limited seating; 15 . Videofag, 187 Augusta Ave., crawlspaceplay.com