Karen Hines shares her home ownership nightmare in Crawlspace

Karen Hines knows a thing or two about home ownership, and the risks that come with it.

“I’m an expert in my experience, people sometimes come to me for real estate advice, and I go, ‘No, don’t!’ ”

Her experience being buying a home and having things go horribly, horribly wrong. It is an experience that could break a person mentally, but Hines was able to get through it and turn her extraordinary experience into a play. The artist’s new production Crawlspace is Hines’ account of the series of events that led her down the road to home ownership and what happened once she was in the house, which would make any homeowner cringe.

Everything seemed great, at first. “I saw this little perfect house,” recalls Hines, “and it was actually rather inexpensive because it was so tiny, it was about 400 square feet, and so I remember having the thought, ‘What could possibly go wrong? It’s so little!’ “

“Before I could even rent it out the problems just started surfacing, one after another after another, things falling apart, large things falling off the house from outside, and it was just so clear that it was kind of trussed up, it was made to look very nice but it was not solid. There were areas of the drywall that were completely un-drywalled under cupboards, direct passages to the outside …”

At this point in the story would be the time that most people ask whether or not she had the house inspected before taking possession, which, she had. “I was really naive, I made the mistake of buying the house in the winter. I had an inspector (and) I was surrounded by a bunch of professionals who I believe did not do due diligence according to the Realtor’s Code, but they also did not break the law. It was horrific.”

The obvious problems with the house kept piling up, and Hines knew she had to get out. “I hated it so much, I hated the vibe of it very quickly and I thought I’d let other people deal with this, I’ll get out quickly, get out with full disclosure of all the problems, and that’s when the big doozy of the problems happened, and that’s why it’s called Crawlspace.” She laughs. “No spoilers!”

It’s awful to think that Hines’ ordeal makes for a great play, a thriller, but there are aspects of her story that serve both as a cautionary tale to those who are looking to buy a home, and offering support for those who have had real estate horror stories themselves.

“There’s so many stories out there, you have to realize, everybody’s got a real estate story, and this was quite spectacular, but there are some other really spectacular ones. I was sort of inspired to write about this partly because I heard of one more spectacular case in Toronto in which there was real human damage done. I mean, I feel damaged, but I just feel damaged – there was worse damage done, and I thought it would make this meaningless two years of my life meaningful if I could create something out of it, and if I could share it with others so that they feel some catharsis.

“So many times people come to see this play and they thank me for relieving them of the need to buy a house. It’s also a catharsis for anybody who’s had a flood or termites or bedbugs, or anything like that, there are so many stories.”

The play itself is being staged in the Studio at Theatre GRAND, an intimate space which fits only 60 people, which Hines feels is integral to the telling of this story. “That’s largely my preference for this show – more (capacity) than that and I feel like people become anonymous. At 60 I can really make contact with everyone … There’s no doubt in a space that intimate that you are seeing a person and not a character in a play, it’s a living, breathing human being … and it’s because I feel that it’s really important that people know moment by moment that this is something that happened to an actual human being and it’s not just a tale.”

One might wonder whether or not there are aspects of the play that are embellished, improvised, or even fabricated in order to make a better story, but Hines didn’t need to add to it, sadly.

“The fact that I don’t (embellish) I think makes it more powerful, I think people can sense that, when you see a play and you know that it’s been changed,” she explains. “What has been changed are the names of people and the neighbourhoods because I don’t want to get sued. And … I’ve changed some things to protect the personal lives of the people who were involved in it with me at that time, but as far as the numbers, the numbers are real. As far as the facts, I don’t say anything about any of the professionals, the shady professionals, that I can’t back up with proof and documentation, but also the documentation of other professionals that came in at a certain point and corroborated my theory that there might be something shady going on, so yeah, it’s all real and it needed no embellishment, it really didn’t.”

As horrific as Hines’ tale of home ownership is, it has, for the most part, been resolved and she has definitely moved on and ended up learning a little something from her experience. “It sounds corny, but I found out what is truly important to me … Also I would say that in terms of my personal life, I mean this is not a part of the show, but what’s come out of it is a happy ending in that I live in Calgary now with my husband and I don’t think that would have happened if that house hadn’t been such a disaster. I feel very happy to be here … so many many good things came out of it.”

Crawlspace runs Jan. 15 – 19 in The Studio at The GRAND as part of the High Performance Rodeo. For showtimes and tickets please go to

Kari Watson is a writer and former Listings Editor of FFWD Weekly, and has continued to bring The Culture Cycle event listings to Calgary through theYYSCENE. Contact her at