If you are a Facebook friend, real estate agent, bartender, Sobey’s cashier or brick wall, you’ve probably heard about our daunting search for a home. And when I say brick wall—it’s because we were hitting our heads against one for the last nine months. Longer, actually.
Selling our little stone cottage in Galt on Facebook in August 2016 was easy. Finding a forwarding address became the arduous journey. Really, if we calculated the mileage that we clocked driving to and fro from the Frontenac to Tobermory, Kim and I probably drove to Tijuana, Mexico over 12 times. We looked at 88 houses. EIGHTY EIGHT! You know that annoying school bus song? 99 Bottles of Beer on the wall? Well, imagine 88 houses, second verse same as the first.
Our storage pod is a distant memory. We’re not even entirely sure what we own anymore—but we do know that we did not thoughtfully bring our winter boots with us to Caberneigh Farm. Since August, we have been “barn cats,” sharing space with Olive the pig, eight horses, three chickens, and two real barn cats: Lucy and Freddie (one of which—Lucy– has decided she’s over the barn thing and has been squatting quite snugly with us. A hidden camera would reveal her balled up on my jeans (yes, I’m still wearing pajamas at 1:30pm).
We never anticipated that we would be living in a barn (but, it’s a seriously fancy one—with Netflix and wifi. There’s a pool table serving double purpose as my walk-in closet, an English pub-esque oak bar on one end, and a full-on view of the riding ring. Our front balcony view is a pastoral postcard with a bonus soundtrack: great horned owls, distant spring peepers and the wild telegraph of coyotes cutting the silence. Falling stars routinely drop like confetti in the light pollution free skies of the Scugog.
This is what Plan A, B and C were: we would find a house in the fall. We would move in just before New Year’s (for sure!) and make a lovely ham studded with cloves for our family on Christmas day. Christmas and my mother’s stand-in studded ham came and went. Real estate agents (we had about seven working in our favour, at every port) promised us that January 1st was going to mark the beginning of a lava hot market. The newspaper headlines and Twitter feeds have become repetitive. The market inventory is at an all-time low, houses are going over-ask and even though it’s a sellers’ market—sellers are afraid to sell because what the hell are they going to buy?
So, January was a blow-out. Kim and I were on repeat. Wake, turn on laptop, gently nudge Cuisinart coffee maker switch to ‘on.’ Spend next three hours crawling through potential realtor.ca listings from Lake Erie to Crotch Lake to Devil Lake to where? It didn’t even matter anymore.
We looked in Trent Hills, Campbellford, Prince Edward County, Napanee, Perth, Smiths Falls, Jasper, Verona (see what I mean? Where?), South Frontenac, Tweed, Cramahae, Tobermory, Meaford, Tiny (until we found out my ex had a cottage there a Tiny became too tiny), Port Albert, Port Franks, South Big Island, Grand Bend, Wolfe Island, Pelee, the Moira River, Meyers Island, Warkworth, Waupoos, Westport, Elora, Fergus. And, back. Then to Belize on one we-give-up night.
Just pick a place. We looked at a house or a chunk of property there.
We looked at old farmhouses, log homes, pan-abodes, contemporary builds, churches, container homes, passive solar houses, three-season cottages, cottages still vintage 1963 with avocado everything, paneling and shag. We started at a hopeful $300K and upped our budget by $200,000 in no time.
Every house hunting and gathering trip ended with exasperation. I looked for signs in the bubbles of our beer foam. I slept-in longer, hoping for an epiphany. Kim started designing house plans on serviettes and we actually sat down and crunched numbers with half a dozen builders. We couldn’t even build what we wanted because we couldn’t find land. The vacant lots either required a snowmobile or aqua-lunged Land Rover to get to. We put in an offer on one sunset lot in Prince Edward County for $189,900. For a sliver of steep lakefront. It was almost too quiet there though—we could actually hear the blood cycling through our head. Luckily, we were out bid, though we had visions of a Nordic Stark stacked container design in which we would live happily ever after, foraging mushrooms and asparagus while fermenting pine needles to make gin.
There’s no need to go into all the disappointing details of the 87 houses that didn’t pan out. Just insert something—carpenter ants, pigs for neighbours (real pigs), a cemetery two steps from the back door, a heaving floor, junker neighbours with a tent city made out of tarps and dismantled cars…
Our most viable options looked something like this:
Every day we gave up something on our wish list. Gone were sunsets. Gone was waterfront. Gone was our notion of living in Prince Edward County—the place we had funneled so much attention and affection for.
Our friend and family circle didn’t help matters. Kim no longer needed to be close to the steel mill and I could work anywhere with an internet connection.
We wanted so few things—but, we know the whispers were all about us being too picky. Is a golf course, microbrewery and library all in one 50km radius too much to ask?
We did not want to settle for generic. We did not want to be house poor or have to sacrifice spontaneous trips to Africa. Yes, we wanted it all, right down to the Japanese soaker tub and shiplapped walls.
Don’t even ask how many hours of HGTV we’ve consumed. Or, how many bottles of pre-celebration champagne we drank, so sure that the house we were going to see the next morning was the sacred one.
Until, finally, one unexpected day (in particular, March 29th) we unearthed the home we had been looking bleary-eyed for. It was in the Northern Bruce Peninsula! No wonder we couldn’t find it! After we had exhausted our viable options in Grand Bend and Bayfield that same week we began the online X-ray scan of listings again.
“Where was that place you loved so much last week?” I asked Kim.
“Near Tobermory. I thought we ruled that area out though because it’s so far.”
It was far, but as close as we’d ever come to our vision. In fact, it was so convincing that we were ready to buy it over the phone. My reserved enthusiasm went 360 and the thoughts of going to check out this Northern Bruce Peninsula house. Where? It was 7km from Lion’s Head with had a farmer’s market, Foodland, LCBO, vintage café and Lion’s Head Inn pub. See, we’d be close to stuff!
I read further. The house was right on the 45th parallel—half way to the equator and half way to the North Pole! Yes, we had crossed off Tobermory because it was just so frozen and desolate in January when we went.
We wanted privacy, we didn’t want nosey parker neighbours. We wanted sunsets and a lake. This was it! Vaulted ceilings, the open floor plan, soaker tub, hardwood, workshop, garage…and, it was all in a designated Dark Sky Community! We’d be living in a UNESCO World Heritage site. I started looking up local birds and ferns (there are orchids in this area that grow nowhere else in the world).
We phoned our agent, Ashley Barker, who we had kindly “broke up” with after our last trip to Tobermory. The Bruce Peninsula was back on our horizon. We had seen 87 houses to know that this was what we wanted. It had been on the market 10 days and the northern market was starting to thaw. “You should come see it soon.”
Kim and I went the very next day. It was slate grey skies and miserable out but the house had a glow of its own. We pulled up the driveway and knew. For the first time, it was better than the photos on realtor.ca
I didn’t even grab our camera (which I routinely did on our searches). I wanted to take it all in—and, I knew it was going to be ours—I could take all the pictures I wanted then.
We laughed about considering Tiny House Nation. We had just bought a 2750-square foot house! Four bathrooms?? It was bigger than we imagined, but it was everything—tucked in a forest of cedars and birch. A tiny dock positioned to take in the wide screen sunsets. No grass to cut. No master gardens to crook our backs managing like we did in Galt.
There was no exhaustive list of changes (though we will work some shiplap and cement counter tops into the mix) that would include blowing the roof off. It was bright and freeing…the kind of place you walk into and take a deep breath. Where you can actually feel yourself breathe easier. We walked around like those buyers on fixer-uppers shows that can only say, “WOW” and “Oh my god!”
88 houses later. We found our wow.