This couple wanted a pandemic escape plan—so they bought a cottage in Prince Edward County
Who: Meaghan Eyolfson, 30, legal consultant at Deloitte; and Bryden Teich, 33, portfolio manager at an investment firm; with their dogs, Millie and Wesley
The buy: a four-bedroom, three-bathroom cottage on a 12-acre plot in Prince Edward County
Meaghan: Bryden and I both grew up in Bloor West Village and met while we were attending Humberside Collegiate. I was a first-year and he was a senior, but we were both heavily involved in the school’s athletic program, so we saw each other all the time. That’s how we became friends. We went our separate ways after Bryden graduated. He studied economics at U of T on a hockey scholarship, and I went to Queen’s for global development studies.
Bryden: In 2016, we reconnected and started dating. I had a job at a boutique investment firm near St. Lawrence Market and Meaghan was taking law at the University of Ottawa. We’d hang out whenever she came back to Toronto to visit family and friends. At the time, I was renting a condo on the Harbourfront with a few friends. But I decided I wanted to get my own place, since Meaghan and I planned to live together once she graduated. I kept searching for more than a year until I found a one-bed, one-bath condo in Corktown. In 2017, I used two years’ worth of savings for a down payment and bought the 640-square-foot unit for $440,000.
Meaghan: After finishing my law degree, in 2018, I got an articling job at Stikeman Elliot LLP in Toronto. I moved into Bryden’s Corktown condo and he proposed the following year. We got engaged and set our wedding date for the summer of 2021. Corktown was perfect for both of us. Our offices were only a short walk away, and we enjoyed grocery shopping on the weekends at St. Lawrence Market.
Bryden: We have two dogs, Wesley, a four-year-old chocolate lab, and Millie, a one-year-old German shorthaired pointer, and it was great to be able to take them on walks around the neighbourhood. But the problem was we had only 640 square feet for two people and two pets. We want to have kids, too, so we knew we eventually needed to find a bigger home.
Meaghan: We’d been saving since we started living together in 2018, but we were far from affording anything in the $1.5 million plus range, which is what you need to get a three-bedroom detached house in our preferred neighbourhoods, like Sunnylea or the Beaches. And it didn’t make sense to pay upwards of $1 million or more for a semi in, say, Leslieville, that was only slightly larger than our Corktown condo. So we decided to keep saving and put off our moving plans until 2021 or 2022, which was when we could potentially afford a home with multiple bedrooms, and a big backyard for Wesley and Millie.
Bryden: But the pandemic came along and accelerated everything. In mid-March, Meaghan started working from home, while I continued to go into the office. Since I deal with retirement investments, I’m considered an essential worker.
Meaghan: The transition to working from home was pretty seamless. That’s when I had an idea: what if we bought a home outside of the city?
Bryden: Like most people during those first few weeks of the pandemic, we were really worried. We thought it would be smart to find a safer, more isolated place outside of the city, where we could move if the virus got out of control. Our Corktown condo also didn’t have space for a proper home office. A big, affordable house somewhere else would solve that problem, and I knew I could work remotely if necessary. We’re also both outdoorsy and always appreciated being able to escape the city on weekends to recharge. Just before the pandemic hit Canada, we’d spent some time in Meaford and Tobermory.
Meaghan: We loved the peace and quiet during those weekend getaways, and it was amazing seeing the dogs running around in wide-open spaces, which they never got to do in the city. Having our own large property for the dogs and our future kids was very appealing. We wouldn’t have to worry about overcrowded schools and year-long waitlists either, which we knew would become an issue in Toronto when we started our family. So we started looking online for homes on Georgian Bay and on the Bruce Peninsula, with a maximum budget of $750,000.
Bryden: We wanted at least three bedrooms. We didn’t really care about being near the water. More than anything, we wanted a big, secluded lot. We’re both busy with our careers, so we needed a move-in-ready home that didn’t require a reno. We also wanted a closing date no sooner than the end of August, to give us some flexibility during the pandemic.
Meaghan: After some online searches, we realized we could get a lot more property and living space in the country, compared to similarly priced places in the city. We also had a hunch we might be able to get a good deal, since a lot of property owners in cottage country rented out their homes as Airbnbs, and some might be eager to sell if their revenue dried up during lockdown.
Bryden: Meaghan’s mother referred us to a Prince Edward County–based agent. On May 15, we took a road trip out to PEC to see the houses in person. The cheaper property, listed for $575,000, was in Cherry Valley, a short drive from Sandbanks Provincial Park. The four-bed, two-bath home sat on a one-acre lot, in a peaceful area with very little street noise. The kitchen and bathrooms were recently renovated. But the basement needed structural repairs and finishing, and there were several neighbours nearby. It just didn’t feel secluded enough.
Meaghan: The more expensive property, listed for $775,000, was in nearby Ameliasburgh, a township of 6,000 that hosted plenty of street fairs throughout the year. This place was the clear winner. It was a 3,000-square-foot home on a 12-acre lot. It was move-in ready, with four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a recently renovated kitchen. There were no visible neighbours and it had a decent-sized pond that freezes over in the winter. The moment I saw it, I imagined Bryden teaching our future kids to skate there.
Bryden: I’d patiently house-hunted for more than a year before buying our Corktown home, but now was the time to be decisive and opportunistic. Moving to PEC meant I’d have to work from home full-time or start doing a two-hour commute to work, but that sacrifice felt worth it for our future safety and the size of the lot. We felt we could get it for below asking, but the seller had more viewings planned later that weekend. So we decided to act fast to beat out any other potential bids. That day, we made an offer of $740,000.
Meaghan: The seller turned us down, so we upped the bid by $10,000. That didn’t do the trick either. The seller kept claiming that he had other interested buyers. We finally reached a compromise, almost 24 hours after making our starting offer: we would throw in another $15,000 in exchange for our preferred August 31 closing date. And the seller agreed. We’d managed to get our cottage and an amazing 12-acre lot for $765,000.
Bryden: Now that the panic phase of the pandemic is thankfully in the rear-view mirror, we’ve decided against moving to PEC right away like we’d originally envisioned. We’re going to keep our Corktown condo and use our cottage as a weekend and holiday getaway. We’ve both worked hard to be able to afford this property and it will be nice to share it with family and friends.
Meaghan: There’s a lot of uncertainty with my job right now. Safety is no longer as big of a concern as it was in March, but I’m still not sure whether I’ll continue to work remotely or if I’ll be expected to return to the office. So it makes sense to us to keep the condo for the time being. Until that’s figured out, we like having the option to stay in the city or leave it. Depending on what the market looks like in the next few years, we might even sell our condo and buy a larger home in the city instead of moving to PEC.
Bryden: As for me, once things go back to normal, surfing at Sandbanks in the warmer months is definitely on my to-do list. But right now, we’re just happy we’re safe and together. This whole journey has opened my eyes to the value you can get outside the city if you’re willing to be flexible with a commute. We’re still planning on getting married next summer, except now, we’d love to have a small ceremony at our new place in PEC.