The backstory: When he was growing up in Florenceville-Bristol, N.B., on the East Coast, 46-year-old film producer and consultant Sandy Hunter spent time at his family camp near the St. John River, fishing and hiking with his father and brother. After moving to Toronto in 1997, Sandy regularly made the trek home to visit family and friends. “But it was always my dream to get my own camp in the Maritimes,” he says.
The search: When COVID-19 struck, Sandy found himself trapped in his Toronto home for the first of many lockdowns. He’d heard of countless Ontarians escaping to the Atlantic coast—eager to do the same, Sandy drove from Toronto to the East Coast in July 2020. After quarantining in his family’s garage in New Brunswick, he prepared a detailed itinerary of 30 listings to tour and set about scouring the province for a cottage under $350,000. “I wanted at least an acre near the water and some tree cover for privacy,” he says. He viewed 22 listings, starting on the Bay of Fundy coast in the south before working his way north to Grand Lake, 40 minutes east of Fredericton. “It was fun, but by day five, I was running on fumes.” In August, work obligations called him back to Toronto empty-handed, but he’d narrowed down his search to the Grand Lake area. “It had plenty of tree cover and beautiful beaches,” says Sandy.
When Ontario went into another lockdown, travel restrictions prevented Sandy from resuming his search in the winter. “The market was heating up, and I knew I had to act,” he says. He enlisted his sister Patricia and his brother-in-law, who live in nearby Fredericton, to search on his behalf. In March 2021, Sandy joined Patricia via FaceTime on a tour of a 1,000 sq. ft. cottage on a 1.8-acre lot on French Lake. Listed for $225,000, the three-bedroom, one-bathroom secluded camp had a screened-in veranda in the front, large sliding doors overlooking the water 30 feet away, and a bunkie with space for three guests. “I couldn’t see the place myself, but my sister loved the property, and everything about it felt right,” says Sandy.
The silver lining: After his parents vetted the place and a property inspection, Sandy bought the camp for $220,000. He plans to fix up the road and, eventually, replace the bunkie’s roof. But for now, he’s content with swimming and kayaking. “I’m hoping to spend my summers here on the East Coast and then rent in Toronto for the rest of the year,” he says. “Getting this camp felt like a full-time job, but I’m pretty excited to enjoy it.”
Sandy’s three tips to buy a property sight unseen
1. Location, location, location
Doing your research on the area surrounding your property is just as important as researching the property itself. “Try finding out how far you are from the nearest town and what amenities that town has,” says Sandy, who adds that figuring out the road conditions around any given property was also on his checklist. “An 80-kilometre drive on a country road in rough shape is going to take much longer than an 80-kilometre drive on a paved highway.”
2. Boots on the ground
Find trusted family or friends in the area who know exactly what you’re looking for in your new place. “My wonderful sister and brother-in-law generously acted as my eyes and ears in New Brunswick,” says Hunter. “Without them, I would probably still be searching for a cottage today.”
3. Wi-Fi check
Planning on working remotely at your new cottage? Double check the internet before signing the dotted line. “The last thing I wanted to do was buy a place in an internet black hole,” says Sandy. “Once I was serious about the French Lake property, I had my agent and a trusted friend verify the internet quality.”
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