The search: After five years of looking for a wilderness retreat, Sault Ste. Marie-based couple Evan Timusk and Jenn Vosper were beginning to lose hope. They had budgeted up to $80,000 for an isolated property surrounded by Crown land, ideally with water access. Mature forest was another objective that further pigeonholed their search. “It seems like most people clear the trees before they sell the land,” says Evan. “We were getting tired of looking at saplings and skidder trails.”
The compromise: In October 2019, they received a surprise tip on a remote, 76-acre parcel located in the headwaters of the Thessalon River, 40 km north of Bruce Mines, Ont. The former mining claim property hadn’t been visited by the family in more than 50 years and was about to be offloaded in an estate sale. Sensing a great opportunity, the couple bushwhacked there by GPS and discovered old-growth pine, rugged hills, and a clearwater river with gravel shores. “We instantly fell in love,” says Jenn.
Evan and Jenn hustled to make a bid before the property was listed. They offered $32,000, hedging that difficult access would dissuade competition. The family countered at $36,000, and the couple accepted. The deal closed after an eight-month wait while the estate was settled in court, which Evan says is normal for this type of purchase.
The silver lining: Evan and Jenn decided to build their own cabin, settling on a 16-by-20-foot structure using locally harvested (and milled by hand) rafters on stick-framed and insulated walls. They found trailer-loads of rough cut lumber on Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace, along with windows and a stove for a sauna. (Building in an unorganized township allowed the couple to bypass graded lumber.) Total material costs— enough for a cabin, sauna, and shed— tallied $24,000.
After making six weeks of concerted effort and hauling endless loads of materials to the building site, the cabin took shape. By first snow, they’d framed and sheathed the cabin and added a steel roof. The couple plan to finish the interior this year, with the goal of being able to relax and enjoy the place in 2023. “There was still a bit of uncertainty while we waited for the legal proceedings, especially during the pandemic,” says Jenn. “It’s been a great experience to work together on such a lengthy project. Every new step now feels like a victory.”
Owner advice: How to navigate an estate sale
Evan and Jenn admit they got lucky in many ways. For starters, pre-pandemic prices for recreational land in northern Ontario’s Algoma district typically ran $1,000 per acre, and they’ve surged since. It also isn’t easy to find an estate sale. The couple cast a wide net by leveraging contacts in real estate offices and speaking with agents who specialized in their target area. Finally, they made an informed offer: being aware of the remoteness of the property, the difficult access, and the fact that “no one in the family had likely stepped foot there and had no attachment to the place” enabled them to score a lowball deal, Evan says.
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