Real Estate

Buy the Way: This family saved money by buying land and building a yurt

two small girls sitting outside of a yurt built on a wooden platform in a forest Photo by Claire Dagenais and Brady Del Rosario

The backstory: Toronto couple Brady Del Rosario and Claire Dagenais have always felt at home in a rural setting. While they both grew up in the GTA, Claire, a 37-year-old events and administrative consultant, often stayed at her grandmother’s farm in Bas-Saint-Laurent, Que., while Brady, a 39-year-old architect, was a regular at his grandfather’s trailer in the Ottawa Valley.

After their daughters Gabrielle, 8, and Cosette, 5, were born, Brady and Claire were eager to share similar experiences with them. “We’d go camping most summers, but we wanted a place of our own we could use year-round,” says Claire. In 2019, the family began searching for properties within a three-hour drive of Toronto. Also on their checklist: an acre of land and water access.

The compromise: With a roughly $200,000 budget, the family was priced out of Muskoka and the Kawarthas, where cottages and vacant lots started at almost $400,000. When the pandemic struck, prices soared even higher as demand for recreational properties skyrocketed. The family considered cheaper empty lots—even if they couldn’t afford to build a cottage on one quite yet. “We figured this was our last chance to get our foot in the door,” says Brady. “We decided to buy land so we could eventually build the cottage of our dreams.”

In the spring of 2020, the family booked a few viewings of vacant lots in Marmora, Ont., a small community located nearly two and a half hours east of Toronto. They fell in love with Marmora’s pristine farmland and majestic pine forests. That May, they found a wooded two-acre lot a short drive from town. They bought it for $150,000—slightly under the asking price—the following month. 

The family debated several affordable short-term building options, including bunkies and treehouses. “But then we thought, why not a yurt?” says Claire. In 2019, the family had rented a yurt during
a trip to Pinery Provincial Park in Grand Bend, Ont. They appreciated how a yurt required less upkeep than a cabin and offered more living space and protection from the elements than a tent.

In the summer of 2020, they purchased a DIY kit from Yurta, a company based in Greenwood, Ont. Over the next four months, the family regularly drove up to their property. Claire and the girls cleared branches and rocks off the land, and she and Brady built a deck to serve as the yurt’s foundation. The family assembled the 226-sq. ft. yurt on the deck soon after. That winter, they added a woodstove and stainless-steel chimney. All told, the yurt, deck, building supplies, and furnishings cost around $30,000. “Building the deck was a lot of effort, but working on our yurt together became a special bonding time for us,” says Brady.

The silver lining: Claire and Brady plan on building a permanent cottage within the next 10 years. But for the time being, the family is enjoying the yurt. They have since made the trek there at least once a month. During those visits, Gabrielle and Cosette can be found swinging in hammocks or on birdwatching expeditions in their little neck of the woods. “Our yurt has made us realize we won’t need a showstopping lakeside cottage,” says Claire.

Owner Advice: Is a yurt right for you?

You get a yurt for a fraction of the cost of a cottage
Starting from as low as $11,000, yurts offer an affordable point of entry for families with modest budgets. “Yurts are also expandable,” says Brady. “If you want more square footage, it’s just a
matter of adding some carpentry and fabric.”

If you aren’t a DIYer, yurts might not be the best option for you
Brady and Claire erected their yurt in a day, but building its foundations and flooring required months of work. If you aren’t handy with a power saw, and Ikea furniture assembly gives you nightmares, the added cost of hiring a contractor could make the project unfeasible. 

Yurts offer versatility and adaptability
Lightweight and collapsible, yurts can be packed into a trailer or moved around a property. “We built ours on a floating deck with adjustable footings,” says Brady. That makes yurts perfect for families with evolving plans. For example, Claire and Brady aim to use theirs as a guest house in the back half of their land once their cottage is built. 

Yurts aren’t ideal for the winter months
“Our yurt’s woodstove keeps us surprisingly warm, but we wouldn’t want to spend the night if temperatures dropped below -15°C,” says Claire. And since their yurt doesn’t have plumbing, the family uses a camping toilet inside a separate tent.

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