Real Estate

Buy the Way: This family sold their dream property to buy a move-in-ready cabin

The exterior of the Vanderzees new cottage on Pigeon Lake Photo by Amanda Vanderzee

The search
Amanda and Mike VanderZee had big plans for their dream cottage. The Edmonton couple had inherited a lakefront plot of land about an hour outside of the city on Pigeon Lake, Alta., through Mike’s father after he had passed away in 2018. “It was a dream of Mike’s parents that became our dream,” says Amanda. With Amanda’s background as an architect and Mike’s as a property manager, they were both handy with tools and building plans—so they started saving and dreaming. (“We had a village of plans,” says Amanda. “And 3D renderings for them too.”) As they honed in on the design, even their then-10-year-old daughter, Laura, got in on the planning. “She set aside $60 and said, ‘This is for the lake, Mom,’” says Amanda. Then the pandemic hit, and the cost of lumber and building materials skyrocketed. And, suddenly, the idea of taking another few years to build their dream cottage didn’t seem so dreamy after all. “We realized we could spend two years building a new place and have a lot of costs—and Laura would be two years older,” says Amanda. “And we really only have her with us for another eight or so years.”

The Vanderzee family standing on a frozen lake
Photo by Amanda Vanderzee

The compromise
On a lark, they decided to start browsing One Saturday, Amanda saw a 1,200-sq.-ft. cottage listed for $600,000, also on Pigeon Lake. The family set up a showing and instantly liked the place. “It was pristine to 1987,” Amanda says—and it was still occupied by its original owner, who was in her 90s.

The silver lining
After a second viewing and some back and forth with the owner, they signed the deal for $577,000 last August. The family has zero regrets about jumping into ownership, despite the local real estate market softening a bit since then. “The writing was on the wall that prices would go down, even when we bought,” says Amanda. “But we didn’t want to wait anymore—it was time to start living life at the cottage.”

What’s happening in the Alberta recreational property market?

Looking to get into the vacation property market sooner than later in Alberta? Realtor Jessie McCracken of YEGPro Realty has a few tips.

Pigeon Lake is a much-loved destination for recreational properties in Alberta—it’s easy to get to from Edmonton, is great for boating, and it’s well-populated with summer villages. And that’s also affected prices in the area. “The more popular lakes, such as Pigeon and Wabamun, have properties that are going for upwards of $1.5 to $2 million,” says McCracken. But there are still deals to be had. Smaller lakes such as Lac Ste. Anne and Lake Isle—still just over an hour from Edmonton— have waterfront cabins for around $300,000. And if you’re game for lake view instead, she notes, almost all the lakes surrounding the city will have options under $300,000. And while increasing interest rates have caused the real estate market to slow across the country, the investor market in Alberta— those folks looking for a property they can enjoy and rent out—has taken off in the last couple of years, so the market is generally more competitive than it used to be.

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