Real Estate

The Move: From a postage stamp–sized lot in London to greener pastures in Moncton

Hayley and Mike wanted to "get the hell out of London." (Their words.) Now, they live affordably—and regret-free—on the coast of New Brunswick
Jadine Ngan
A man and a woman standing and holding hands with a black dog by their feet, standing in front of a white house

The buyers:

Hayley Burrell, a 39-year-old realtor and Mike Dalgleish, a 39-year-old lawn-care entrepreneur

The budget:

$300,000

The backstory:

Like many millennials, Hayley Burrell wanted to be a homeowner by the time she turned 30. (She was 28 at the time of this revelation.) She took a portion of her earnings from her job as a security guard at a London, Ontario hospital and funnelled them into an RRSP, hoping to take advantage of Canada’ first-time home buyer incentive. By 2013, just after her 29th birthday, she’d managed to save enough money to purchase a recently renovated three-bedroom semi detached home in London, Ontario for $158,000. She met Mike on Tinder the following year.

By December of 2015, the couple had moved in together in the home Hayley bought, adding Rory—a giant Schnauzer—to the mix two years later. Hayley and Mike both liked that the property was a short drive to both of their jobs; the downside was that it topped out at 900 square feet. “Our backyard was the size of a postage stamp,” Hayley says. It was nowhere near big enough for Rory, who quickly grew to 110 pounds.

The city around them was also beginning to feel cramped. More and more big-box stores and apartment buildings seemed to pop up around London with every passing year. The sprawl wasn’t just a figment of their imaginations: in 2019, 60,000 people left Toronto and Peel Region, with many of them ending up in London. As a result, traffic was getting worse. The 10-kilometre drive to Hayley’s parents’ house in the city’s northeast end ballooned from 30 minutes in length to a whole hour.

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The big squeeze made Hayley and Mike think of Hayley’s brother, who moved to Prince Edward Island in 2015. The couple agreed they felt more at home at family cottages than in the city, but finding that kind of calm (and affordable real estate) close to London wasn’t a possibility. It was in P.E.I. Unfortunately, there was the small matter of Hayley’s job, which came with a pension and benefits. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, she planned to stay in that role until retirement.

In October 2019, after 15 years spent working at the hospital, Hayley lost her job. She was devastated, but it opened up the possibility of a big move. Luckily, Mike’s job at Canada Post allowed him to relocate nearly anywhere in the country. Their mutual desire to “get the hell out of London,” as she puts it, was clear. The only question was where, exactly, they’d end up.

A woman kissing her Black dog while sitting on steps in her home and her partner looking at them.

The hunt:

A few weeks after Hayley was let go, she told her old London-based realtor that she and Mike were ready to sell. Mike filed transfer paperwork with Canada Post depots across New Brunswick—where real-estate costs were more reasonable—and received an approval for Moncton. In February of 2020, the couple left their keys with their realtor for showings and made the trek out east in search of properties, with Rory in tow.

Hayley and Mike viewed more than 17 homes in two days. One of them was a farmhouse on 100 acres of land in the small New Brunswick village of Memramcook. It had potential: Hayley grew up horseback riding and always dreamed of having a small farm with a few horses. Mike had always wanted an ATV, which he could ride on nearby trails. But the property needed a lot of work. It had a narrow floorplan, and the couple preferred an open-concept layout. The property itself was also heavily forested. Neither Hayley nor Mike were sold on clearing all those trees.

After putting a pin in the farmhouse, the couple came across a three-bedroom, two-bathroom prefab mini home in Cap-Pelé listed for $259,000—their final showing of the trip. It had an attached garage, a workshop and a sunroom. The current owners had lit a roaring fire for the showing, adding to the home’s already cozy feel. Their son had also left his hockey equipment around the home, which helped Mike and Hayley picture raising their own kids in the space. Unlike the farmhouse, this home didn’t need much work and the nearby town was quintessential coastal Atlantic, with only a grocery store, a post office, a lobster plant and a few restaurants.

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Torn between the farmhouse and the Cap-Pelé prefab, Hayley and Mike headed back to their hotel room and drew up a list of pros and cons for each and called family for advice. The following morning, they placed an offer of $252,000 on the Cap-Pelé home, $7,000 under asking. The sellers made a counter-offer of $256,000. Looking back, Hayley thinks that they could have returned with $253,000, but they were afraid to offend and eager to wrap negotiations. The sellers accepted on a Tuesday, and Hayley and Mike’s London home went on the market the next day. It sold before the weekend.

It was early March by the time Hayley and Mike made it back home to London. Days later, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. New Brunswick banned all non-essential travel and closed its borders, setting up checkpoints at the crossings to Quebec, Nova Scotia, and P.E.I. Hayley and Mike were left scrambling to figure out whether they’d be able to travel to their new home.

They cancelled the movers and cleaners they’d booked and loaded a U-Haul themselves. They also learned that, upon arriving in New Brunswick, they would need to quarantine for two weeks; grocery delivery wasn’t available. The day before they left Ontario, the couple bought three large coolers which they loaded up with food from Costco. (Rory got her own small food cooler.) Hayley and Mike prepared a file with all their real-estate documents in case they ran into trouble at the border, but they crossed with no administrative issues. Not even a snowstorm or a blown tire three hours from Moncton could stop them. They pulled up outside their new home past midnight, threw their mattress on the floor and went to sleep in their winter coats, utterly exhausted.

Hayley and Mike spent the majority of their two-week quarantine unpacking. COVID restrictions made it especially difficult to meet new people at first. All non-essential businesses were closed and local restaurants were only allowed to offer takeout. Hayley made the unconventional decision to create a Tinder profile for herself and Mike, stipulating that they were looking for friendship only. They became fast buddies with a local couple who introduced Hayley and Mike to everyone they knew.

Three years in, Hayley says she and Mike are thriving in Cap-Pelé. The view from their back door in London included townhouses and a dumpster; in Cap-Pelé, their backyard is practically a forest. In addition to Rory, they’ve also become parents to a mixed flock of ducks and chickens, which once topped out at 40 birds. In the evenings, they let Rory chase seagulls on L’aboiteau Beach, which is a few kilometres away from their house.

Hayley and Mike’s money also stretches further in New Brunswick than it did in Ontario. Most of their acquaintances in the area are self-employed, and Mike recently started his own lawn care business. Hayley also made a career change—she now works in real estate alongside the Moncton realtor that sold them their home. Encouraged by their daughter, Hayley’s parents recently moved to Moncton, too. “We appreciate where we grew up, but this was definitely the right move for us,” Hayley says. “No regrets!”