Real Estate

The Move: Why this cramped Toronto couple made the move to Moncton

Living and working within 650 square feet was a squeeze for Julie Gauthier and Adrian Sampson. So they headed for New Brunswick.
Andrea Yu
couple

The buyers:

Julie Gauthier, a 57-year-old retired flight attendant and her husband, Adrian Sampson, a 56-year-old personal trainer.

The budget:

$250,000

The backstory:

Julie and Adrian had been renting the same one-bedroom apartment in Toronto’s Davisville neighbourhood since 2011. Julie, a flight attendant for Air Canada, regularly took transit to work, while Adrian had his own personal-training business and visited clients at their homes for workouts. When the pandemic began, Adrian began running virtual training sessions three to five times a day—live from the living room of the couple’s 650-square-foot condo. “I had to be out of view when I was home,” Julie says. “I’d make sure my phone was fully charged and, for a couple of hours, I’d go do laundry in the basement. We knew that wouldn’t work long term.”

An apartment upgrade wasn’t financially feasible, either. At the time, the couple paid just $1,650 a month for their Davisville pad thanks to rent control. But change was in the air: Julie was eligible for retirement as of December 2020, and after 30-odd years of shift work, she was ready to leave her high-flying job. The couple started entertaining a move out of Ontario—somewhere they’d be able to afford a spare bedroom or a finished basement for Adrian’s exercise equipment. First, they thought of Gaspé, in Quebec—where Julie’s family is from—but homes were in short supply and it seemed too remote. Quebec City was briefly in contention, but Adrian’s French wasn’t up to it. Then, Julie thought of Moncton, New Brunswick, where she’d attended university for two years before quitting school and taking to the skies. “I knew it had a good balance,” she says. “It has all the necessities and services of a city, but it feels more like country life.”

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The hunt:

In November of 2020, the couple connected with a Moncton-based real estate agent and set a budget of $250,000. Initially, they’d planned to rent an Airbnb and scope out available three-bedroom listings in person, but, as with Adrian’s business, COVID restrictions shifted their search online. “Everything I saw had offers in or was already sold,” Julie says. “I’d send listings to my realtor and he’d be like, ‘It‘s sold. It’s gone.’” Later in the month, they had a Moncton agent tour a three-bedroom semi in the nearby town of Shediac, also known as the Lobster Capital of the World. It was listed for $186,000 (a steal), but it needed major work. “The agent said the upstairs floors were a bit off,” Adrian remembers. “You could put a ball down and it would quickly start rolling away.” Tilt aside, they entered a lowball offer of $170,000, but ended up losing out to a higher bid.

A few days later, Julie got a mid-morning call from her realtor about a listing that was back on the market after financing had fallen through—twice. It was another three-bed, three-bath semi, this time located in Dieppe, a city of 28,000 a five-minute drive from Moncton. More than half of Dieppe’s citizens are native French-speakers, but many are bilingual, which was good news for Adrian and also meant Julie could practise her mother tongue. “I didn’t use French much in Toronto,” she says. “My vocabulary was suffering.”

The house, which measured 1,800 square feet, sat on a quiet court close to grocery stores and a shopping mall. It had an open-concept main floor with a living room, dining room and a large kitchen with ample counter space for meal prep. (Julie was a pandemic-inspired bread baker.) There was also a walkout to a deck and backyard with two storage sheds. The second floor had three bedrooms with room for guests, and there was a finished basement with space for Adrian’s fitness classes. The realtor showed it all to them over FaceTime. “The call cut out a lot,” Julie says, “but he kept saying, ‘It’s a good house. It’s got good bones, and you should go for it.’ So we did.” After a brief back-and-forth, the house was theirs for $186,000 and they set a move-in date for early December.

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Julie and Adrian spent their last urban Christmas in true Toronto fashion: cramped. They enjoyed a traditional turkey dinner at their apartment with a close friend in their COVID bubble. Boxes were everywhere, but chaos was minimal. Julie, a self-proclaimed organization queen, had already numbered each one. Adrian had already secured space for their stuff on an 18-wheeler that was transporting several families’ belongings to the east coast, and they packed everything they’d need for the first few weeks in Moncton into their VW Golf: folding chairs, frozen meals, mats, weights and exercise balls. They drove east for two beautiful, sunny days, stopping for one night in Québec City. “It’s a bit weird to buy a house sight-unseen,” Julie says. “On one hand, you’re excited about the new adventure. But you also have that feeling of: I hope this place is as good as I think it is.

So far, the Dieppe house has exceeded expectations. During the couple’s first summer in Moncton, family and friends came to visit, and Julie and Adrian spent their unoccupied time visiting local parks and beaches. Julie still cooks up lots of bread and tends to the garden, and Adrian busts out his mountain bike (with snow tires in the winter months). “There’s even a pheasant that sits on our deck,” Julie says. “That didn’t happen in Toronto.” Occasionally, they miss city life, but they’re grateful they made the move before the East Coast boom set in. Houses like theirs are now selling for $100,000 more than they did just a couple of years ago—a reminder of Toronto. They feel settled now, but Julie, who spent most of her career in transit, hints that another move might be on the horizon. “Do we ever say forever, Adrian?” she jokes.