Billie Jean Hingley, a 39-year-old registered nurse; K.C. Hingley, a 43-year-old musician; and their kids: Asher, who’s five, and Ember, who’s three.
Until recently, Billie Jean and K.C. had only ever called British Columbia home—she’s originally from the Sunshine Coast and he hails from Vancouver Island. In 2018, when Billie Jean got pregnant with Asher, the couple’s first child, they moved out of the two-bedroom townhouse they shared in Courtenay and bought a four-bedroom split-level detached model located on a family-friendly suburban cul de sac, an ideal spot for their growing brood. (They banked on having at least one more kid.)
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The Hingley household was dual-income: Billie Jean worked as a registered nurse at a hospital in Comox Valley, while K.C. managed a local music store and toured a few weeks a year with PIGS, a Pink Floyd tribute band. But after their daughter, Ember, was born in 2019, the couple began to feel the financial pinch of B.C.’s steep daycare costs. Full-time spots for two kids set the Hingleys back $2,300 every month, and by September of 2021, the expense had landed them deep in debt. “We were living in overdraft,” Billie Jean says. “We felt pretty hopeless.”
The couple considered downsizing back into a townhouse, but B.C.’s housing market had gone berserk in the time since they’d had their kids. Factoring in moving costs, they realized they wouldn’t be much better off. K.C. had his own reservations. “A townhouse isn’t ideal for playing music and lugging gear in and out,” Billie Jean says. “Some of his equipment is temperature-sensitive, so even if we had a garage, we wouldn’t have been able to store it there.”
An out-of-province move seemed like the only affordable option, so the Hingleys started sifting through listings in Alberta, Saskatchewan and as far as the East Coast. “We were seeing houses listed for $200,000 that were 100 times nicer than ours—and on beaches!” Billie Jean says. For the artsy couple, Nova Scotia, with its world-renowned music scene and vibrant kitchen parties, emerged as the market to beat. And for a family used to astronomical childcare costs, the fact that the province offered free pre-primary school only added to its appeal.
That fall, the Hingleys connected with a realtor in Truro, Nova Scotia. They figured they could sell their Courtenay house for upward of $700,000 and set themselves a budget of $400,000, which would give them a low-enough mortgage to live comfortably. Their new place needed to have at least three bedrooms—on the same floor, to keep their kids close—and be located near a hospital where Billie Jean could find work. K.C.’s major requirement was an outbuilding that he could turn into a music studio. The Hingleys toured through local listings via FaceTime, from B.C., but faced a ton of competition from like-minded out-of-province buyers. They were regularly outbid by $30,000 to $50,000.
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Months went by before the Hingleys video-toured an attractive property just outside of Amherst, listed for $325,000. The house was painted a charming blue and sat on a property with rolling hills and a two-storey barn-style garage, ideal for K.C.’s music-mixing needs. They put in an offer that was conditional on a home inspection—which, unfortunately, revealed a number of issues. “There was a crack right down the centre of the roof,” Billie Jean says. “You could see into the attic.” The septic system was also leaking into a ditch in front of the home. Because of how the pipes were routed, fixing it would require putting in a new driveway. When the Hingleys asked the seller to knock $10,000 off the list price, negotiations ground to a halt.
Shortly afterward, the Hingleys’ realtor floated a three-bedroom home in Sackville, just over the border into New Brunswick. It was located in a picturesque neighbourhood near Mount Allison University, and solar panels provided 80 per cent of the home’s power, which the Hingleys loved. The design choices, not so much: there were sinks in every bedroom (“a bad idea if you have young children”) and an in-ground pool had decomposed into what Billie Jean calls “a very scary pond.” That listing might’ve been a dud, but it was a stepping stone to the Hingleys’ final destination: a six-bedroom, two-bathroom home in nearby Point de Bute.
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The $320,000 property had three bedrooms on its upper level, plus three more on the main floor for guests. Built in 1860, it retained many of its original features, including a stained-glass window, rustic hardwood floors and a clawfoot tub. Elsewhere on the property was a fully electrified and insulated barn that could house K.C.’s studio, after some minor renovations. The Hingleys’ realtor had sold the house to another couple (from Ontario) in 2021, so she was able to reassure them that its bones were good. The Hingleys submitted a bid of $310,000—slightly below asking—on the same day as their viewing, pending a home inspection. When it revealed a leaky basement, they were able to knock another $10,000 off the price. The sellers agreed to the discount and a June 2022 possession date.
The Hingleys were able to offload their Courtenay property for a tidy $750,000 and a May closing. With weeks to kill until their New Brunswick move-in date, they decided to embark on a 40-day cross-Canada trip with Asher and Ember. (Aside from some minor mishaps, like out-of-order bathroom facilities at remote Yoho National Park, Billie Jean says the trip was memorable in a good way.) Upon arrival in New Brunswick, Billie Jean says the couple felt overwhelmingly validated in their decision to uproot their young children for a life yet-unseen. A friendly neighbour had been diligently collecting their mail, which had been piling up for weeks; another gave the Hingleys carte blanche to pick vegetables from their garden whenever they wanted.
Real life resumed quickly: Billie Jean landed work as a home-care nurse in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia, and K.C. got to work on his sound studio, wrapping renovations last November. (When he’s not working away on production projects, he works as an administrator in Mount Allison University’s department of music.) As for the kids, Asher currently attends kindergarten at a school located an 11-minute drive from the Hingley home. And Ember’s new daycare, also 11 minutes away by car, costs mom and dad a wallet-friendly $325 a month. With the savings, Billie Jean says they’ve been able to enroll the kids in basketball and dance classes, which would have been well outside their budget in B.C.
The Hingleys miss their relatives back home, but they’re slowly building a new, extended social network out east. They’ve started lending out their abundance of ground-floor bedrooms to participants of Workaway, a home-stay program that offers free lodging and food in exchange for work. Recently, a woman from France pitched in with cooking and childcare. And in May, the Hingleys will host a family from Switzerland, who will help them build a backyard path to K.C.’s studio. With more than enough breathing room for their own family, they’re now welcoming others.
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