The move: Why this cramped Toronto couple moved to Moncton
Living and working in a 650 square foot space was a constraint for Julie Gauthier and Adrian Sampson. So they headed for New Brunswick.
The buyers :
Julie Gauthier, a 57-year-old retired flight attendant and her husband, Adrian Sampson, a 56-year-old personal trainer.
Julie and Adrian had been renting the same one-bedroom apartment in Toronto’s Davisville neighborhood since 2011. Julie, a flight attendant for Air Canada, regularly took public transit to work, while Adrian had his own personal training business and visiting clients in their homes for workouts. When the pandemic started, Adrian began hosting 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 sight when I was home,” says Julie. “I would make sure my phone was fully charged and for a few hours I would go do laundry in the basement. We knew it wouldn’t work long term.
An apartment upgrade was not financially feasible either. At the time, the couple was only paying $1,650 a month for their Davisville apartment thanks to rent control. But change was in the air: Julie was eligible to retire from December 2020, and after 30 years of shift work, she was ready to quit her high-flying job. The couple started thinking about moving out of Ontario, where they could afford a spare bedroom or a finished basement for Adrian’s exercise equipment. They first thought of Gaspé, Quebec, where Julie’s family is from, but houses were scarce and it seemed too far away. Quebec City was briefly in contention, but Adrian’s French wasn’t up to snuff. Then Julie thought of Moncton, New Brunswick, where she had attended university for two years before dropping out and flying away. “I knew there was a good balance,” she says. “It has all the necessities and services of a city, but it’s more like country living.”
In November 2020, the couple contacted a Moncton real estate agent and came up with a budget of $250,000. They originally planned to rent an Airbnb and browse the available three-bedroom listings in person, but, like Adrian’s business, COVID restrictions moved their search online. “Everything I saw had offers or was already sold,” says Julie. “I was sending ads to my real estate agent and he was like, ‘It’s sold. Later that month, an agent from Moncton showed a three-bedroom tractor-trailer in nearby Shediac, also known as the lobster capital of the world. It was listed at $186,000 (a steal), but it needed some major work. “The agent said the upstairs floors were a bit off,” Adrian recalls. “You you could land a ball and it would quickly start rolling.” Tilting sideways, they made a lowball bid of $170,000, but ended up losing to a higher bid.
A few days later, Julie received a mid-morning call from her real estate agent about a listing that was back on the market after financing failed — twice. It was another three-bedroom, three-bathroom semi-apartment, this time located in Dieppe, a city of 28,000 people 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 that Julie could practice her native language. “I didn’t use French a lot in Toronto,” she says. “My vocabulary was suffering.”
The home, which was 1,800 square feet, was located on a quiet yard near grocery stores and a mall. There was an open plan main floor with a living room, dining room and a large kitchen with ample counter space for meal preparation. (Julie was a pandemic-inspired baker.) There was also an exit to a patio and a 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 real estate agent showed them everything on FaceTime. “The call cut off a lot,” says Julie, “but he kept saying, ‘That’s a good house. He has good bones, and you should go. 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.
Julie and Adrian spent their last urban Christmas in typical Toronto fashion: cramped. They enjoyed a traditional turkey dinner at their apartment with a close friend in their COVID bubble. Boxes were everywhere, but the chaos was minimal. Julie, queen of the self-proclaimed organization, had already numbered each one. Adrian had already reserved space for their belongings on an 18-wheeler that was ferrying the belongings of several families to the east coast, and they packed everything they would need for the first few weeks in Moncton in their VW Golf: folding chairs , frozen meals, mats, weights and exercise balls. They drove east for two beautiful sunny days, stopping one night in Quebec. “It’s a bit weird to buy a house without seeing it,” says Julie. “On the one hand, you are excited about the new adventure. But you also have this feeling of: I hope this place is as good as I think.”
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 free time visiting local parks and beaches. Julie always bakes a lot of bread and takes care of the garden, and Adrian takes out his mountain bike (with snow tires during the winter months). “There’s even a pheasant sitting on our patio,” says Julie. “That didn’t happen in Toronto. Sometimes they miss city life, but they are grateful to have moved before the East Coast boom. Homes like theirs now sell for $100,000 more than they did a few years ago, a reminder of Toronto. They feel settled now, but Julie, who has spent most of her career in transit, hints another move may be on the horizon. “Do we say never forever, Adrian?” she jokes.