“Oh Crap! …what have we done?”
It was March 2020 and the news about a terrifying global pandemic was starting to dominate news cycles everywhere. People were dying the reports said. They were calling it the Corona Virus.
The month before, we had just committed to buying a home in Toronto and a rising sense of dread was starting to build inside me.
There was no way any property market could survive a worldwide contagion. Especially a property market that was booming. Obviously, this pandemic news would bring about a massive correction. Clearly, we had bought at the very top of the market.
But in this new world, there were other things to worry about.
My wife Christine is vulnerable to an asthma attack and I was naturally worried that contracting the virus could be deadly for her. At this stage, the vaccine was still more than a year away.
I’m a big believer that mood follows action so I made the decision to get busy without really knowing where it might take me. I just felt that taking action and doing something would give me some positive momentum and take on a life of its own. It normally works for me if I’m stuck in a rut with something.
A few years before, we had built a garage beside a country property we owned and on a whim, decided to build a loft above this new building. (The main building is normally rented on Airbnb and as soon as the pandemic hit new bookings went off like a frog in a sock)
So when the Ontario government declared a state of emergency and asked everyone to isolate, I bought a chest freezer, $1000 worth of food and supplies from Costco and we headed north to the loft and hunkered down.
March turned into April and we counted our blessings we didn’t have three kids under ten going crazy in lockdown because the schools were closed. We both worked online from home so it was a fun change spending more time together and learning to live this new life. Christine worked in the loft and I set up a workspace in one corner of the garage below.
More than just adjusting to these changes, I began to feel I was missing something and it was around this time I started to think about reinventing my life, my lifestyle, and my business interests. I had done it once before when I moved to Canada so it wasn’t so scary.
It’s not like I was unhappy in any aspect of my life. I think it’s just that I felt my clock was ticking and I was looking for something. I wanted to have more fun and accomplish more. I felt like I was operating on an old battery that had lost its ability to hold a charge over time.
I stopped worrying about our new real estate purchase in Toronto and started to focus on the things I had the power to change.
There had been some issues I needed to address. I was spreading myself too thin with different business interests and realized I needed to scale back and focus. I started to draw up a wish list of what I really wanted to do and whom I wanted to do it with.
It’s amazing what happens to your personal productivity and fulfillment when you put stuff you don’t like doing on the back burner and put more into the tasks and professional relationships you find rewarding.
As April turned into May I began to complete the changes on my wish list and good things started to happen.
I reinvented Bestagents, my real estate marketing company, and ‘fired’ the few agents that I didn’t really enjoy working with.
I find this difficult to explain but I started to feel constantly ‘up’ and alive. It’s like dealing with the whole pandemic environment and forced lifestyle changes liberated my energy and gave me an ultimatum to stop operating at fifty percent. Skies went from overcast to blue and I started to look at the world with a sense of optimism I hadn’t experienced for years.
I wanted to take on more, so I did.
I’m not big on the share market mainly because I can’t influence a share price so I always feel my money is in the wind. But property is different. Property I can influence.
In 2015 Christine and I uncovered an opportunity and made the decision to buy a two-season cottage on a lake about 2 hours north of Toronto in an area called The Kawarthas.
It’s wild and flat and beautiful and our little place is a sweet slice of paradise. The shoreline is rocky and you can see the bottom at a depth of fifteen feet. It’s full of fish and every Canadian animal you can think of except polar bears.
It was also a sweet buy because it was cheap and after our first Summer on the lake, we realized why.
The property is two buildings. A small, dated but livable two-level cottage which is a converted garage and a boathouse that’s built out over the lake.
The cottage we could work with but the boathouse floor beams were rotten and years of brutal winter ice had smashed the concrete foundation and it was starting to fall into the lake.
But it got worse.
The former owner, in his wisdom, had made the brilliant decision to repair the old timber deck that looked out over the lake with 4 inches of concrete. This was not only really heavy on a decaying structure, but it angled back towards the building so all the snow and rain found its way inside or into the subfloor and had been rotting for years.
I didn’t need two years of Building Techniques at Melbourne’s RMIT University to understand the whole building was a shit show!
But it was our shit show and once we realized the main issues, we started talking to local building companies about a rebuild but costs were over the top.
So somewhere along the way, with my newfound COVID courage and all, I thought I might have a crack at fixing up this gorgeous old 1960 building. Maybe I could inject a little love and hard work and create something worthy of such a magic location.
In April, as the Winter’s ice was starting to melt on the lake, I hired a concrete saw, watched a couple of Youtube videos, and started to remove the concrete from the deck.
This activity, coupled with the fact that someone with my limited building and repair skills was working with serious power tools, attracted some neighbors who offered to help.
May turned into June and with more than 10,000 pounds (4500 kilograms) of concrete removed and taken to the dump, we could finally see the extent of the damage, and things started to take shape from there.
For 10 days in July, an amazing building team rebuilt the deck, most of the cottage floor, and half the walls. I ripped out the bedroom walls stuck in one corner and the whole space looked much bigger and better.
We were delighted to expose 22 original timber beams when we took down the drywall and popcorn tile ceiling and things really started to take shape. We began to see how amazing the boathouse would look when we were done.
Fast forward to now. It’s February 2022 and I’m sitting here in the boathouse right now. Outside it’s snowing hard but the fireplace we installed last Fall is keeping everything toasty.
We have sanded back those 22 beautiful timber beams, lovingly painted every wall, laid fresh flooring, and installed a gorgeous new kitchen with a dishwasher.
I guess all those real estate flipping shows must be right. I love the way property can be reinvented to offer more. Just like people.
Two years later I still feel that same sense of drive and enthusiasm and so many of the things I worried about didn’t eventuate.
I’m feeling grateful for so many new friends we have made here on the lake who have helped us save our little slice of heaven from the elements.
I’ve learned to do things I never dreamed I would, and instead of diving, Toronto real estate prices have gone through the roof.