My friend Barb and I had lunch on Friday. It was truly wonderful to see her again, as always. Lo and behold, she too is contemplating an alternative place to live, and a more suitable way of life. I hesitate to say alternative, because I think it's a choice, not an opt-out, as some city dwellers seem to think.
When I called Barb today, she was in front of her PC, looking at properties. This is something Nev and I spent literally hundreds of hours doing before buying The Seagull Republic. In fact, it was an obsession all of its own. We had The Tree House on the market at one point in order to be able to move forward with our plans, but truthfully, we weren't ready to sell. Or were we? You see, none of this happens overnight; it's more like a process one goes through, from the dream, through the thinking, the research, the planning and then the hardcore business of it all: the financing, negotiating, building, moving and more.
Those central stages involved a lot of math: running the numbers on umpteen spreadsheets, such as what do we actually need to live? What will it cost? What will cost less and what will cost more? For instance, one has to have a boat, a dock, and insurance, to name a few items that would cost more, but food and heating may cost less, depending. Some items didn't figure much in our planning, for example, we don't often buy take out, mainly because there isn't any in Lions Bay (!) but also because truthfully it's tastier, healthier and CHEAPER to eat at home. But I guess for others, this could be a huge saving outside the city.
A vital part of our research was definitely visiting numerous little places around Vancouver Island and particular properties. We spent a small fortune on ferries, B&B's and, most expensive of all, water taxis. Those guys are usually fishing guides (or similar) using their boats as taxis only when they are not taking tourists out fishing. So typically they were as much as $100 an hour. This is something one should take into account when thinking about a recreational/rural property... even the looking ain't cheap if you're looking at an island or boat access only spot.
It helped that we spent many hours online narrowing our search down according to our pre-determined criteria: Must be 1. on the ocean 2. boat access only 3. must have a great view with mountains. FYI we got 2 1/2 out of 3 in The Republic, but you can't help yourself when you fall in love... and that's what this is all about, falling in love with a spot. You don't SETTLE when it's the dream. You ask yourself, "is this the dream?" - and Nev was good at asking this - and if the answer is no, you keep looking.
We invested in courses, as mentioned somewhere else on this blog, books, trade shows, phone calls and countless hours of research. I still wonder what we'll find to talk about once we've actually built a place and moved in, although I'm certain the learning will continue.
Life in Lions Bay has been ideal training for moving to a more remote spot. Living on half an acre of forested land close to the San Andreas fault means we always have to be prepared to take care of ourselves for a few days (technically 3, 7 is better). It's kind of eased us into the rural lifestyle. We have the odd power outage, such as the storm in November 2006 that left us without power for 5 days, but usually it's a day or a few hours. Nevertheless, one has to be able to keep warm because the house gets cold very quickly when it's around zero outside.
In 2006, I had to buy a generator to keep the fridge cold and cook dinner. We could have BBQ'ed except Nev was up north at Snap Lake having lobster dinners and warm showers (long story) and I'm not great on the gas BBQ (gas terrifies me to be honest). Luckily it wasn't too cold, and the woodpile meant we had heat (thanks to Nev's diligent wood curing and chopping regime). But you get the idea... our beloved Tree House has been great training for The Seagull Republic.
Even now, we are probably not quite at the point of selling The Tree House, buying a small city home and moving permanently to Cortes. Will we ever be? We want to be on the North Shore during the ski season and for Christmas with Lee (which fortunately coincides with the bulk of the hockey season). In short, we want it all. Having said that, when I left Cortes last week, I was very sad to be leaving.
This is exactly my point: it's a process. No-one decides to do what we're doing overnight. In my case, it's taken all my life thus far. I moved from the dreaming stage to making it real because it gets to the point where you think, "OK, if this is what we really want, how do we make it happen?". Even then, one has to work through the complexities of everyday life, the reality of that new life, and the most important thing... finances.
That's what's so amazing about Canada: one can have a wonderful life almost anywhere and it needn't cost too much. Once one figures out exactly how much money one needs to live on and how one wants to make that money, you can make it happen.
But it's a process.