Many years ago, Tim and I landed in The County for a holiday completely by accident. Literally. Our first getaway together as a couple was supposed to be the Montréal Jazz Festival. But, being the total klutz that I am, just minutes after arriving at our hotel in Montreal – I twisted and sprained my ankle. So! Plan B was quickly hatched and immediately put into action! We got back into the car and arrived in what, at the time at least, was a little-known place that wouldn’t require excessive walking or standing for long periods of time. That place was Prince Edward County.
From that moment on, we were completely taken by the area and in the years that followed, we found ourselves returning here time and time again, staying in various B&Bs and Inns. We even stayed in the Devonshire Inn before it was the Drake Devonshire!!! The more time we spent in The County – the more connected we felt, and the more we dreamed of putting down our own roots.
Through a reference seven years ago, we met and worked with a wonderful real estate agent who was (and still is!) incredibly passionate about the area and very involved with the community. She showed us properties from all over the island. We really were just trying to get a handle on property values so that we might someday be able to afford a place here, and then it happened. We were shown a property with a little home on it that literally took our breath away and suddenly that “we’re just trying to get a handle on prices here,” turned into “OK, so how do we do this. How are we going to work the financing on this place?”
If you find yourself seriously considering the idea of putting down your own roots in The County, based on our own experiences, here are five things I think you might want to consider before taking the plunge:
#1. GET TO KNOW THE AREA REALLY WELL
Before making a purchase, visit the area as often as you can. There are some awesome Inns, motels and B&Bs for sure, but if you are thinking of buying – renting a cottage or house for at least a week at a time is a really good idea. You can shop in the local grocery stores and at the local farm stands, cook your own meals, thoroughly explore the area and get a feel for what it is like to actually live here.
Also, talk to as many people as you can who live here and/or who are familiar with the area and really research it. No need to be shy about it, this is a very friendly place! If you want to start a business here – speak with others who have similar businesses, as you’ll find most people here to be surprisingly helpful and supportive. This will help to give you a handle on what area would suit you best.
Prince Edward County is quite an expansive area spanning over 80km from east to west, with a very diverse geography, with over 800km of shoreline. The north, south, east and west are all really quite unique in their own ways, and each has a lot of fantastic yet different qualities to offer. From vibrant walkable communities to more remote, quiet, and secluded hideaways with gorgeous views there’s something for everyone. For example:
- The Hillier, Wellington, Consecon region on the west side boasts a large number of prestigious wineries, cool shops in a highly walkable town located right on the water (Wellington), interesting farm businesses, good restaurants and almost oceanic views along it’s shorelines. It is also very close to Bloomfield’s charming shopping & food district. The west side has fairly fast access to the 401 via the Loyalist Parkway, so if you will be frequently commuting back-and-forth to Toronto, as many do – this might appeal to you.
- The eastern side of the island can be astonishingly beautiful, has a bustling city centre (Picton), a number of great restaurants throughout the region, a cider house, two great cheese dairies, Lake-on-the-Mountain’s panoramic and ridiculously breathtaking views, and some quality wineries too. The eastern tip may have the farthest commute to Toronto.
- Up farther north, includes North Port, Demorestville, Big Island, Rossmore, Rednersville, which has gorgeous more modern homes neatly lined along the shores of the picturesque Bay of Quinte, and feels more residential in nature – at least to me. This area is just a stones throw away from either Trenton or Belleville, with more urban amenities, and again, a fairly short drive to the 401.
- And the southern region, well, hello Sandbanks!! The Southern region feels a little more rural to me – from Cherry Valley to Milford and down to South Bay, there are a few top notch wineries scattered throughout the area, a terrific dancehall/concert venue, a fantastic honey producer, and stunning vistas as well.
I’ve really just scratched the surface on all of the above, but it ALL depends on what you are looking for. FYI – it can take roughly 30-45 minutes to get from one side of the island to the other – and what a completely gorgeous drive it is no matter what direction!
#2. READ ALL ABOUT IT!
There are many remarkable and inspirational people currently living here, and there is a fascinating history in The County as well. I’ve learned SO much from a number of top-notch regional quarterly publications – it’s really helped to fuel my passion for the area. County & Quinte Living is a great read, full of articles about people and businesses making an impact on communities throughout the region. County Magazine is another that is often packed with fascinating stories that focus on both the past and present. Watershed Magazine is a stunning broadsheet-style publication that casts a slightly wider net reaching not only PEC and Quinte, but also the Northumberland region. I find all of these to be terrific references. On top of that, 99.3 County FM is a wonderful and often entertaining resource that you should always have on the airwaves as you are winding your way through the area. This very site, buildanewlife.ca, is a hugely inspirational resource as well and don’t forgot to check out the local news outlets – The Picton Gazette, County Weekly News, The Wellington Times and Countylive to keep on top of local current events. Of course through social media, you can follow many organizations, associations and businesses that will keep you up-to-date on happenings across the island. In particular, I find that Visit The County is great about sharing local stories and events. Lastly, a really fun guide for learning the quirks and unique characteristics of The County and its residents is Steve Campbell’s The County Handbook.
#3. FEEL AT EASE WITH YOUR AGENT
Make sure you have a good relationship with your agent, you should never ever feel pressured into a purchase. In most cases, The County is not like the Toronto market where all houses/properties sell within days (or seconds!) of being listed and bidding wars are the norm. There are for sure properties that move fast, such as Wellington waterfront for example. Actually, according to a recent Toronto Star article, pretty much anything waterfront that is listed for under $500K gets snapped up quite quickly these days because of low inventory. If that’s what you are looking for, your agent will advise you best on how to proceed which is why it’s important to trust and feel really comfortable with whoever you are working with.
#4. UNDERSTANDING WATER/SEPTIC AND NOT FEARING EITHER!
The first time I heard there were dry-well issues here, I thought it was bizarre. After all, The County is an island surrounded by water – and lots of it! However, it is true – some residents do have issues with their wells running dry. Fear not! There are several areas/properties where a cistern is required, and they are very easily serviceable and your water bill ends up being similar to what you would pay in the city. We see George’s water truck out on the road making deliveries almost every time we run an errand. And dry wells aren’t the only thing to be aware of either. While our well turned out to have great water pressure and flow, it is full of salt water. Yep, salt water – and more parts salt than ocean water has if you can believe it. Who even knew that was possible?!? Many have sulphur in their water as well, but filter systems can deal with most of these issues.
As for septic tanks – again, fear not city people! Forget being on a sewer system (unless of course you buy in Picton or Wellington). Our septic tank lies underground just a few feet away from the house. Being full-on city folk that we are, that made us feel a little unsettled at first. But it works, you totally get over it and it’s a very reliable, tried and true system.
#5. THOROUGHLY RESEARCH YOUR POTENTIAL NEW HOME BEFORE SIGNING ON THE DOTTED LINE!
This is a really weird thing, but it’s just an example of the importance of doing due diligence on your potential purchase. Someone we know signed a purchase agreement, and then shortly after learned that the house was infested with snakes. Yesssssss, SNAKES – between the walls, ceilings and floors!!! Who knew that was possible? I understand it is extremely rare and not remotely common, but evidently it can happen. The reason I mention this is not to scare or freak you out! It just drives home the point that it is really important to know the history of your potential new home. Check to see how many times the house has been turned over in previous years. If it goes on the market frequently – well, there might be an underlying issue that you really need to know about. Ask the questions, do the research and fully know what you are getting into.
Speaking of history – if you really want to learn about the architectural history of your potential new home, your existing home or even just a home you have looked at and admired from afar, consider picking up a copy of The Settler’s Dream by Tom Cruickshank and Peter Stokes. Your potential home might be featured in this gorgeous coffee-table style book with hundreds of photographs of buildings dating back to their loyalist roots. These structures that span The County were photographed by John de Visser and painstakingly catalogued and published back in 1984 – then re-printed in 2009. I believe that Books and Company in Picton still has some in stock. Also, if you want to see a couple of stunning projects currently undergoing extensive restoration in Picton – check out The Falconer or The Royal Hotel.
So! Those are just a few thoughts I have to offer from our own experiences here. Of course there are many other basic things to keep in mind when purchasing a home and it would certainly serve you well to seek advice from others including professionals!
I can honestly say that there hasn’t been a single moment that either one of us has regretted purchasing our home here. To this day, after seven years, the simple act of walking into our little place after running errands still takes my breath away. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I constantly find myself making excuses to take random drives across the island simply because I cannot take in enough of it’s beauty. I still love and look forward to seeing new businesses popping up, meeting people and listening to their inspirational stories. But not just Toronto or Ottawa expats, I also really love meeting and talking to people who have been born and raised in the area as well. There exists such a creative, diverse and inspirational collective of individuals and communities across The County, and we are both so grateful to be a part of it. I hope you are able to find your way here soon, and look forward to hearing, and perhaps even reading about your story when you do!
Susan Smythe-Bishop is a PR executive working with Touchwood PR, a passionate baker & professional cake designer, a closet cartoonist/artist and a part time resident of Cressy in Prince Edward County. Recently, she created and built TheCitiot.com as a way of sharing her love of PEC and expressing her passion for drawing/cartooning. Susan and her husband Tim (and two dogs Walter and The Dude!) are in the process of trying to figure out how to move to PEC on a more permanent basis.
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