Jenn & Mark: A Piece of Heaven in Haliburton
posted by Allyson Scott
In early August, our friends Jenn and Mark contacted us to ask if we could help their family with exploring a cottage purchase, most likely in the Haliburton area. Our answer was absolutely! Realtors are licensed provincially, and our team regularly helps our clients buy and sell outside of Toronto…even more so than usual this year, as people looked to escape the city!
“We just got back from a camping trip…and we think we’re done with our trailer, now that the kids are older,” Jenn said. Their son Tyler is 17, their daughter Madeline is 20, and all of them were ready for a little more space!
It’s hard to believe that Jenn and I have been friends since we were Tyler’s age, when we both played trumpet in our high school wind ensemble. School is also where Jenn and Mark found one another, in the veterinary medicine program at Guelph. They’ve been married since 1999, and still live in the first house they purchased in Oshawa!
“There was no Internet when we last went house hunting,” laughed Jenn, “so this was all really new to us. At the beginning of the summer, we were considering upgrading to a bigger camper. Then we started scrolling through some cottage properties online, and wanted to explore that as a possibility.”
Step one was to have a Zoom meeting between myself, Jody, Jenn, and Mark, to review their wish list. The location was key for Mark. “I’m not really interested in Muskoka, where you have no choice but to deal with traffic on the 400.” He was particularly keen on finding something near Sir Sam’s ski resort, so Haliburton was the target area. A waterfront property with a dock, 3-4 bedrooms, 4 seasons, and ideally a fireplace. Go!
The first cottage they went to view with Jody was a beautiful place on Canning Lake in Minden Hills. It had 4 beds, 2 baths, a wood stove, vaulted ceilings, and a large dock:
It was listed at $1.5 million, which everyone agreed seemed a bit expensive. It was also quite close to the neighbouring properties, and situated at such a high elevation that the stairs down to the dock were daunting. There was human comfort to consider, but equally important were the needs of their gorgeous but aging Golden Retriever, Henry.
There were a few other listings that caught Jenn and Mark’s interest, but the cottage market was so competitive this year due to COVID-19 that properties sold quickly. We had a confirmed appointment for one on Kushog Lake, but the listing agent sold it the day before we were set to see it. This happened several times, and became a source of disappointment for us all.
Given the lack of inventory, Jenn and Mark decided to expand their search to include Muskoka after all, which proved to have additional challenges. This stunning cottage on Three Mile Lake caught their eye, but was a good example of issues that need to be considered in cottage country:
A quick Internet search on water quality showed that this lake tested positive for blue green algae on several occasions, which is not only a concern for human health, but potentially fatal to dogs. It was nixed from the list.
Another property on Silver Lake in Gravenhurst seemed like a contender, but was on the smaller side and had sheer rock faces dropping down into the water. Thoughts of poor Henry potentially tumbling down them was part of what scrapped this one!
Turning back to the Haliburton area, they found a great listing on Drag Lake that was the right size, passed the water quality tests, and seemed to have all the features they wanted.
Unfortunately, they discovered that although the cottage was winterized and 4-seasons, the driveway was so steep that it was not usable in snowy conditions. Understandably, this was a dealbreaker!
Pivoting again, Jenn and Mark began looking at properties that needed a few repairs and updating, including this one on Kashagawigamog Lake:
It would be more affordable to go this route in the end, but more costly in terms of time and stress to manage a renovation project. They didn’t want to overload their already packed work schedules, or delay being able to actually enjoy the cottage. We told them not to settle for a property they didn’t love; that they would know the right place when they saw it.
Asked how she found the experience at this point, Jenn was pragmatic. “It wasn’t frustrating at first, because we didn’t really know what we wanted. As we got further along in the process and saw what was out there, we gradually came to the realization that we needed to raise our budget,” Jenn admitted with a sigh. “Madeline laughed at us, because the summer began with us wondering if we wanted to spend $100,000 to upgrade our trailer!”
Jenn and Mark have lived in the same house for over 20 years, and managed to raise their family while sharing just one full bathroom! They sank their life savings into custom-building the most beautiful, modern, care-centred animal clinic you could imagine (check out the Taunton Road Animal Hospital in Oshawa if you want amazing veterinarians for your pets!), and were just now realizing that it wasn’t only a summer cottage they wanted to buy: this would be the home they will eventually retire to full-time.
With this new perspective on mind, we saw this jaw-dropping, box-ticking property on Little Redstone Lake in Haliburton hit the market at $1,999,000 in late September, with offers welcome anytime:
An appointment was booked for September 27, the earliest time that Jenn and Mark could get away from work. However, when Jody printed the listing out that morning, she discovered it had been altered. It was still priced at $1,999,000 – but now with an offer date of October 5!
There are two main approaches to marketing a listing: 1) pricing it at market value, and negotiating any offers that come in; or 2) pricing it slightly under market value to maximize exposure, and setting a date to review what will hopefully turn out to be multiple offers. In other words, letting the buyers set the value. We have to assume that after selecting option #1, the listing agent received so much interest on the property that he decided to hold back offers, and see if they might end up with competing buyers.
Jody, Jenn, and Mark proceeded with their appointment, and encountered a relatively unusual situation: the home looked even better in person than it did in photos!
Jenn and Mark were definitely considering putting an offer in on October 5, so Jody reached out to the listing agent after the showing to let him know they had interest in the property.
The next day, Jody was on the phone with a client when an unidentified number tried to call through. The person did not leave a message, but something made Jody Google the phone number anyway. This would make all the difference in the outcome of this story! It turned out it was the listing Realtor for this amazing property, and when she called him back, she was shocked to hear him say that he just wanted to let her know he had sold the cottage to a pre-emptive (or “bully”) offer. This was shocking, as Realtors are legally required to inform all parties who have shown interest in a property that an offer has been received – not after it’s been accepted.
Jody asked the other Realtor if the sellers had actually signed the paperwork. When he said no, Jody replied, “Then you haven’t sold the cottage yet!” She demanded the opportunity for Jenn and Mark to submit a competing offer, and immediately got on the phone with them.
Jenn was sitting in her back yard, watching a Blue Jays baseball game with Madeline. “I don’t normally have my phone on, and I also don’t have call display, so I had no idea that it was Jody calling when my phone rang!” Jenn exclaimed. “It was a total fluke that I even answered it!” Upon hearing there was an offer on the property, Jenn admitted that there may have been a swear word or two shouted as she called Mark at work, and asked him to come home ASAP. Luckily Mark is a calming influence!
Tense discussions ensued, and Jenn and Madeline spent an hour writing a letter of introduction that they had anticipated having a week to work on. Jenn thought it might be karma that the sellers’ last name was Henry, and their dog Henry had a starring role in the letter!
Jody submitted their offer, and the other Realtor responded a short time later to say that both offers were neck and neck. With Jody’s research and guidance, Jenn and Mark were confident the value was there. They decided the ceiling of their comfort zone was $2,200,000, and added $1,000 for luck at the 11th hour.
The Jays may not have won that night…but Jenn and Mark did!
“We didn’t expect it to end in a flurry of activity like that!” exclaimed Jenn. “But we are so happy!” She said it was difficult to get used to the idea that things like a home inspection needed to be waived in the current market conditions, which made our expertise and advice all the more valuable. “We were very impressed that every time we had a question, you both either had the answer, or found it very quickly!”
The best part of the story takes place after the sale was finalized. I took them up for a purchaser’s visit, to do a walk-through with the current owners. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience or nicer people, as they pointed out all of the upgrades, explained how various systems worked, and even shared some history about the wonderful neighbours!
If we weren’t feeling warm and fuzzy enough already, Jenn and Mark were presented with a very thick 3-inch binder full of incredibly useful information. It included sketches of the septic system, before and after photographs of renovations, information about various tradespeople they’ve hired, and receipts for work they had done, among other things. Compiling this resource was how one of the owners had spent a good part of the recent quarantine!
As the tour and conversations continued and deeper connections were made, the owners generously offered to leave Jenn and Mark some of their belongings. It turned out the reason they were leaving was to move to larger cottage on a nearby lake, now that grandchildren had started to arrive. Their new place came partially furnished, so they asked if Jenn and Mark wanted some useful items, like this beautiful tabletop fireplace outside the master bedroom, which is hardwired into the propane gas line. Yes please!
The heartwarming end to the story came when Jenn later e-mailed one of the owners, who happens to be a very talented artist, to inquire about purchasing one of her paintings in the cottage.
The owner replied that the piece was titled “Road To My Happy Place”, and that it was her full intention to leave it for Jenn and Mark. She wrote, “I hope that every time you come down the road to your new cottage, you find the same happiness we have found here on Little Redstone.”
Clearly this was meant to be!
Jenn, Mark, and their family took possession in November, and sent us a photo of their small celebration. Congratulations to all of you!