Dreamhouse.com: How I Bought a Summer Home in the Recession

I couldn't afford it, I'd never seen it (except on a real-estate Web site), and it was 12 hours away. But I was in love -- so I bought my little cottage anyway.
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House Hunting

I was hunched over the computer when an image appeared on-screen that made my pulse race. "You have to see this," I said to my husband, who was already in bed for the night.

Dan groaned. "Come to bed. This habit is getting out of hand."

He was right. Every night, after the kids were asleep, I was drawn to the computer like a moth to a flame. An online shopping addict, you ask? Sort of. But I was surfing real estate. More specifically, Canadian real estate. For the past two years I'd been looking at houses on Prince Edward Island, a clump of some 2,200 square miles of land lying in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

PEI has two claims to fame: red-sand beaches and Anne of Green Gables, the plucky orphan in Lucy Maud Montgomery's novels. The books are great reads, but I treasured PEI for its wide skies and pine-studded cliffs, both of which had kept me coming back for 15 summers. Almost from my first visit I'd fantasized about owning a house there.

"It's too far away," my mom said, noting that the drive from my house in Massachusetts takes about 12 hours.

"You can rent a house every summer for less than the cost of owning one," my brother pointed out. "Why hassle with leaky roofs and failing septic tanks?"

Dan noted, correctly, that with three of our five kids now in college we could barely afford movie tickets, let alone a vacation retreat.

And long before the economy took its current nosedive I knew it was dumb even to think about buying a second home. No matter how strong the American dollar grew against the Canadian, could not justify this as a wise investment. But to repeat the mantra I'd used on Dan: It didn't hurt to look.

Besides, all this nay-saying was based on reason, whereas my passion was rooted in something more elusive. I could have listed reasons to love PEI: Celtic music and steamed mussels, lighthouses and Canadian radio, the bike trail that bisects the island end to end. But it was how the place made me feel -- optimistic and energetic, creative and generous -- that kept me stubbornly, guiltily trolling real-estate Web sites the way other women shop eBay for shoes. I wanted a small piece of this place to call my own.

So every night I'd log on to mls.ca with these simple criteria: Prince Edward Island, $25,000 to $75,000 price range, one bedroom or more. Unlike their euphemism-spouting American counterparts, Canadian real-estate agents pull no punches when it comes to property descriptions: "House has been neglected -- needs a strong arm." Or: "Small country home left vacant for five years. Needs major cleanup." Or: "No source of heat. Property had a woodstove that previous owner took." Such phrases scared the bejesus out of Dan, so I stopped showing him the listings. But I had a strong stomach and devoured all of them.

Continued on page 2:  Falling in Love with a Cottage


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