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Retiree Judith Hunter of Toronto is packing her belongings and heading to Collingwood, Ont., where she can enjoy a slower pace of life and more access to nature. (JENNIFER ROBERTS For The Globe and Mail)
Retiree Judith Hunter of Toronto is packing her belongings and heading to Collingwood, Ont., where she can enjoy a slower pace of life and more access to nature. (JENNIFER ROBERTS For The Globe and Mail)

DESTINATIONS

Retirees cash in big-city homes to fund their golden years Add to ...

Judith Hunter has lots of friends near Collingwood, Ont. She loves photographing nature, and the town certainly has more of that than Toronto, where she lives now. And there are plenty of trails to walk her nine-year-old Yorkie, Asti. So after nearly five years of retirement, Ms. Hunter is packing up and moving to the Georgian Bay burg.

Many people downsize when they retire. But because she’s escaping the big-city real-estate market, Ms. Hunter is actually upsizing. She’s trading her condo for a bungalow.

“I don’t require that money to be part of my cash flow for living expenses,” says Ms. Hunter, who is in her early 60s. But in a house of her own, she continues, “I get to do all the ‘retirement activities’ you hear about.”

Whether it’s to free up cash or to adopt a slower way of life, escaping expensive cities is a tempting opportunity in retirement. Ms. Hunter found her ideal landing spot in Collingwood, a town of about 20,000, where she’ll be moving in May.

And she’s not the only one considering fleeing Toronto.

“It’s happening with a fairly frequent succession of people – my clients, and my friends, as well,” says Barb Steele, a certified financial planner and registered retirement counsellor in Newmarket, Ont. “There’s not the same degree of security in our retirement income” as there used to be, she says, especially thanks to the decline in defined-benefits pensions. “If you’ve got equity in real estate and gain access to it, it gives you a security blanket.”

Even if, like Ms. Hunter, people don’t necessarily need more liquidity, moving to a smaller centre after retirement has its benefits. “You get a solid community,” Ms. Steele says. “You can become part of that community much faster, too, because of the nature of smaller communities.”

Ms. Hunter grew up in small towns near Toronto, then spent her career in the city as an educator and retail training manager. She stayed in the city when she retired five years ago to take care of her aging parents. Both of them have since passed away. Now, she says, “I don’t really have the same connections with family in the city.”

Her neighbourhood near the intersection of Bayview and Moore avenues has changed significantly since she moved there 16 years ago, too – the area lost its small-town feel, she says, and many old stores she used to frequent are gone. “Even simple things like the theatres that used to be there don’t exist any more,” she says.

She mulled over a number of Ontario places to move in retirement – Port Hope, Picton, Niagara-on-the-Lake. In the end, Collingwood felt like the best fit. It is two hours from the city but close to nature, doesn’t have too much snow, and, as it happens, brings her a little bit of nostalgia. “As a kid, we used to drive up to Craigleith Park to swim in Georgian Bay,” Ms. Hunter says.

And then there’s the home: In a bungalow, Ms. Hunter will be able to dedicate more space to hobbies such as quilting, and have friends and family over for extended visits without making them sleep on a couch. By taking her retirement to Collingwood, she will have all the space she needs.

It’s not downsizing – it’s escaping. Crystal Wong, senior manager for Toronto-Dominion Wealth financial planning in Victoria, says it is becoming more common for clients to head to the suburbs or smaller towns as they get older. “It’s an opportunity to take the equity from your home in a larger centre or market and move to an outside suburb or even a smaller community that might only be an hour or two away,” she says.

For clients in skyrocketing real-estate markets, including Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, Ms. Wong says, “We have seen an uptick in terms of clients capitalizing on the equity that has fortunately grown substantially within the last 10 or 15 years. ... If they’re living in a condo, and moving into cottage country, such as Collingwood, that gives them the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful larger space and yard and the amenities that that community would offer to them.”

Some of Ms. Steele’s clients move somewhere smaller in Canada as an opportunity to free up equity to go south for the winter. Others pass on their savings to children. She strongly recommends, if you have a sudden burst of cash from selling your home, to set up a non-registered account or tax-free savings account to access for future health emergencies. “TFSAs are becoming a good vehicle for retirees who are downsizing. Just about everyone I know has them filled to the limit,” Ms. Steele says.

Ms. Hunter, meanwhile, is happy she will be about to hit the trails, walk her Yorkie, take photos, and explore.

“I’m a small-town girl who wants to live by the water, and I can’t afford to do that in Toronto.”

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