Even before COVID-19 touched off a global rethink of life in the big city, Raheema Brettingham’s husband, Larry, often mused about selling their home in Toronto’s west end and moving to Vancouver Island. As the lockdown measures tightened and the couple saw their world reduced to strolls around the neighbourhood, he began to press the idea more intently. Even so, the 59-year-old self-described “city girl” felt she wasn’t ready to leave Toronto. “I used to love hopping on the subway to go downtown and meet friends,” she says. “So, every time he talked to me about it, I said, ‘No, no, no.’”
Then in June, Larry, 67, sat down to pen an email to his wife detailing his case for ditching Hogtown. It wasn’t just that pandemic restrictions had robbed them of the urban lifestyle they both enjoyed, he wrote. COVID-19 offered a unique financial reset for the couple. In 2019, both were suddenly laid off within a month of each other – Larry from his job as a software engineer and Raheema from her position at a financial advisory firm – and the pandemic brought their job searches to a halt. While they could get by staying in Toronto, it might entail working for another decade or more. But if they sold and moved to Comox, B.C., where his sister lived, they could easily erase their $400,000 mortgage and have enough to retire right away and, once the pandemic ends, travel the world.
Shortly after reading Larry’s email, Raheema decided to take the leap and, within a month, their detached house was on the market. Purchased for $845,000 in 2011, it quickly sold for a little more than $1.8 million. Meanwhile they were able to snap up a more spacious house just minutes from the ocean for $785,000 in the town of Comox, population 15,000. “I was apprehensive at first, but we’re already settled, and I love this house,” says Raheema, who joined a local newcomers group that is full of other eastern city expats. “I never thought I could enjoy nature the way I do here, and the city is not shut down like Toronto. We made the perfect decision at the perfect time.”
In late March, as COVID-19’s twin invasion of the world’s population and the global economy worsened, leaders from the G20, an informal group of 19 countries and the European Union, gathered – virtually, of course – to commit to a united front against the novel coronavirus.
Their pledge to do “whatever it takes” to overcome the crisis became the war cry of public health officials, finance ministers and central bankers. But trillions of dollars in emergency spending later, it’s still not clear that “whatever it takes” will be enough to pull the global economy out of its tailspin.
The viral outbreak and what some are calling the Great Lockdown meant to curb its spread have delivered an unprecedented shock to the economy and people’s savings. And it comes at a time when millions of Canadians are in their prime earning years ahead of retirement and many millions more retirees were trying to max out their investments.