We all know there is no substitute for experience, and lack of experience can make buying real estate a challenge. If you've never owned any real estate or a particular type of property, how can you know in advance what only experience will teach you about living or working there?

Here are two scenarios where experience might have saved these inexperienced Canadians from learning the hard way. If you want privacy and waterfront, an island may seem the ideal type of real estate to buy...

"It is just the total quiet," said one island cottager about the island he bought with his wife a few years ago in a large Western lake. "There is so little boat traffic that if one goes by, we get out the binoculars to see who it is. What strikes you is there are no phones and no cars. Just the quiet and the call of the birds. When you go somewhere totally quiet, you just fall sleep. It is so relaxing."

But what seems attractive on a brief visit can become overwhelming as a long-term venture.

"It is totally primitive--outhouse, no well, no hydro, but we do have a generator," said the cottager explaining that it takes more than an hour by car and boat to travel from their home to the island. "It's very simple."

They plan to expand on the rustic cottage at some time in the future, but just hauling themselves and their things to the island for weekends and holidays has put the enormity of this task in perspective. The cost of bringing in every nail, board and scrap of furniture makes building a summer home on that remote location an expensive and daunting task.

Sometimes buying real estate that approximates your ultimate needs is more practical than starting from scratch.

Island Living Adds Complexity

Although vacationing is still a good way to decide on fit, if you're intent on an island location--even if it's a big one like Vancouver Island--make sure you spend a lot of time evaluating life as an islander before you sign on the dotted line.

When the novelty of taking the ferry wears off, will you be able to adjust your living to someone else's schedule? Islanders must be serious clock watchers when it comes to getting home again or making appointments on the mainland. Whether you choose British Columbia's Salt Spring, Pender or Gabriola Islands, getting in line, waiting in line and waiting for delayed ferries are all part of life on an island.

Scheduling home care and medical appointments is complex enough without having to incorporate ferry times. Recently, two families on a BC island each needed a hospital bed in their home. The large home-care-equipment company sent out a truck with two motorized beds. At the first house, the delivery men discovered one bed motor didn't work. Since the entire family was watching, the men switched beds. Then, in a dash to catch the next ferry, they delivered the hospital bed with the broken motor to a single woman who was not well enough to make sure the motorized bed worked. Hardly behaviour unique to island conditions, but one of a hundred situations that becomes more difficult to resolve when restricted access has to be taken into consideration.

Rent for a season or two to ensure the above concerns, plus the complications of country living like power outages, are within your definition of a great real estate choice.

If you won't have time to do the necessary real estate research and experimenting before you buy, the answer is simple. Use an experienced real estate professional and ask lots and lots of questions. These professionals are bound by a code of ethics and strict fiduciary responsibilities. They'll put your interests first and guarantee you get the best possible information on which to base your decisions.

For instance, in Ontario's Georgian Bay area, knowing when and how to apply the real estate value mantra of "location, location, location" is also crucial to a wise purchase.

"Location has a bearing on value, but it is not the most important factor," says one real estate professional who knows why some islands sell for prices from just under $90,000 and others at figures over a million dollars. "What really makes an island valuable is a natural harbour with a beach and the view--the most valuable is a sheltered view of open water."

While owning real estate means we must always be ready for surprises, at least using professional expertise should ensure they'll be pleasant ones.

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