After selling her Kitchener townhouse for $730,000, Odette Karlsson bought a new-build townhouse in Lacombe, Alberta, for half the price—and paid off her debts in the process.

Single working mother Odette Karlsson and her son Cody in Lacombe, Alberta, where they relocated from Kitchener, Ontario (Photography by Amber Bracken)

The buyer

Odette Karlsson, a 45-year-old group home supervisor, and her kids: Lily, who’s 17, and Cody, who’s seven

The budget

$300,000

The backstory

In 2018, Karlsson was living the single-working-mom life. Lily and Cody lived with her in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom townhouse in Kitchener, while Jaidyn, Karlsson’s adult son from another relationship, had just left the nest to attend university in Ottawa. To support her younger kids, Karlsson juggled three jobs: as an educational assistant during the school year, in a transitional home for people with brain injuries in the evenings, and as a respite worker on weekends. Money was extremely tight—and then came two meniscus tears, which sent Karlsson on long-term disability leave in the summer of 2022. “I was financially destitute,” she says. “I was using my credit card for groceries, only paying off the minimum every month.”

By the end of the year, Karlsson resolved that life in Ontario was completely unsustainable—she’d already visited her bank multiple times, seeking loans and a second mortgage to stay afloat. “I was on edge all the time,” she says. After much lost sleep, she concluded that the only possible way for her to settle her debts and achieve her long standing goal of being mortgage-free was to find a new home in a less-expensive market.

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Like many Canadians, Karlsson first entertained the idea of an Atlantic move, where homes were exponentially cheaper. But, after some online exploring, she found that most of those low price tags came with another expense: huge travel times to major cities. Last spring, during her research phase, Karlsson phoned up an old work colleague who’d just relocated her family to Spruce Grove, Alberta, a bedroom community outside Edmonton, located 15 minutes from the city core. A quick google revealed tons of affordable housing options between Edmonton and Red Deer, where Karlsson already had two cousins.

To Karlsson, life out west offered the expansion she craved. If her Kitchener townhouse sold for $730,000, as anticipated, she’d still have $300,000 to spend on a new home, one in a quieter town with better prospects for full-time work—and maybe even a main-floor bedroom for her aging father, Denis, who, at that point, was living on his own in Oakville. Karlsson might even be able to afford some nights out on the town with friends for dinner and dancing. A bit of freedom, finally.

The hunt

In May, Karlsson told her cousins of her imminent arrival and booked a solo flight to Edmonton—and a week at a local Airbnb—to begin her search. After some frustrating realtor delays, she decided to rent a car and scout available listings on her own, starting in Red Deer. A three-bedroom home, listed at $300,000, caught her eye, but it turned out to be a 20-year-old model with old carpeting and dated wood fixtures Karlsson didn’t yet have the budget to replace.

The Karlssons’ new neighbourhood in Lacombe is peaceful and clean, with a few restaurants nearby

From there, Karlsson headed north to clean, quiet Lacombe, population: 13,000. She quickly spotted a three-bedroom, two-bathroom freehold townhouse. It had a few things going for it: it was located in a new-ish subdivision (built in 2020), a nearby plaza had a few appealing restaurants, and, most importantly, it was on the market for $260,000. “I thought, I’d like that $40,000 to go in my bank account instead of into the house,” Karlsson says.

During a showing the next day, Karlsson told the listing agent she didn’t exactly love some of the home’s finishes. In response, the realtor told her of a corner unit—with the same number of bedrooms—that would be more to her liking. It was just about to hit the market. Karlsson loved the new unit. She adored the Spanish-inspired tile in the front entryway, the open-concept living area and the back-deck walkout, which she imagined one day might overlook a fire pit. The basement wasn’t finished, but the home’s high ceilings and modern decor made the space feel roomy. “We all hang out in our bedrooms anyway,” Karlsson says.

Karlsson entered a bid of $260,000, roughly $5,000 less than asking; the back lawn was patchy and half-dead, thanks to the current owners’ dog. They countered with $262,450, which Karlsson okayed. She’d take possession in August. “I was ecstatic,” Karlsson says. She celebrated the deal with a dinner out in Red Deer with her cousins—soon-to-be fellow Albertans.

Odette and Cody decorate easter eggs together in their Lacombe home

Karlsson returned to Kitchener and quickly tied up her loose ends. Her townhouse sold for $700,000 within a week of listing, and she hired a moving company to ship the family’s belongings to Lacombe. She also took Cody and Denis on a couple of short, last-hurrah road trips around Ontario—one to visit Jaidyn in Ottawa and another to visit relatives in Thunder Bay—before heading to Alberta with Cody by car. (Lily flew out a few days later.)

Karlsson was planning to buy beds the day Lily’s flight came in, but her plans were interrupted by a phone call from her sister, telling her that Denis had passed away. “I didn’t realize how sick he was,” she says. “His attitude was so great during the trip.” She left the keys to her Lacombe home with one of her cousins and flew back to Ontario with Cody to attend Denis’s funeral. He had gifted his Toyota Venza to Lily, so the three of them drove back to Alberta as a family.

The Karlssons quickly planted new roots in Lacombe. Karlsson found work as a group home supervisor, one job whose salary allows her to save $1,200 every month. “I’m earning more than I’ve ever made in my career,” she says. “When I got my first pay cheque and I realized I had no debt and no more mortgage, I was like, ‘Woohoo!’ It’s been a total relief.” Lily found a job of her own—a part-time gig at Wendy’s—while Cody’s big project has been skating lessons at the local sportsplex.

Karlsson has a few fun ways to spend her newfound free time: on nights out, dancing with friends at ’80s nights, hitting up mom-and-pop restaurants and unwinding with the kids over Nintendo Switch matches or on day trips to Alberta’s many attractions. On a recent visit, Jaidyn accompanied them to Banff and Lake Louise. “I hope one day he comes out here, too,” Karlsson says.

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