How to find your dream cottage for less

Get the most for your dollar with these three tips

By Michelle KellyMichelle Kelly


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In 2009, ReMax put the average cost of a road-access, waterfront cottage in Ontario at about $400,000. Whoa! That sure seems like a lot of money for a second property, doesn’t it?

While that number is out of reach for most first-time cottage buyers, remember that it’s just the average. There are many cottage properties available for much less. You just have to know how to go about finding them.

Here are our top three tips for finding the cottage property of your dreams—without breaking the bank.

1. Stay off the beaten path

Sure, many people think cottaging=Muskoka. Or other traditionally popular cottage regions such as Georgian Bay or the Kawarthas. What they don’t think of is Land O’ Lakes, the Ottawa Valley, or Kenogomi. These areas are among the seven that we recently named as markets to watch in 2010, and are regions where you’ll find significantly lower-priced properties. Each of these hot regions offers the same glorious vistas that cottage rookies dream about and, in most cases, bigger lots and more privacy. The value here is a result of the relative distance these areas are from big urban centres, particularly Toronto. But is half an hour extra in the car worth saving more than $100K? It sure is to us and we’d guess to you too.

2. Look at island cottages, back-lot cottages, and river cottages

Road-access waterfront cottages on big lakes are in greater demand, so their prices tend to be higher. But they aren’t your only option.

  • Cottages on islands are priced 30 to 40 per cent less than land-access retreats, depending on the area. And many of them offer the same amenities you’d find on the mainland (such as hydro power). If you’re comfortable with using a boat (or willing to learn), water-access cottaging is a great option to consider.
  • Back-lot cottages are built on parcels of land not directly on the waterfront. However, most back lots have deeded access to nearby waterfront, or perhaps a public beach area, so you’ll be guaranteed a lake at (almost) your doorstep.
  • A few years ago, we published a story about a community of cottagers on the Drag River. They spoke about the lazy pace of life on a river, and the quiet. Although it’s a different style of cottaging (no big views, for instance), river cottaging has a charm all its own.

3. Look at non-traditional set-ups

Gone are the days when buying a cottage meant you had to shoulder the responsibilities of ownership all by yourself. There are new options that help make buying and maintaining a second home more affordable.

  • Maybe the biggest trend in cottage real estate in the last decade has been the emergence of fractional ownership cottaging, when more than one family or individual has a share in a single cottage, using it on a rotating basis. Each shareholder pays dues to cover maintenance and upkeep costs, and is entitled to a specific amount of time—for example, three full weeks and four weekends—each year for their own use. The other weeks, someone else has the cottage. It’s a turnkey style of cottaging, free of traditional hassles (no worrying about the roof collapsing over the winter, for example, as there’s likely a property caretaker included in your share) but it’s harder to really make the cottage feel like your own. Still, fractional ownership is a viable option for newbie or downsizing cottagers.
  • Joint ownership is when more than one family or individual collectively buy a cottage property. Since there are more people covering costs, this arrangement can be cheaper by half, or more. However, if you decide to buy a cottage with someone else, you must be careful to clearly set out the terms of the partnership when you buy, preferably in a detailed legal contract.

This article was originally published on April 16, 2010

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