6 real estate trends

The trends shaping this year's cottage market and the next

By Jay TeitelJay Teitel

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4. Seniors are both coming and going

Many of Ontario’s cottage regions enjoyed their greatest period of cottage building in the early 1950s, and because the boomers are the largest single generation in modern history, 
the past 10 years have seen the greatest greying of the cottage population in memory. With rising values bringing soaring property taxes and capital gains implications, the decade has also seen a large number of original family cottages sold to non-related buyers. In the vast majority of these cases, 
the sellers have been senior citizens, giving up their cottages to return to the city full-time to spend their retirement.

Now, though, they’re meeting squadrons of their peers coming the other way. As many retirees are relocating to cottage country today as are abandoning it. This reverse migration is taking two forms. The first is a relatively younger wave, mostly in their late 50s and early 60s, buying cottages (and hobby farms) as year-round residences to retire to—or to continue working from. In the Rideau Lakes region, for example, although the past three years have brought more young families into the area, the bulk of cottage sales are still to retirees and semi-retirees. “If you’re a professional from the Ottawa area, working two days a week in the city,” says Tanya Lemcke, “the hour and ten minutes it takes you to make the commute is perfectly doable.”

The second wave is more surprising: These are older retirees who have always had cottages, which they’ve upgraded to four-season use, but who find that with increasing age they can no longer handle the physical demands of continuing to live alone in those cottages. “Maintenance becomes an issue for them,” says Bill Kulas, a sales representative with Re/Max Haliburton Highlands Realty in Minden. “But they don’t want 
to leave the area. They may be involved in the local scene, the local golf or curling club, or the hospital auxiliary in their nearby town.” The result, says Kulas, is 
a significant number of these seniors are putting their lakefront cottages up for sale and moving to a smaller house, “usually a bungalow rather than two-storey,” in local subdivisions specifically geared 
to this demographic. Subdivisions of this kind recently opened for business in both Minden and Haliburton, and similarly targeted condo developments are opening in larger centres on Georgian Bay, such as Collingwood, Meaford, and Owen Sound.

As well, health-care services for older people have improved in most of the cottage-area towns in southern and central Ontario, to the point where more than 25 per cent of the population of Haliburton County is of retirement age, one of the highest proportions of senior citizens in the province. And an ancillary group is now joining the former cottage owners in the town subdivisions: seniors who have never owned cottages themselves but rented them, or attended camps in a particular area as children. The cottage experience at this remove may be largely memory-laden and associative, but that doesn’t make it any 
less real. It’s difficult to deny that these people, addicted to living near water 
and forests, are still para-cottagers in their own right. “Once someone moves up here from the city,” says Kulas, “you almost never see them move back.”

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Jay Teitel