Is the property what counts, or the cottage?
No. “There used to be townships where you didn’t need a permit to do anything to your property,” says John Sallinen of Re/Max Parry Sound-Muskoka Realty. That’s not the case today: Building or renovating the structures on your property may require permits from your local township, approval from the Public Health Department for a septic system and, in some cases, the involvement of Parks Canada or other officials. As well, some structures, such as an old boathouse, may be grandfathered, so if you tear it down, you can’t rebuild it.
Sallinen suggests having your realtor include a clause in your offer giving you 10 days to check with local authorities to ensure that you can make the modifications you desire to the property and its buildings. “Do your due diligence,” says Land O’ Lakes broker Chris Winney, and because the rules can change, get opinions from town officials in writing. Find out what the setbacks, building size requirements, and minimum and maximum ground coverages are. “You can always apply for a minor variance,” says Anthony vanLieshout of Royal LePage Lakes of Haliburton brokerage. “For the most part, the townships are very reasonable because they want you to spend your money in the township, but you do need to check.”
Think you’ll put a trailer on the property while you figure out what you want to do? “You can’t just drop a trailer there and leave it there the way you used to be able to,” says Sallinen. “If you’ve got an actual structure under way, they may let you leave it there for six months while you do it, but it can’t be permanent. I feel for the people who want a cheap way to get onto the lake, but I also feel for the guy next door who’s built a $300,000 cottage and doesn’t want a trailer next door bringing his property value down.”