Buyer’s checklist

When you’re a first-time shopper, it’s easy to fall in love with an oh-wow view or that incredible wraparound porch—and we all know that love can make you reckless. To make sure that your head agrees with your heart, here are some cottage issues to investigate.

Water source?

Lots of possible options here: municipal supply, lake, or well; drilled, bored, or dug well; communal or private well. For waterlines from the lake, ask about the treatment system (if you plan to drink the water). Also, check the condition of the pump and intake lines. Replacing a broken pump might set you back about $500, but having to drill a new well costs about $10,000.

Water quality?

Your mortgage provider will likely require a potability test (which checks for bacteria like E. coli), available free from the local health unit. Once you decide it’s the cottage for you, get a thorough chemical analysis done ($100 and up at a private lab) to test for contaminants such as nitrates from farm runoff, metals such as lead, and sulphate. If it’s drinkable, how do you feel about the water’s smell, taste, and colour?

Water levels?

Ask how the water levels change from year to year, and seasonally. Will fluctuations affect boating, swimming, and even building (e.g., a new dock)?

Shoreline?

Who owns it (there may be a 66′ shoreline allowance owned by the municipality), and who has access (check if there are deeded rights of way)? Can you alter it? (If it’s considered fish habitat, you’ll have difficulty getting a permit to make changes.)

Land claims?

Are there any current or possible First Nations land claims issues? Will you own the mineral rights (not just the surface rights) to the land? Who owns the surrounding treed areas? (It could be Crown land or leased to a forestry company.) Get your lawyer to investigate these issues and decide how much potential for disruption you’re willing to live with.

Waste disposal?

Cottage sewage systems can include outhouses, composting toilets, septic systems, or holding tanks that must be pumped. Is there room to upgrade the system? Check the age (more than 20 years is likely in the danger zone) and condition (e.g., is the lawn over the system wet or unusually lush? Both are bad signs).

Roads?

Many cottage roads are owned privately by local road associations. Find out who maintains yours, when, and what the annual cost will be.

Cottage culture?

Is there a cottage association, and is it active, cranky, or dormant? Is the lake one big booze cruise or so quiet your kids will boycott it? The association (or your realtor) should be able to inform you about the community and whether powerboats, ATVs, PWCs, and snowmobiles are welcome or not.

Emergency services?

Is 911 service available? What’s the response time? Can emergency services even reach your property? What medical facilities are available and how far from the cottage?

Building approvals?

Planning to build a new deck, dock, boathouse or, heck, a whole new cottage? You’ll need a permit. Depending on the project and which level of government jurisdiction it falls under, your plans may not be allowed. Also, ask how long approval takes.


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