Otter Lake
Photo by Emily Walker

5 cottage regions to watch in 2012

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Tired of the lumpy pullout at your BFF’s cottage? Do you dream of putting your name on a title instead of renting? If you’re ready to leap into ownership, check out these five Ontario cottaging areas: We reviewed prices and local amenities, and talked to agents across the province to find regions where entry-level prices are still affordable for buyers trying to break into the market.

1. St. Joseph Island

Lake Huron’s Manitoulin Island may be bigger and better known, but St. Joseph Island—the second-largest island in the lake—is certainly worth a look. At 30 km long and 19 km wide, the island features three townships—Hilton, Jocelyn, and St. Joseph—and the village of Hilton Beach. It is home to some 2,000 year-round residents as well as a Parks Canada national historic site at Fort St. Joseph. Cottagers typically come from nearby Sault Ste. Marie, but the island also has a long history of American cottagers, originally drawn to the area for its fishing and hunting.

Today, the price of some cottage properties here is a draw: According to broker Carl Thomas of Royal LePage Northern Advantage in Sault Ste. Marie, a three-season cottage on St. Joe’s, as the locals call it, can be had for as little as $100,000. What would you get for that price? A two-bedroom bungalow on a one-acre wooded lakefront lot. Prices typically decline the farther from the bridge to the mainland you drive, since being at the island’s distant southern tip can add up to 45 minutes to your cottage commute. Four-season cottages start at about $160,000, and for those who prefer a village experience, both Richard’s Landing and Hilton Beach have marinas. “I just sold a year-round home in town for $86,000,” says Thomas about an older storey-and-a-half home with water and sewer, walking distance to the marina. Building lots in cottage subdivisions are also available, in the $50,000 to $70,000 range.

Considering St. Joseph Island? Check out some rental properties before you buy.

2. Parry Sound

Sitting on the edge of Georgian Bay—and a two-hour drive north of Toronto—the town of Parry Sound sees its population swell from 18,000 to 60,000-plus in the summer. Particularly for buyers pushed out of the nearby Muskoka market by price, the area offers good value for money, says realtor John Sallinen of Re/Max Parry Sound-Muskoka Realty. “People are often so surprised by the prices that they ask if the land is leased,” he says. “We’re able to give them really good bang for their buck.”

The starting point for waterfront properties with year-round access is around $260,000, with the number of properties available increasing significantly above $300,000. “I just sold a cottage on Manitouwaba Lake for $265,000,” says Sallinen. “It has a township road to the property, septic system, running water. The owners never used it in winter, but for another $10,000 for the water system, you could make it work year-round too.”

Like any good salesman, Sallinen can’t resist comparing his region’s lakes to others in the province. “You’ve got Group of Seven rock-bottomed lakes and hard sand and you don’t have much weedy growth. They’re deep and spring-fed and clear.” And while there are some riverfront and backlot properties, Sallinen doesn’t typically recommend them, given the availability and quality of the area’s lakefront offerings. “They may be cheaper, but there’s not high demand for them.”

Discover Parry Sound and explore the region before by renting a cottage in the area.