4 surprising takeaways from Muskoka’s recent cottage owner survey

District of Muskoka sign, Muskoka second home survey Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock/Anna Kraynova

In July, the District of Muskoka released its Second Home Study, an analysis of the area’s cottager population. The study originated in 1973 to chart cottagers’ economic impact on the district but has since expanded to include their habits and preferences. Released every several years, district staff conducted the last survey in 2017, and then 2013 prior to that.

This year, 5,952 cottagers participated in the survey—the most since its inception. Delving into cottager behaviour, the study unearthed several interesting facts about cottage rentals, population demographics, and the types of properties owned. Here are some of the main takeaways from the report:

How many cottages are being rented out?

Despite the recent explosion of rentals across Ontario’s cottage country, Muskoka’s numbers remained low. Only 11 per cent of cottagers surveyed are renting out their properties. Although, this number has increased by four per cent since 2017 and five per cent since 2013.

Of those who did rent out their cottages, 50.4 per cent used word of mouth to find renters, while only 25.4 per cent used an online marketplace, such as Airbnb. Cottagers rented out their places for an average of 7.7 weeks per year—up from 6.4 weeks in 2017—with most rentals happening during the summer.

Who are Muskoka’s cottagers?

Muskoka has a healthy population of cottagers, making up 55 per cent of the district’s total population. However, that number has dropped since 2017, from 81,907 to 81,452. Of Muskoka’s six municipalities, Georgian Bay had the largest percentage of cottagers, making up 82.3 per cent of its total population, followed by Muskoka Lakes with 78.2 per cent.

Most of Muskoka’s cottage owners are baby boomers with 48 per cent being 55 years or older. They also tend to be in the upper wealth bracket with 48 per cent of cottage households earning $200,000 or more per year—up four per cent from 2017. And when they’re not at the cottage, 63.6 per cent of cottagers call the Golden Horseshoe area home.

What type of property do they own?

In tandem with the population drop, the number of cottage properties also decreased from 2017 (22,879 to 22,377). And with Muskoka’s dizzying real estate prices, 30 per cent of these cottages were owned jointly, meaning they were purchased with a friend or family member.

But the high price tags come with ideal lots. An overwhelming 96.7 per cent of the cottages were waterfront properties. Fifty-six per cent of those cottages were located on one of Muskoka’s 10 largest lakes (Georgian Bay, Lake Muskoka, Lake of Bays, Lake Rosseau, Lake Joseph, Skeleton Lake, Six Mile Lake, Three Mile Lake, Sparrow Lake, or Mary Lake).

Seasonal versatility was also popular among cottagers with 52 per cent of properties winterized and 35 per cent on public year-round maintained roads. Georgian Bay had the lowest winterization rate at 38 per cent due to its high number of water-access only properties (59 per cent).

When do they use the cottage?

As you’d expect, summer was the most popular season at the cottage with 25 per cent of Muskoka Lakes’ cottagers spending all summer up north. Fall and spring have started to see some more love, with over half of cottagers spending up to 30 days at their properties during both seasons. There’s also evidence that Muskoka is evolving into a four-season destination with only 45 per cent of cottagers not coming up in the winter versus 51 per cent in 2017.

Most cottagers still aren’t ready to settle permanently at the cottage, though. Only 10.3 per cent planned to make a permanent move to Muskoka in the next six years. Those opposed to a permanent move cited distance from friends and family as the main reason, followed by availability of healthcare services, the area’s climate, and spotty internet access.

This runs in contrast to previous pandemic trends where remote work had many considering the cottage as a viable living option. But despite the reversal in opinion, the district’s study makes it clear that Muskoka’s cottager population is still thriving.

Featured Video