Real Estate

5 cottage regions to watch in 2012

Otter Lake

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.

3. Sudbury

With more than 300 lakes and rivers carved out of the Canadian Shield, the Sudbury region offers a wide range of year-round recreational activities for cottagers. And with ongoing upgrades to Hwy. 69, the area is attracting more and more cottagers from beyond its immediate vicinity. “I’d say our cottagers here are about fifty per cent local and fifty per cent from outside the area, particularly from southern Ontario,” says broker Alex Dumas with Royal LePage North Heritage Realty in Sudbury.

What are those cottagers getting for their recreational-property dollars? “A seasonal, drive-to, 1,000-square-foot cottage on a nice lake will cost you $225,000 to $275,000,” says Dumas. You can get a year-round place in the $300,000 to $400,000 range, all within a 60- to 90-minute commute from Sudbury. Cottages on the French River, Lake Nipissing, Trout Lake, Lake Panache, and Wanapitei Lake are particularly sought-after, with properties on smaller lakes typically available at five to 10 per cent less. Boat-access cottages are also available for $175,000 to $250,000. “You can get some nice private spots in more remote locations, and that appeals to a lot of people,” says Dumas. And the good news for buyers is that prices are stable, “so you’re not under a whole bunch of pressure to buy quickly.”

Try Sudbury out before you buy—try renting a property in the area.

4. Lanark Highlands

Ottawa Valley–based cottagers know the scenic value of Lanark Highlands and its sought-after lakes, including Robertson, Dalhousie, Clayton, and Palmerston, as well as the Clyde and Mississippi rivers. The village of Lanark is the main settlement in the area, with a number of smaller hamlets such as Hopetown, Flower Station, Elphin, and Watson’s Corners all contributing to the year-round population of approximately 5,000. County Road 511 bisects the area, connecting Perth
to Calabogie, and links up with County Roads 8, 9, 12, and 16.

Seasonal waterfront properties in the area can be had for around $230,000, according to Kerri Keeney, a broker with Lanark Living Realty in Lanark Village. Four-season properties are priced closer to $275,000. Riverfront properties are typically less costly, available for about $200,000, and backlot or water-view properties sell for about $225,000. “If you’re a buyer in Ottawa willing to drive a bit farther, the prices drop,” says Keeney, “but most people are not willing to drive three hours from home for a cheaper price.” There is room to negotiate, however: Prices in the area have softened. “People certainly do not want to be overpaying for property,” says Keeney, citing one listed at $420,000 in 2010 that attracted two offers. Both fell through because of financing issues, and the property went back on the market in 2011 at $399,000. “And I’ve still got people saying, ‘The price is too high,’ so we’re thinking of reducing it again,” says Keeney.

Visit the Lanark Highlands.

5. Kawarthas

Sitting a two-hour drive from Toronto, the Kawarthas region offers a range of cottaging options, from properties on the Trent-Severn Waterway to landlocked lakes and riverfront lots. Not surprisingly, properties on the Trent-Severn typically command the highest prices because of their appeal to boaters interested in accessing the waterway between Lake Ontario and Georgian Bay, and buyers can expect to pay $375,000 to $400,000 for properties with 80 to 100 feet of waterfront. Cottagers who want smaller, less-connected lakes can expect to pay around $300,000. “We’re on the cusp of the Canadian Shield, and we have nice, clear lakes with limestone bottoms,” says broker Mike Barkwell of Re/Max County Town Realty Inc. Brokerage in Fenelon Falls. “But that limestone will also give you some cliffs.” So while you may have clear lakes, you may have steps to get down to the water.

If a riverfront property is your desire, the prices will come in significantly lower: “A three-bedroom cottage on the Burnt River with eighty to a hundred feet of waterfront will run you $200,000, plus or minus, depending on the quality of the cottage,” says Barkwell. And if you’re really squeezed for cash? Cottages on leased land on Pigeon Lake, backlot cottages, and properties on dredged lagoons are options.

Get to know the Kawarthas and enjoy a break from the city. Book a vacation property now.