Real Estate

5 things I wish I’d known before renting a cottage for the first time

New cabin in a supermarket basket on a coloured background. Real estate object, house for sale, rental property concept. Photo by Natali55522/Shutterstock

For many, spending time at the cottage is something they’ve always known—their cottage has been passed down for generations. For others, they’ll visit a friend’s cottage or they know someone who knows someone. Then there’s the rest of us. The wonderful privilege of growing up with summers at the cottage wasn’t an experience I grew up with. But after a very long lockdown last year, I wanted to take a vacation where I could safely include my parents in without risking their health. Renting a cottage felt like the perfect escape, but if you didn’t grow up going to a cottage like me, it can be tricky navigating it for the first time. I learned quite a bit during this first experience. Here’s what I wish I had known before I booked the trip. 

What do you get for the price of the rental? 

When we were looking for the perfect cottage, the one thing we knew we really wanted was to be right on a lake—and while many listings marketed a lake—the more we would dig into it, we would often find that the lake was actually a 10-minute walk or a 5-minute drive away. Other things to note: does it have a TV or any entertainment? Does it include access to a barbecue, laundry, firewood, life jackets, canoes, and other supplies, or do those require an additional fee? Make sure you read the fine print before you commit, or you might find yourself disappointed on arrival.

How accessible is the rental? 

The cottage we ended up renting was in a heavily wooded and isolated area near the tiny town of Severn Bridge, Ont. While the listing did mention that the area around the cabin was quite rocky, we didn’t realize just how inaccessible it truly was for anyone with mobility issues until we were there. My mom has bad knees and wasn’t able to come sit by the fire, as the firepit was located on steep, slanted, rocky ground. If accessibility is an issue for anyone in your party, make sure the place that you’re booking will work for them. 

What is the food and supplies situation? 

The cottage owners noted they would supply little things like salt and pepper, but we ended up bringing many items that we didn’t need. This can be tricky, but if possible, request exact information on what supplies will and will not be provided from your host so you don’t unnecessarily overpack.  

What is the safety situation around the lake? 

The instructional guidebook provided on arrival said that we had to wear life jackets on the lake at all times. Our cottage was on a small lake with no beach area—a dock was the only way to access the water. Powerboats were plentiful on the lake, which could create safety issues if you were without a life jacket. 

What is the rental’s access to the outside world? 

Our cottage had Wi-Fi, which was a non-negotiable for us when we were looking for a place to rent, but the location was hard to find. We had to follow special directions from the owner on the drive up to find it hidden deep into a sprawling wooded area, which made us want to avoid heading back into town should we have needed anything or wanted to explore. This also made me slightly nervous that if anything went wrong, emergency services might have a hard time finding the place quickly. 

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