For many, the idea of owning a private island—or at least a piece of one—sounds idyllic. But access is a major issue. For one, you’ll need a boat to get your family, supplies, and guests to the cottage, which may mean multiple trips. You’ll also need a snowmobile or ATV to reach it when the lake’s frozen if you plan on visiting your cottage in the winter. In the shoulder seasons, an airboat is one of the few options available.
Many cottage roads turn from icy in the winter to downright boggy in the spring. You may need a truck to navigate them. Check with the local road or cottagers’ association to see if the road is maintained year-round and what your share of the cost would be.
Sure, the views are nice from that clifftop spot. But how are you going to get to the water? Installing or replacing a rickety old stairway running down a hillside is expensive, and if you have family and friends with mobility issues, you’re looking at an even more costly outdoor lift. On level lots, inquire with a local realtor about any overland flooding concerns. Cottages on flood plains are usually uninsurable.
Everyone has a different threshold for how big of a renovation they’re willing take on. Major structural defects such as a cracked foundation, mould infestation, or toxic materials like asbestos insulation are all costly and time-consuming to fix. These types of fixes are particularly problematic this year with COVID shutdowns leading to a shortage of many building materials, long delays in deliveries, and elevated costs.
A cottage inspection will include an assessment of the septic tank. Note that if it’s failing, replacing a septic can be very expensive. The inspector should also look for signs of buried oil tanks on the property, another costly environmental hazard you might not want to get involved with.
Most people want peace and quiet at the cottage, but some locations make that almost impossible to find. Ask a local realtor and the cottage association about potential impacts on your bliss including excessive boat traffic, nearby train tracks and highways, blasting from mining, and kids’ summer camps that share the lake.
You’ll also want to investigate any restrictions that might limit your enjoyment. Many lakes, for example, have prohibitions on motorboats. If the cottage is part of a planned community there might be limitations on what renos you can do or prohibitions on renting the cottage out. And if it’s on leased land, you only own the building and might be forced to move it if the lease expires and isn’t renewed.