We’ve all heard that story: the great-grandfather who bought an island a hundred years ago for $25. Lucky for him—and his descendants. Cottage property values have gone up, up, up. “When I started, you could get a nice property for $79,900,” says Greg Ball of Ball Real Estate in Lakefield, Ont., who has been selling cottages for more than 20 years. “Now they go for more than a million.” The increase is significant enough, says Anthony vanLieshout, with Royal LePage Lakes of Haliburton, that “some people are buying not as recreational property, but as an investment to incorporate into their portfolio.” (When did the cottage get so corporate?)
Price is not the only change. “Renting is now a huge business,” Ball says. More cottagers are renting out their properties more often, mainly to make ownership more affordable, and the trend has even kept some potential buyers out of the market. “They can rent a place for a couple of weeks, then close the door and walk away,” says vanLieshout.
Many who are still looking are going beyond traditional cottage areas. To find a bargain, buyers are now more willing to drive farther and have a longer commute, according to Ball. New and expanded highways have made this access possible. The trend to bigger vehicles—SUVs, 4WDs—is likely a factor as well, especially in the West. “The vast majority of my buyers have them, giving them easy access in winter,” says Al Christopherson, a realtor with Century 21 Lakeside Realty in Scotch Creek, B.C. Consequently, he’s now selling cottages year round. “We don’t have a slow season anymore.”
Rusticity is on the wane. The biggest trend vanLieshout has seen in the past few decades has been extensive renovations and the conversion to four-season cottaging. (Whatever happened to the little cabin in the woods?) This goes hand in hand with another big change: cottagers retiring to the cottage in droves.
For those just getting started, however, new strategies are helping them with the steep costs, including sharing ownership with friends or family, and eschewing home ownership and renting in the city instead.
One thing that hasn’t changed? “People still realize the benefits of a cottage as a family getaway,” says Ball. “And the desire for peace and quiet.”