A real estate agent’s 4 tips for buying a cottage sight unseen

Published: July 2, 2021

Virtual Guided Real Estate Broker House Tour, sight unseen buying Photo by Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

After a record-breaking year for the Canadian cottage market in 2020, the upward trend shows no signs of slowing down. A June report by Royal LePage forecasts that the appreciation of recreational property values will continue for the remainder of 2021, with prices increasing 15 per cent year-over-year.

Much of that demand is being driven by pandemic-related travel restrictions that have forced Canadians to seek vacation spots a little closer to home. Another driver is the increased willingness of companies to allow employees to work from home on a permanent basis. That new WFH flexibility has sparked an exodus from expensive and congested major urban population centres like the GTA to the Atlantic provinces, particularly New Brunswick.

The pandemic has shown people that working in an office tower in the middle of a city isn’t their only option, says Pam Doak, a Fredericton-based real estate agent. “This freedom is giving them the opportunity to move anywhere they want,” she adds.

According to Statistics Canada, more than 3,500 people from the rest of Canada moved to New Brunswick in the first three months of 2021—the largest number of arrivals during those winter months since 1975. New Brunswick has enforced strict domestic and international travel restrictions for the past year and a half, a key reason why it has experienced less than 2,500 COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic. Persisting travel restrictions in New Brunswick and elsewhere has also led to a growing number of buyers enlisting agents like Doak to help them purchase cottages sight unseen.

Doak says 3D virtual tours and video apps like FaceTime allow prospective buyers to more easily get a feel for a listing thousands of kilometres away. But purchasing a property without looking at it first comes with potential risks. To avoid the biggest pitfalls, here are four tips for those considering buying a cottage sight unseen:

1. Build a relationship with an experienced local agent you can trust

While some buyers have friends or family in the area they’re looking at, the vast majority don’t. “That’s why getting an agent you trust is so important, because they’re your eyes and ears on the ground,” says Doak, who recommends obtaining an agent through a referral. If that proves difficult, find an agent who’s thorough and keeps you in the loop every step of the way.

2. Put an inspection clause in any offer you make

Because of the competitive market, buyers are forgoing inspections to make their offers more enticing for sellers. Doak cautions that this strategy can backfire when buyers take possession of their new cottage and discover anything from a minor mould problem to a rotted roof at the brink of collapse. “I always encourage people to hire inspectors because they’re able to spot red flags agents and regular people aren’t going to see,” she says.

3. Research the area around the property

Doing your homework on your potential cottage is important, but equally important is doing some reconnaissance for amenities and infrastructure nearby. For example, Doak notes that many cottages in isolated areas have to be accessed through private roads that could require costly maintenance. 

4. Check the quality of internet bandwidth and cell reception

Royal LePage’s June report found that cell phone reception and internet speed are the key factors that buyers tend to forget or take for granted when purchasing a recreational property, especially sight unseen. “Testing everything and inquiring about your service provider options beforehand can save you a lot of grief down the road,” says Doak.

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