Real Estate

Before you buy, check these 10 things that can be costly surprises

Cottage with a staircase to the dock on a lake Photo by LesPalenik/Shutterstock

Cottages or cabins are synonymous with the rest and relaxation many of us crave, and they make for a very inviting escape from the city. Whether you’re deep in search of that dream recreational property or you’re casually browsing and seeing what’s out there, it’s important to know exactly what due diligence is needed when you do find the one.

There may be more work ahead than you’d anticipated, as many people don’t realize that cottages and cabins come with hidden issues or more complicated challenges to navigate than other types of properties. This means asking the right questions and digging a bit deeper than you might initially think is necessary. RE/MAX realtor Rachel Dempster serves B.C.’s Sunshine Coast, and there’s one reason she always recommends using a local realtor over a city realtor who doesn’t know the area as well. “City realtors have referral networks to realtors in other areas, so it’s best to work with locals,” says Dempster. “Generally, realtors know right away if a listing falls into a more unique category that requires special inspections and due diligence.” Dempster advises looking into the following key areas, no matter where you’re looking, before you purchase a property.

Septic systems

In Dempster’s experience, about 90 per cent of remote properties require septic testing. For instance, she recently sold a 10-acre property on Nelson Island, B.C. with no septic (or electricity). While this is an extreme case, it does happen.

As a result, Dempster likes to do a quick check when it comes to rural properties just to be sure her clients know exactly what they’re in for. And you should talk to your realtor about doing the same.

Always add subjects for septic inspection to your contract,” says Dempster. Go through the system’s history—you need an adequate, regularly-serviced system or a plan for new installation within your purchase deal.

Dempster also advises checking the septic is the right size for the property, since septic systems are built based on the number of bedrooms, not bathrooms. This means an older system in a one-bedroom, two-bathroom cabin may not be sufficiently sized and could need an upgrade (which can be costly).

Another key thing to consider when it comes to water systems—where the water comes from (i.e. a well or municipal service) and whether it’s safe to drink.

Archaeological and geotechnical considerations

If you’re looking for a property in an area potentially home to archeological digs (common in places such as B.C.), be aware that your property could be subject to inspection. If anything is found, deals can be cancelled, particularly those for new builds.

Geotechnical considerations such as erosion are important too, depending on the severity. For example, “There’s a part of Half Moon Bay on the Sunshine Coast, which looks great if you go there by land. But, by boat, you’ll see a lot of erosion,” says Dempster. This further illustrates why local knowledge is invaluable.

Road access

Access to your property can come in different forms. The property may be on a township-maintained road or a resident-maintained private road. If the road is private, you may be responsible for paying to help maintain it, for insurance. Check ease of access, especially in the winter, as it can be expensive and time-consuming to clear snow.

Water access and conditions

If you are interested in boating at your cottage, you’ll need to confirm whether boat launches are restricted to owners or whether they are open to the public. You may also want to find what what controls the water level. Is the lake spring-fed? Is it part of a river chain controlled by dams? Does the water level fluctuate to allow you to keep your dock in the water in the winter. You don’t want to be caught off-guard by the water dropping five to six feet by the end of October.

Other due diligence considerations

  • Electrical systems—get an inspection to ensure they’re in good working order
  • Air quality—certain areas of the country have a high presence of radon, for example
  • Dock condition and management on either coast, including permitting and safety
  • Property lines, bylaws, and zoning—there can be restrictions on short-term rentals, for instance
  • Garbage collection—some areas don’t have it and require you to dispose of waste or recyclables yourself
  • Maintenance—ask your realtor and the previous owner, if possible, so you know what to expect

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