The backstory: Growing up in a working-class Toronto family in the 1970s, Susana Martinez didn’t have many opportunities to vacation in rural Ontario. “We couldn’t afford to rent a cottage, let alone buy one,” she says. But when she was 10, her parents splurged on an all-inclusive stay at Elgin House, a lakeside resort on Lake Joseph, Ont. Susana, now a 53-year-old client service administrator for a Toronto wealth management company, has fond memories of waterskiing and long nature hikes from that rare childhood trip. “I fell in love with the calming effect of being near the water,” she says.
Years later, she was keen to share those same experiences with her husband, Ben Bull, a 53-year-old IT security consultant, and her four kids. In 2008, they began renting cottages in Muskoka and the Kawarthas every summer. After three years, they noticed rentals were getting pricier: a two-week stay in a cottage to accommodate their family of six could cost as much as $4,000. When her mother passed away in 2011, Susana received a small inheritance that got her and Ben thinking. They wanted a place in Muskoka, which was a convenient two-hour drive from Toronto. A cottage was out of their price range, but what if they got a trailer in the same area?
“It took some convincing for me,” says Susana. “I wrongly associated trailers with the rundown yards and doors hanging off hinges that you’d see in TV shows like Trailer Park Boys.”
The compromise: Susana soon discovered that her preconceptions about trailer parks were ill-founded. In July 2012, she and Ben came across a Kijiji listing for a trailer in Port Severn’s Hidden Glen on Georgian Bay—what is now a gated community less than two hours from Toronto. Sited on the water, the trailer was in excellent condition and came with a new front deck, as well as a dock. It had 600 sq. ft. of living space, with a double bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom, as well as an extension with enough room for the kids to sleep. The trailer was listed just under $60,000, but after a quick negotiation, Susana and Ben bought it within their budget for $50,000. They also had to pay approximately $4,500 (it has since increased to $6,000) in annual dues to lease their lot from Hidden Glen, which also covers park maintenance and septic pump-out.
They spent about $6,000 on upgrades including a back deck and new bedroom floors. Dubbing their new retreat the “Trottage,” the family visited most weekends and for the holidays. Susana and Ben, who don’t own a car, spend $140 on a rental per weekend.
The silver lining: With their children now grown up (their youngest is 18), Susana and Ben realized they wouldn’t be using their trailer as much. So last September, they sold a third share of their lease to a friend, who will spend time there when the couple isn’t using it and pay a portion of the annual dues. They plan on keeping their trailer as a possible retirement getaway. “Having a place to escape to has been so important,” says Susana. “This has been the spot where we can all relax and share time together, no matter what else is going on.”
Susana’s three reasons to embrace trottage life
1. A million-dollar cottage view—for a fraction of the price
Susana knows that she won’t be getting the same return on her investment that a cottage would offer since Hidden Glen owns the land that her trailer sits on. “But it’s still an investment in my quality of life,” she says. “Plus, I wouldn’t be able to afford this little slice of Muskoka waterfront otherwise.”
2. Built-in communities
Trailer parks offer lots of opportunities to socialize and take part in events such as horseshoe tournaments and disco nights. “It’s been great for our kids to share this park with so many other families,” says Susana. “We’ve also built close friendships with neighbours who we even vacation with outside the park.”
3. Less upkeep
“In the spring, all I have to do is put out the outdoor furniture and do a little cleaning,” says Susana. “With a cottage, it can take days to get things in order.” Another trailer perk: for a $100 annual fee, Hidden Glen takes care of winterizing her trailer in the fall. “For that price, somebody else does it for us, and we don’t have to worry about the pipes bursting—it’s great.”
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