Joe Wong recalls a promise that his friend Mark Luz made when Joe was the best man at Mark’s wedding in Southampton, Ont., in 2000. “He told me, ‘One day we’re all going to own cottages here,’ ” says Joe, a 47-year-old University of Toronto professor. Over the next decade, Joe made the drive from Toronto to several Southampton cottage rentals with his wife, Jennifer, and son, Oliver. Eventually, Mark bought a cottage in the area, and they’d often be joined by another old friend, Bryce McCandless, his wife, Liz, and their three kids.
They would spend summers biking, playing tennis, and enjoying the sandy beaches of Lake Huron. Over beers at the 2011 Honda Indy Toronto, Joe and Bryce decided to make Mark’s prophecy a reality. “Instead of spending money on separate rentals, we thought, why don’t we just buy a cottage together?” says Joe.
The pair set a budget of $350,000 and began searching for a cottage that could fit all eight members of both families. That fall, they found an 1,800-sq. ft., four-bedroom, three-bathroom cottage a short walk from the beach and Mark’s cottage. The families bought the place for $320,000, agreeing that co-owning allowed them to split the down payment, as well as the $2,600 mortgage and any maintenance costs.
Each couple took a room, and the kids sleep in bunk beds in the other two. They alternate two-week periods in the summer, with the Wongs taking Thanksgiving and the McCandlesses opting for Easter. “But we always try to be together for New Year’s and Canada Day,” says Joe.
The silver lining
After a decade of ownership, the co-owning arrangement has stayed intact. Bryce handles all the financial bookkeeping, while each family puts about $250 into an account every month for minor purchases and repairs. They also consult each other on any needed major repairs, such as redoing the upper floors or replacing the roof, which they did last year. After the mortgage is paid off in 2023, Joe and Bryce have agreed to give each other the opportunity to sell their share. “It’s good to have that financial flexibility,” says Joe. “But I doubt either of us will ever want to sell.”
Owner Advice: Joe’s three financial tips for co-owning a cottage with friends
1. Mutual trust is key
Both men are keen to keep the cottage in their families for future generations. “Bryce and I always say that it’s the best purchase we’ve ever made,” says Joe. “Our families are creating irreplaceable memories together, and I couldn’t imagine doing this with anybody else.”
Joe opted to buy a cottage with a trusted lifelong friend. “It’s also important to partner with someone in a stable financial situation,” says Joe. “I am a tenured professor, and Bryce is an executive at a major roofing company, so we’re never concerned about the other person making payments.”
2. Stick to a budget
“When you’re cottage-hunting with another family, you might start to differ on how much you want to spend,” says Joe. “Agreeing on the budget beforehand and setting an absolute limit avoids any messy complications.”
3. Find a partner with similar tastes and spending habits
“Bryce and I work so well together because we’re both practical,” says Joe. For example, when they discussed getting a new stove for their cottage this summer, the pair opted to purchase a simple, functional model. “Buying a $15,000 stove might make sense for others, but it didn’t make sense for us to spend that much on something we’d use for less than half of the year.”