So you’ve decided to buy a cottage next year — congratulations! It’s a big step.
Generally, the best time to buy a cottage is in the fall or winter: prices tend to go down after the cottage season ends. That means you’ve got this whole summer to do some research, so here’s what you should be thinking about now to make that purchase process as smooth as possible.
Have a general idea of what you want
The romance of being in a cabin on a secluded island somewhere is lovely, as is the idea of going totally off the grid and truly getting away from it all. You may also love the idea of getting as far away from the city as humanly possible.
Think very carefully, though, about whether the reality of these romantic ideals is for you. People absolutely survive and thrive in these situations and for many people, the peaceful seclusion of a water-access cottage beats the inconvenience and expense of running out of milk at 4 pm and having to boat into town.
There are plenty of people who are perfectly fine with an outhouse, or a sun shower, or who don’t mind building a fire in order to cook. But if you’re not experienced with roughing it, or you don’t want to spend your weekends doing that much work, consider a cottage with a few more amenities. And this goes without saying, but don’t buy a fixer-upper if you don’t want to be shepherding renovations during your vacation.
Make a specific list of features
Think about some of the following elements and make a list of what you’re looking for.
- Do you want a full-year or seasonal cottage? A winterized cabin will be more expensive, but if you’re thinking about living there full-time at some point, you won’t have to winterize down the road.
- Are you looking for road access or water access? What about access during the winter (if it’s a winterized place)?
- Off-the-grid or wired?
- Do you want internet availability?
- Do you want an isolated cottage, or one that’s part of a community?
- How far are you willing to travel to get there? If you’re only going to be there weekends, it’s probably not a great idea to pick a place a day’s drive away.
- Will you have a boat? Do you want a beach? Or some kind of access for swimming?
- Do you want a waterfront property? For some folks, this is a no-brainer. Others, especially those looking in areas with lots of public beaches, may not be so picky, and can save a lot of money.
- Are you happy with an outhouse, or do you want an indoor toilet? What about other plumbing?
- Think about the water supply — do you want drinkable water out of the tap, or are you happy bringing bottled water?
- Do you want extra buildings, like a bunky/guest house, workshop or storage shed?
Do a little research on the area and its land
Once you have a general region in mind, do a little research and determine whether there are any ongoing or unsettled claims on the land. First Nations communities may have land claims, or there may be surface, logging or mining rights to take into account. See if you can find out about any planned mining or logging activity as well.
Talk to a financial planner, lawyer and real estate agent
Once you’re closer to actually purchasing, you’ll want a pre-approved mortgage to make the process run more smoothly. Before that, though, it’s best to sit down with a financial planner or mortgage broker and determine not only your purchase budget, but also any tax implications. If you’re thinking about entering a joint ownership, talk to a lawyer so you’re fully aware of any legal pitfalls. As well, try and find a real estate agent who either specializes in cottage properties or who owns property in the area you’re interested in. Having an inside track with someone who really knows the area can save you headaches in the future.
Don’t forget to figure out a budget
You probably know how much you want to spend on a cottage, but there are lots of other expenses that come along with owning a rural property. Your budget should factor in:
- Property taxes
- Utilities: if your cottage has electric baseboard heaters (and many do), those can get seriously pricey to run
- Maintenance and repair
- Fuel (boat fuel can get expensive, especially if you’re towing wakeboarders or water skiiers)
- Commuting costs to and from the cottage (consider the cost of gas, wear and tear on your vehicle, and multiple cups of Tim’s)
- Entertaining: it’s easy to blow the budget when you’ve got friends visiting. Make sure to take guests into account when you’re doing your calculating.
Plan to visit the area you’re considering
Make plans now to rent a few places in the summer where you think you’d like to buy. Try to find different types of places: off-grid, water access, isolated, or bare-bones to test out what you are and aren’t happy dealing with. You may find that you’re fine with undrinkable water but can’t stand using an outhouse. Or you may be OK with kerosene lamps but insist on a beach. Whatever you find out when you’re renting will help you make the best possible choice when the time comes to buy a place.
Do you own a cottage? What tips do you have for people who are planning to buy one?