Real Estate

Cottage Q&A: Shopping for a cottage in winter

A snow-covered cabin against a blue sky background By iPics/Shutterstock

I’ve heard that shopping for a cottage during the off-season is not a good idea. But is it just a myth that you shouldn’t look for a cottage in the winter?—A Property Virgin

Let’s say it’s myth-esque. A successful cottage purchase in the winter is definitely possible. (And it’s way more likely than, say, waking up in a bathtub full of ice, missing a kidney, or realizing that the call is coming from inside the house!!). If your plan is to use the place heavily in the winter—maybe skiing, snowshoeing, or storm-watching is your thing—the timing could make total sense. It really depends on the sort of place you want to buy, where you’re looking (winter in Manitoba, for example, is not the same as winter on the coast of B.C.), and how much info you can gather despite not seeing the lake and the landscape in the summer. Ask for snow-free photos—that’s a no-brainer. But the research doesn’t stop there.

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“If the buyer knows the property—and by that I mean, they have touched down on the shoreline, they know the depth off the dock, they’ve checked out the water quality—then by all means, shop in the winter,” says Chris Winney, of Royal LePage ProAlliance Realty in Northbrook, Ont. “Buying in winter may be beneficial.” Beneficial because winter shopping can mean a possible deal. You’ll be competing with fewer buyers, and the sellers may be more motivated. “That can be less stressful,” adds Winney.

On the other hand, you’ll probably have fewer listings to choose from. According to Judy Forster, of Forster Realty in Regina Beach, Sask., despite her area being popular for ice fishing and snowmobiling, there aren’t many people buying or selling in the winter. “People close their cottages in the winter. You’d be trudging through snow.”

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A smart strategy for cottage shoppers is to chat with lake neighbours for insider intel. In winter, these may be scarce, so consider contacting a cottage association or local marina as sources instead. Also—this goes for buying a cottage in any season—use a local real estate agent who knows the area.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of Cottage Life magazine.

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