How COVID-19 is heating up the cottage real estate market

Published: July 8, 2020 · Updated: July 9, 2020

For Sale Sign Photo by Shutterstock/Andy Dean Photography

Much of the Canadian economy has screeched to a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, but one market is seeing some benefits: cottage real estate.

“The market is extremely active right now,” says Shawn Woof, a realtor with Sotheby’s International Realty Canada, who operates in Ontario’s Lake of Bays, Haliburton, Kawartha, and Muskoka areas. “It’s a seller’s market.”

According to a market report released by Royal LePage, covering Jan. 1 to May 31, 2020, the average unit price in the Muskoka area is up 15 per cent from this time last year and the average number of days a property sits on the market has decreased from 44 to 43. While stats have yet to be released for June, Woof says the trend is continuing. “I can safely say this, anecdotally, days on market are fewer, sales are higher, and the median price is going up over the short term.”

As Woof sees it, the mass exodus of city dwellers escaping urban spaces for cottage country is no surprise. All the pandemic has done is to accelerate people’s future plans. “They may have always wanted a cottage or a property outside of the city, but given the current health crisis, they’ve now decided to move that up in their current life plans.”

As buyers scour the cottage market, some new trends are emerging in terms of desirable traits. “One of the latest things that have been top of mind for everybody, which used to be sort of a secondary conversation,” Woof says, “is the internet.” The pandemic has made companies realize that employees can be productive working remotely. Tech giant Twitter has gone as far as making the work-from-home model permanent. With people’s situations more flexible and mobile, working from the cottage becomes a viable option.

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But before you put a down payment on a cottage, Woof suggests sussing out what kind of internet options are available to you. “In the areas that I trade in,” he says, “it’s less than ideal at times.” Cable often isn’t an option, leaving radio signals or satellite, which don’t live up to the speeds people are used to in the city.

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Another trend that’s emerged is buyers looking for a four-season cottage. “People are starting to trend towards being in the city less and at their [cottage] properties more, and they don’t know how long it’s going to be,” Woof says. “The importance of having year-round access and a building that’s winterized has risen.”

But with competition on the rise, it can be tricky to secure your dream property. Woof says cottages priced properly are moving quickly. “You have to be prepared to do the work on the ground,” he says.

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To do this, Woof advises partnering with a local realtor. “There are plenty of fantastic agents, but the market is a little bit unique up here.” When buying a cottage versus an urban property, you have to deal with septic systems, shore road allowances, drawing water from sources other than municipal services, and different points of access, whether it be water access, municipal access, or private road access.

“Your ability to navigate through those unique aspects of property ownership up here will enhance your ability to secure a property with less conditions,” he says.

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