Real Estate

How to avoid falling victim to a bad cottage real estate deal in a hot market

couple angry about a contract Photo by fizkes/Shutterstock

Low inventory of recreational property is forcing buyers to compete against multiple-interested parties, often driving the cottage’s price well above asking.

With cottages forecasted to remain a hot commodity this year, according to Royal LePage’s 2022 Recreational Property Report, inventory across the country is expected to remain low, driving up the average price of a Canadian cottage by 13 per cent to $640,710.

“What we are seeing in this market is, generally speaking, fewer buyers are competing for the same property, but those buyers are highly qualified, very serious, and highly motivated,” explained Susan Benson, a real estate broker in Muskoka. “In almost all cases, they have lost out in a previous competing situation. So, by the time they get to one that they really want, they’re invested.”

To make themselves more appealing to sellers, many buyers are presenting firm offers, forgoing property research to close the deal fast and eschewing conditions, such as a home inspection. The issue with skipping these steps is that you could end up paying over asking price only to discover major problems with the property that will cost you extra.

No matter how badly you want a cottage, there are certain steps you shouldn’t compromise on. Here’s everything you need to do, to avoid falling victim to a bad real estate deal in a hot market.

Work with a local realtor

It may seem wise to save some cash by handling real estate negotiations yourself, but without a realtor there is a lot you can miss. “They will surround you with a team of experts and resources that can help guide you through what is a really challenging time [in the cottage market],” Benson says.

In particular, you want to partner with a local realtor, someone who knows what’s available in the area and can help you find the type of cottage you want. Knowledge of the area’s geography and nearby services makes a local realtor better equipped to brief you on any foreseeable issues with the property, whether the property’s overpriced, and whether it’s worth engaging in a bidding war.

Use a home inspector

The last thing you want is to purchase a cottage only to find out it has a cracked foundation, a rotting boathouse, or a long list of other problems that could require further investment. The best way to avoid any surprise renovations, Benson says, is to hire a home inspector.

“We’ll have a home inspector look online at the listing pictures just to see if there are any obvious red flags,” Benson says. “If our buyers really like the place, and we’ve gone to see it, we will try to arrange a second showing for the home inspector.”

The issue with this is that COVID has affected showing times. Previously, potential buyers routinely had an hour to look over the property, but in many cases, this viewing window has been shortened to 30 minutes.

“That’s a real challenge,” Benson says. “But [a home inspector] has a critical eye that can pick up on unanticipated maintenance costs, such as a boathouse and docks, to get a sense of the condition they’re in, and the condition of the crib or structural supports. If something’s wrong, that can be a really expensive unanticipated cost.”

Speak to neighbours

As a realtor, Benson says she often speaks with cottage neighbours on behalf of the buyer. “Now that we’re two years into COVID, there are many, many more people actually living full time in cottage country. So, it’s usually very easy to find a neighbour, and they’ll give you all kinds of insights.”

By speaking with neighbours, not only will you get a sense of what the area has to offer, but you’ll also get a better idea of who you’ll be residing next to. There’s always a chance that the neighbouring property could be a cottage rental known for hosting large, rowdy groups.

Research the property

Your prospective cottage may look great during the summer, but without proper research you could have no idea that it sits in a floodplain. Or, if buying during the winter, you may be won over by the four-season access, but what happens when the ice melts and you’re left with a weedy shoreline.

Neighbours can help provide this information, but Benson also suggests looking at a topographical map of the area to see if flooding could be an issue. While you’re at it, you should also research the property’s zoning information.

“You might think your cottage is in the middle of nowhere, but in fact, you’re near a proposed or approved development, particularly in proximity to places that are zoned under a resort zoning, or in proximity to a marina,” Benson says. “You want to make sure it’s the right location.”

Having a solid grasp of the property’s zoning will let you know whether you’re allowed to rebuild, renovate, or add any new structures. It’ll also avoid any nasty surprises, such as having to purchase the cottage’s shoreline or road access from the municipality.

Should you purchase the shoreline road allowance when you buy a waterfront property?

Choose a reliable mortgage broker

Similar to your realtor, a good mortgage broker should know the cottage market. That way, they can help you pick a financing plan that fits both you and your property’s needs.

“What you don’t want is to pay a premium price for a property and then have after-the-fact money problems that turn what was supposed to be a dream into an absolute nightmare,” Benson says.

This is particularly true for foreign buyers or anyone looking to use the cottage as a rental, she adds. “You really have to understand the tax implications of that.”

When choosing a mortgage broker, Benson says you need to make sure their focus is on you as a client. “What I would say about a really good broker is that they’re very responsive to questions and are willing to take the time to educate a buyer about the implications of what they may be borrowing…and are willing to look at options beyond a very specific portfolio of lending options. The broader the better.”

Featured Video