Looking to buy a cottage? Here’s how to snag a bargain

Published: October 2, 2020

Adirondack chairs sitting on a cottage wooden deck facing a calm lake during a summer day in Muskoka, Ontario Canada, real estate Photo by Alessandro Cancian/Shutterstock

Look at backlot cottages or smaller lakes

“The bigger the lake, the higher the price,” says Rob Serediuk, an agent with Chestnut Park in Haliburton, Ont. But if you’re satisfied with a smaller lake, somewhere quiet, maybe good for fishing, Anne Murphy, a real estate agent with the Sutton Group, advises looking at little towns away from hot spots such as Muskoka or B.C.’s Kalamalka Lake. In B.C., she suggests hidden gems such as Idabel Lake, near Kelowna, and Mabel Lake, near Vernon.

Typically, backlot properties are cheaper and don’t involve added costs, such as a dock or boats. In Ontario, you can find great backlot deals all over, says Serediuk. He recently sold a converted barn near Wilberforce at a great price and found buyers a hobby farm near Warkworth. “It comes down to drive time,” Serediuk says. Cottages only an hour or two outside of major hubs, such as Toronto, will be more expensive.

Share the property

Consider sharing with family or friends. “Figure out how much time you want to spend there,” Murphy says. “If you can only get off a month from work, maybe it’s not a bad idea to share that purchase with another family.”

Or create income by renting it out. “Young people are buying summer homes, staying in them for a couple of weeks, and then putting them on Airbnb for the next six or 10 weeks,” says Rocky Arsenault, a broker with Re/Max Harbourside Realty in Summerside.

If you’re buying as an investment, however, you have to know the area and how the property value is tied to the economy, says Serediuk. After the 2008 recession, higher-end real estate prices stayed flat for about five years, while lower-priced places sat on the market, he says. “A $2 million cottage in an area like Parry Sound, where the average sale is $800,000, will take longer to sell.”

Buy real estate in the fall

Late summer or early fall is a great time to find deals. “People are thinking they have to carry through the winter,” says Murphy. “You might be able to negotiate a better price.”

But know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. When buying in the off-season, ask yourself what the lake and surrounding area will look like when fully occupied. Is the lake busy or quiet? Does the waterfront get weedy in the summer months? Is your neighbour a short-term rental?

Research the area beforehand: speak to a nearby cottager, and visit in the summer, if you can. The extra legwork may sound excessive, especially if you’re trying to capitalize on a fall deal, but getting into cottage real estate is a huge decision. You really have to “put in the time,” Serediuk says.

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