Ontario’s hottest cottage real estate markets of 2020

Published: July 29, 2020

Cottage Real Estate Photo by Shutterstock/Alessandro Cancian

Buy, buy, buy. Real estate agents across Ontario are being overwhelmed by buyers interested in purchasing a piece of cottage country. But inventory is limited. It’s a “seller’s market,” says Marilyn Rogers, a real estate agent who operates out of the Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton areas.

When COVID-19 hit, the market slowed for Susan Benson, a real estate agent out of the District of Muskoka. She says there was concern the trend would continue into the summer. But in late spring, the market took a turn, heating up more than ever. “It caught us by surprise,” she says.

The pandemic has a lot to do with it. The three agents we spoke to all agreed that while international travel remains risky, city dwellers are searching for a domestic escape.

As a result, demand is higher, sale prices are skyrocketing, and properties are being snapped up quickly. To give you a better understanding of the current cottage market, we’ve listed four of Ontario’s hottest cottage real estate areas and why they’re booming.

1. District of Muskoka

This one comes as no surprise. Muskoka is the Hamptons of Canada, a retreat for the rich and famous, a location that’s always in demand. But even with its prestigious reputation, Benson says Muskoka’s market is seeing an added spike.

As of July 28, the average price for a waterfront property in the District of Muskoka was $1,229,188, an increase of over $100,000 from this time last year. And the highest waterfront sale to happen in Muskoka this year was a property on Lake Rosseau that went for $16,250,000.

These kinds of prices often have a trickle-down effect, impacting prices in areas, such as the Almaguin Highlands and Georgian Bay, among others. “Muskoka does tend to be the market leader,” Benson says. “What we see happen, especially on the big lakes, is often an indicator of what’s to come. And when we start seeing the kind of demand that we’re seeing and the prices that we’re seeing, and even multiple offers, this does set the stage for peripheral markets.”

2. Haliburton County

A stone’s throw east of Muskoka lies the rolling hills of Haliburton County. This was one of the province’s best-kept secrets until a couple of years ago. Now, it would be difficult to label Haliburton as a peripheral market, especially with its pristine waterfront properties, some reaching over a million dollars. But all the same, it’s a more affordable option when compared to its Muskoka neighbour.

As of June, the median price for a waterfront property in Haliburton was $517,500, four per cent higher than last year. Rogers, however, says that while $500,000 might get you a cottage, it may not be the cottage you’re looking for. With working from home becoming the new normal, four-season cottages and wifi access are the new prerequisites for many buyers looking in the area. However, perks like these will raise the price.

“There was a place in Haliburton the other day,” Rogers says, “that was listed at $945,000, and my clients were thinking of putting an offer in. It went for $1.3 million.”

3. Kawartha Lakes

Southwest of Haliburton is Kawartha Lakes, encompassing towns such as Lindsay and Bobcaygeon. Rogers says the buying craze is present here as well. Similar to Haliburton, Kawartha Lakes is an appealing alternative to Muskoka.

“A lot of people don’t want to go up [Highway] 400, especially with [Highway] 407 coming out here now,” Rogers says. “They think it’s a lot easier to just zip over here and not get caught up in that traffic.”

Like the rest of cottage country, Kawartha Lakes is suffering from a scarcity of available listings and an abundance of buyers. Without the option of an international vacation, people seem to be holding onto their properties, Rogers says. Recently, she had a client willing to spend up to $1 million, and she was only able to send him nine available listings. “That’s not very many,” she adds.

To buy a decent waterfront property in the area, Rogers says you’re going to have to spend at least $750,000. “You can certainly get some places for $500,000 or $600,000,” she says. “They’re just going to be more of a shack that needs a bit of improvement and maybe not pristine waterfront.”

4. Frontenac County

To the east, north of Kingston and west of Ottawa, is Frontenac County. Despite being a three-hour drive from Toronto, even it’s experiencing the ripples of urban flight. “We’re getting people from beyond Toronto,” says Chris Winney, a real estate agent in the area. “I think we’re regarded as a much more affordable area.”

Much like Kawartha Lakes, Winney sees it as a plus that cottagers can avoid the Highway 400 commute. “They’re not sitting in a parking lot going somewhere very popular and very expensive,” she says. “They get on the highway, and they get here within three hours. It’s more attractive. And then if you can save a million dollars, that’s even more attractive.”

Around Bon Echo Provincial Park, where Winney operates, she says the towns have few locals, catering mostly to the vacationers. This means things get quiet during the winter, resulting in fewer activities and amenities for buyers purchasing all-season cottages. But it does bring the prices down.

Although the affordable cottages don’t stay on the market long, Winney says. “If it’s under $500,000, it goes fast. Over $500,000, it better have some features that specific buyers want.”

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