Top 5 features buyers are looking for in a cottage

Published: September 16, 2020

Cottage Photo by Shutterstock/MDowningUK

Fall typically signals the end of the cottage real estate rush, but Ontario’s market continues to boom. In the Kawartha area, sales normally drop off after Labour Day, according to Gareth Jones, executive vice president at BALL Real Estate. But this year, “we don’t see it slowing down until at least Thanksgiving. It may even go beyond that.”

Same story in Frontenac. “We’re being run off our feet right now,” says Chris Winney, a local real estate broker with Royal LePage, “and now we’re in September.”

The  COVID-19 pandemic has triggered epiphanies in people this summer. Realizing they may not be able to travel for vacations, people are looking for a domestic escape in Ontario’s cottage country, not to mention that working from home has become commonplace. However, while the demand is high, many owners are holding onto their cottages, causing a shortage of inventory and an abundance of buyers.

Shawn Woof, the senior vice president of sales for Sotheby’s International Realty Canada, says he’s seeing far more offers than normal, including 13 for a Muskoka cottage that sold for under a million dollars, and four offers on a cottage that sold for over $2 million.

It is, without a doubt, a sellers’ market, but there are certain features that buyers are looking for. To ensure you have the highest chance of selling, we spoke with some of the top realtors in the province to find out what buyers are looking for in a cottage.

1. Internet

Since the start of the pandemic, offices have been shuttered and employees have fled north out of the big cities. The working-from-home trend—or working-from-the-cottage—is here to stay, making internet access a hot commodity. This change has forced realtors to become experts on where and when the area’s latest cell tower is being built.

This new trend has even been picked up by the province’s major internet and cable suppliers, Jones says. Rogers is in the process of buying Cable Cable, a family-owned and operated company based in Fenelon Falls. “There is a big press for major players to bring up the fiber optics, bring up the Wi-Fi, and raise the bar on accessing the internet all through cottage country,” he says.

If you do have access and are preparing to sell, says Susan Benson, a broker in the Muskoka area, you need to know your internet’s speed. “If you don’t, find out, and find out what’s the maximum speed at your location.”

2. Year-round access

As the pandemic continues, people are downsizing in the city and making the cottage a more permanent home. “They’re going to want to spend more time up there because they can’t travel,” Woof says. “They have now accelerated their plans for a secondary home purchase because of COVID.”

But with buyers looking to spend their vacation time at the cottage and potentially work from there, they want to know that they’ll be able to spend winter at the property, especially if there’s a second wave of COVID.

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This means buyers are looking for well-maintained, winterized cottages that require little work. Woof refers to these kinds of buyers as turnkeys. “Those who literally do not want to do anything,” he says. “They want it furnished, looking beautiful, so they can start living their new lifestyle.”

3. Landscape

While the pandemic has changed a lot of buyers’ wants, there are a few features that endure the test of time. One of these features is the cottage’s landscape. This includes exposure—your property’s lighting. Do you see the sun shining on the dock first thing in the morning or do you enjoy the breathtaking view of an evening sunset? “South or southwest have typically been the premier choices,” Woof says.

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Alongside interest in exposure is water quality. Are you on a lake, channel, narrows? Is it swimming-friendly? How weedy is it? Swimmable water with a picturesque view has always been important, Benson says. She adds that it helps if you have a degree of privacy.

4. Commute

Cramming the kids, the dog, and a pair of coolers into the backseat of your car for an extended drive can be daunting. While people are spending more time at their cottages, they haven’t given up their primary residences in the city. “Commute time is important to people,” Benson says. Buyers want a property removed from the city but within a few hours drive, so they’re not spending half their weekend on the road.

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Don’t be discouraged if your property isn’t a quick commute, though. Sometimes that extra 30-minute drive may be worth it, Jones says. In fact, the price point is often more affordable the farther north you go, and “some of the lakes that are a little bit further out are outstanding,” Jones says.

5. Schools

For many of the realtors we spoke to, this was a surprising feature. “There’s a lot of inquiries from buyers pre-purchase about the school systems and the ratings and proximity to the cottage and the ease of access to the schools,” Jones says.

Setting the stage for selling

Buyers are looking at cottages as their home base during the pandemic. With Ontario students returning to in-classroom learning, parents want a safe alternative away from crowded urban settings. An adequate school system could be the selling point for a permanent move. “They’re considering, perhaps, not going back,” Benson says.

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