By Sheila O’Hearn, Zoocasa

If you own a summer cottage, you’ve probably discovered it costs approximately $10,000 a year just for upkeep, in addition to paying out a mortgage, plus other regular bills and perhaps another mortgage on your home property. Renting the cottage when you’re not using it can offset some of the load, but know also what you’re taking on.

The following valuable tips for opening and staging the cottage towards the end of winter, will ensure the best rental experience for yourself and your guests when the warmer weather arrives.

The first task is NOT launching blindly into tasks, but keen observation. Examine the outside of the property and the inside for damage and MAKE A CHECKLIST. It’s easy to overlook your attention to chores without notes. Writing down what you see will make your mission to fix, replace, and scrub more real.

For the outside, check your power lines, phone lines or internet cables, roof, doors, windows, siding and deck(s) for water or structural damage, telltale signs of vandalism, the entry of unwanted animals and bug infestation. At the water’s dock, inspect for erosion, which one source suggests can be fixed by doing some extra planting.

For cottagers who have a septic system and outhouse, you are advised to pump the tank or have the outhouse cleaned before the new season. It’s costly, but consider that it will spare you a mess (and more expense) in mid-season.

If you’re on a well system, let a professional inspect it to ensure your water is safe to drink and bathe in.

For the inside, scrutinize those cupboards, closets, beds and dressers for mice and other pest activity. It’s amazing what they can nest in. You’ll need to inspect the ceiling for water leaks, and test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, light switches, appliances, outlets, cooling and heating sources, and water taps. Is your fire extinguisher still operational? Give it a good look-over. If you didn’t remove any batteries when you closed the cottage, do replace them with fresh ones before you open for business.

It’s extremely helpful if you’ve had a key holder throughout the winter who would have alerted you to any damage or surprises caused by inclement weather. Otherwise, if near-spring is your first inspection since closing, you’ll need time to fix, repair or replace promptly, in preparation for your paying guests.

When you closed the cottage up in winter, you should have turned off the power to both the water pump and hot water tank; otherwise, a harsh cold season could mean a cracked or broken pipe, through which the pump continues to run to maintain pressure. The result could mean a lot of damage inside the cottage. Assuming everything was turned off according to instruction, when you return to open the cottage, check that the water system is functioning properly. If all is well, you can fill the hot water tank step by step, according to your system’s directions and, then, inspect hot water pipes for leaks.

Once you have these basic opening chores done, and after you’ve cleaned the inside of your cottage thoroughly, you’re ready to think about placing it on the rental market. Before you do, determine clearly what you’ll charge your guests. Not sure? Check rental listings in your area, so you can set a competitive price. Is your cottage rustic or modern? Are you near the beach? How many bedrooms and what amenities do you offer? Consider what makes your cottage and area unique and play to them in your description.

Your renting venture is a product you’re trying to sell, so just as you would with a Toronto condo or townhouse, take attractive photos of the inside and outside of the cottage, and post an online description of what makes your summer rental inviting. You can place an ad for rent in the newspaper, a special cottage web agency or, if you have your own website, use a convenient online booking calendar to keep you organized.

Other valuable tips? When renting, keep your cottage BASIC, by removing anything personal or any gadget you don’t want renters using. You’re advised to lock up your boat, fishing gear, tractor, and other items. The more basic your cottage, the better, in case something gets stolen or broken.

Safety is crucial, especially among families with young children. As part of your basic cottage provision, childproof the cottage for hidden or possible hazards or potential accidents in and outside of your cottage. Specify no smoking. Are you okay with pets? A polite list of rules, or expected guest etiquette, makes for good communication to avoid misunderstandings later on.

Get insurance to ensure you’re fully covered for renters.

If you’re doing many weeks of summer/fall rentals, what you charge will be impacted by how far away you live from the cottage. So, either lower the rate if you live a few hours away or, to charge competitively, hire a property management company or willing key holder.

After the leave-taking of each guest, will you be doing the cleaning for the next arrival? If not, then you need to think about hiring a reliable, trusted cleaning service.

Zoocasa is a real estate brokerage based in Toronto.

Sheila O’Hearn is a freelance and creative writer, and has worn many hats throughout her career, from general staff reporter to magazine editor. With a keen interest in business entrepreneurship, she writes for several print and online outlets. Check out her LinkedIn for more info.


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