What does an all-season cottage mean to you?

Deciding to buy an all-season cottage comes with a long list of wants – and that wish-list will be much easier to check off if your potential cottage has what you need to prevent your purchase from becoming a money-pit.

Before you start checking the real estate listings, it’s important to:

Discuss Your Financial Portfolio with Your Banker
Placing the financial cart before the horse isn’t wise, so your first task should be a discussion with your financial institution to determine your financing goals before you begin looking at cottage listings.

Getting pre-approval from your bank will make your cottage purchase go more smoothly and help you stay on-price-point. Count on needing 20 – 25% as a down payment; nevertheless, it’s a good idea to compare what different lending institutions are offering, or seek advice from the mortgage brokers in the area specialized in obtaining financing on recreational properties.

With a sound financial picture in hand, the excitement can begin.

Here are the seven top considerations when shopping for a recreational property:

1. Size and Type of Cottage

Ask yourself – are you looking for:

• A cottage for the whole family?

• A private, peaceful retreat for two surrounded by nature?

• A waterfront lot upon which to build your dream cottage?

• An already built modern, fully-appointed waterfront home?

• A property to renovate?

• Distance from home to the getaway?

Your decision on the type of dwelling you want could impact the all-season factor, so careful what you wish for. It may bring surprises your eyes failed to see upon a first cottage viewing, such as repairs or modern-convenience upgrades, so, bring your notepad or pen and paper with you and take notes. Leave no stone or outbuilding unturned.

2. Accessibility

Leave the path untrammeled for the likes of Emily Carr! It’s one thing to be young, adventurous and capable of sprinting up the mountainside to get to your off-the-grid cabin. But let’s face it − for most of us, putting up with the traffic conga line to the cottage is enough. After all, an all-season cottage means you want roads that are well-maintained in the off-seasons too!

So, keep these accessibility tips in mind:

• Cottages that are accessible only by water are generally less expensive, but factor in the cost of buying and maintaining a boat, plus marina expenses and added travel time; in winter, you’ll need a snowmobile or snowshoes − and only if the lake is frozen enough to cross safely.

• Cottages with road access is preferable for all-season usage, even if you need a sturdy vehicle to get through muddy or unplowed roads. If municipal roads are a must-have, find out if they’re maintained year-round.

• Insurance: Your mortgage lender and insurer will charge you more if roads are NOT maintained.

• Land claims: Check for ongoing First Nations land claims. Research also the property and surrounding area for recent mining claims and planned logging activity. These types of issues have caused major dilemmas for some cottagers, who never thought to inquire.

3. Amenities:
The basic necessities of waste, water and heat are often taken for granted at home, but the question of amenities is a prime question for cottagers.

Since most cottages are not connected to municipal water mains, they need their own water source. Drilled or dug wells are common, and waterfront property owners will have the option of pumping water from the lake. One source notes that a pump is needed in both scenarios to provide water pressure to the house.

Remember: you’ll need to enclose water supply pipes and keep them warm in winter to prevent frozen or ruptured pipes.

Most cottages have sewage disposal systems nowadays, so you can enjoy the modern conveniences of home. These systems might include:

• Septic tank/tile bed systems

• Holding tanks which must be pumped out periodically

• Leaching beds for grey water

• Composting toilets.

Before you purchase a cottage, ask what type of sewage disposal system it has, and check that proper approvals were acquired. You can also arrange − well worth the extra cost − for a septic inspection at the time of your cottage’s home inspection.

What heats the prospective cottage: Gas? Propane? Oil? Wood? How old is it?

Ask to see all the utility bills, and factor the amount into your calculated monthly bill payments.

4. Home Inspection:

Passing up the home inspection is a BIG mistake. It reports on the condition of roofs, windows and doors, the electrical and plumbing system, proper insulation and more, helping you make an informed decision on whether or not to purchase.

5. Entertainment/Leisure Activities

Do you like to fish, play community games, or swim? Do you want to be near a sandy beach or a rocky shore-line? Boating enthusiasts, will you build a dock with proper authorization, or if a dock already exists, what is its condition? Do the off-seasons offer the kinds of activities you like, such as skiing on the slopes? For sightseeing cottagers, how accessible are those quaint or historic towns from the cottage?

Whatever hobbies you like, check the area first for its leisure opportunities through the local tourism board and your real estate agent.

6. Rainy Day Cash Supplement
The unpredictable aspect of cottage country means you need to be prepared to fork out cash for emergencies, repairs and maintenance. Calculate $5,000 to $10,000 a year for maintenance/repairs, a common figure for even small cottages. A harsh winter can potentially (and literally) do a number on many items, from the dock and roof to broken trees. Will you be ready?

Additionally, equipment such as chainsaws, lawnmowers, water pumps and boats will still demand your regular, annual TLC.

7. Take Your Time

It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of buying a cottage, but by exercising restraint and making decisions pragmatically, you’ll gain both peace of mind and a piece of gorgeous property to escape from the workaday grind.

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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