This time of year really brings out the dreamer in me. Summer and the city could be a lot of fun. Lots of festivals, parades, and this year the Pan Am Games. Still, summer is the one season where I just want to give nature a big hug. So, as the temps start to top 20, I start dreaming of owning a cottage or as some call it, a cabin. Yes, I know these projects could be a lot of work, and yes, reality tells me that I don't have the summers off, but a guy can dare to dream of spending more time throwing sticks off the dock for my dog to go fetch.
During a distracted moment, I often find myself on the MLS drifting away from Toronto properties to explore properties on a lake. I scribble down calculations on how to make the financing of this work. That's where it usually stops. At this point, I just can't see myself spending enough time there. Not yet any way.
Still, if someone is looking for a cottage, seriously or not, there needs to be a reality check. Cottages are not the shacks you pick up for next to nothing because they are far from the city and there's no heating. It hasn't been like that for awhile. Also, with Canada's falling dollar, and our international reputation as a natural wonder, foreign investors are setting their sites on Canadian vacation property. In fact, a report from Christie's this year named Muskoka the second hottest luxury property in the world behind France's Cote D'Azur. I'm not so sure about that, but it's not hard to find multi-million dollar properties in Muskoka, especially with foreign vacationers coming in and buying up recreational properties with the dropping Canadian dollar.
It's not just the Muskoka's though. The Kawartha's has seen the median value for a home go up 28% from last year. Cottage country is booming. And if you're not a multi-millionaire, buying one that is closer to a starter cottage may require you change your search strategy.
Now this rant is not meant to squash your cottage dreams. If you happen to be part of the 1%, then you'll be in good company up in Muskoka. There is a reason it is so desirable. It's beautiful -deep, dark lakes, and dramatic, rocky cliffs.
Of course, if you are part of the 99%, there are other options. Very trendy these days is Prince Edward County. Here you'll find wineries, star chefs and a growing number of millionaires. My suggestions: Buy here before the millionaires take over. It's only 2 hours away ( on a good traffic day). So, not that bad by Toronto cottage standards. You may find a cottage on Lake Ontario which can be chilly, but the perks are there including Sandbanks Provincial Park which looks like it's a stand in for Cape Cod.
Still want cheaper? Then you're best bet in to head to Lake Erie where lakefront cottage drop in price. Lake Erie is cold too, and you won't find the hipster factor here ( for better or for worst) that you will in Prince Edward County. Still, if a private getaway is what your crave, then maybe start exploring this side of the province.
If you really want affordable, then drive, baby, drive! Around Sudbury you'll find prices that will put a big smile on your face. The distance won't, but it's pretty and northern. The theory here is like finding a house in Toronto. Drive until you qualify. It's just on a much larger scale.
If you don't want to drive too far and you want cheap, then you may have to give up the lake. You could find a nice farmhouse or even a property with lake access that is not on a lake for a fraction of the cost. It can often be half the price of lake front cottages.
In the end, looking for a cottage is similar to looking for a condo or a house in the city. First, figure out what you can afford, but remember that banks do want 35% or more down to buy a vacation property, more than your first condo or house. Second, make a list of your must-haves. And lastly, know what you are able to give up. Could you drive further out? Do you need to be right on the water? Could you live somewhere less cool?
If your answer is no to all of these, and you're not going up every weekend, my last suggestion would be to find someone with whom you could co-buy that snazzy, dream cottage on the lake. Just make sure they can afford it and they are as clean and cottage proud as you would be.