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In many parts of Canada, summertime is synonymous with vacationing in cottage country. Summer homes and cottages have a long tradition, and particularly in Ontario, demand for recreational properties is strong. It's predicted that as the population ages and more baby boomers reach retirement age, the lure of cottage country will become even stronger.

Buying a cottage is a lot different than a regular home purchase, however, especially for those who are used to living in the city or suburbs. As with any purchase, the buyers must make sure they thoroughly inspect the property and get to know the surrounding community before they make an offer to purchase. Hiring a home inspector to check out the structural condition of the cottage and the outbuildings is strongly recommended. Here are some other things cottage buyers should take into consideration:

  • If it's waterfront property, make sure the land title extends to the water's edge. Check out the lake and make sure it will suit your needs. Are you looking for a sandy, shallow beach for your kids? Is the water deep enough for boating and diving? Are there lots of weeds? Does the water tend to be rough or calm most of the time?

    This year the water level in several of Ontario's lakes is lower than any other time in recent memory. How does that affect your property? Is the old boathouse in danger of becoming high and dry?

  • Some waterways have regulations that prohibit certain uses, such as using power boats. How much activity is there? Will the wake from power boats wash on to the shoreline and cause problems? Check with neighbours and the local marina for lake information.
  • Is the water clean? Has it been tested for potability? Are the water pump and pipes in good condition? Or, if the property has a well, has it been tested? Check for water pressure and hot water.
  • Many older cottages have septic systems in need of repair. Make sure the sewage system is in good working order and complies with local and provincial regulations. The septic system may be polluting the drinking water.
  • Check to see if year-round use of the property is permitted. Previous owners may have given permission for local snowmobile clubs to use the property, or for hunters to use it. Make sure that if you're planning to renovate the cottage or add any outbuildings, it's permitted by local zoning.
  • Does the road have year-round access? How long is the private road to the cottage? Will it be a problem to maintain it?
  • Check the wiring in the cottage to make sure it will meet future needs. If you plan to add a satellite TV system or install computers so you can work from the cottage, you may need to upgrade.
  • If the cottage is not winterized or will be left with no heat during the winter months, make sure you know how to turn off the water and drain the pipes dry.
  • Security is always a concern if the cottage is to be left unoccupied for a long time. Consider the costs of installing a security system or arranging to have a local resident check the cottage regularly.
  • Make sure there is no wood/soil contact that could encourage termites. Watch for any small piles of sawdust, signs of chewing on the house, or animal droppings that could indicate the house has been invested by insects or animals.

If you can't afford to buy a cottage right away but want to get into the recreational market now, one way to do so is to buy vacant land, and save to build a cottage there later. In the meantime, you can use the land as a campsite. A few more considerations when shopping for vacant land:

  • Is water available? Ask neighbours how much it cost to dig their well.
  • How far away is the hydro line?
  • Who maintains the access road and how long has it been in place?
  • What's the zoning for the land? Are there any major developments or industrial/commercial uses planned for nearby?
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