Building a Muskoka Cottage

renovatingSometimes when a client is looking for a perfect Muskoka Cottage they can be disappointed since many of the best and most appealing lot/cottage combinations can be quite expensive. In some cases clients then start to think about finding a lot and creating the perfect cottage from scratch.

Here are some important considerations to ponder before you decide to change track and start looking for a vacant waterfront lot:

  • Is the lot “ready to go?” In Muskoka realtors usually use the language “partially serviced” or “fully serviced” in the listing details to indicate if all or some of the required services —electricity, water, sewage, cell, internet—is directly available to the site.
  • If a road access is not developed and utilities are not already available to the site the lot value will be significantly lower than a serviced lot, but before you snap up a bargain you NEED to first find out whether it is even possible to connect to these services and determine how much it will cost to hook up. When additional utility poles are required to bridge the distance from an existing service to the building envelope, the costs can be prohibitive.
  • If utilities are not available or are excessively expensive, you may want to look into what, if any services you can generate yourself. Electricity is most likely the largest obstacle and if road access is seasonal, private or non-existent, you may need to consider solar or wind as a source as well as traditional electrical generators. Most cottages have septic systems and draw water from the lake/river or a well. Consider these expenses as well.
  • Do not forget your design costs. To get a building permit you must have certified plans so even if you do not have custom drawings you will need to make sure any plan you buy is stamped. If you are planning to use older plans that have been given to you, you will have to pay to get them stamped and maybe modified to meet current code requirements.
  • Throughout the Muskoka region there can be lot levies to pay at the time of obtaining your building permit. Depending on the municipality and the level of services at the site they can range from $6000 -$15000 and must be paid in full before a permit can be issued.
  • If you are not building your own cottage and intend to use a local contractor you would be well advised to have several contractors bid on your project. Get references and have a contract drawn up. Make sure your builder has WSIB coverage for himself and any of his sub trades. You will be expected to pay a significant portion of the cost up front to offset the cost of material and labour. You may want to consider acting as your own General contractor and work on a time and materials basis with your builder by setting up accounts with the suppliers and paying for the material directly. You should also budget many hours of your time to oversee the project. Whatever you decide, get more than a hand shake! There are many excellent builders in this area but there also some who will take on a project beyond their capabilities and cause you no end of additional expense.
  • It is possible to manage costs by building in stages. Put up a basic cottage initially but have it designed to put an add-on wing in a few years.. If this appeals to you, the only thing you need to do at the start is make sure your final plan can be accommodated under the applicable zoning regulations.

In conclusion building your perfect Muskoka Cottage may be what you end up deciding to do, however it is unlikely you will actually save a large amount of money. The process can be challenging and at times very frustrating.

Ultimately, clients who build, do seem to have a great sense of pride in their cottage. There is no doubt building to your exact needs will make your Muskoka Cottage the place you love to spend endless hours with family and friends!

Remember I am always happy to help and can put my years of experience and contacts to good use on your behalf.

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Buying Your First Muskoka Cottage

zeleznik 003So you think you are ready to buy your first cottage! As a Muskoka Realtor I am here to help you navigate through the process smoothly, so you can begin to enjoy cottage life.

The starting point for this adventure is to sit with your family and determine what it is you are really looking for. The considerations are many, from the size of the building and the lake, to the type of access you will want.

You have probably spent time in a cottage, either rented, or with friends or family. Think about the very best of those experiences. You may be surprised to find that the favorite memories of your cottage experiences centre on things you had not thought you wanted or needed.

Some of the most important considerations are:

  • Distance from your home – A long drive after work on Friday afternoon may not seem like a big deal now but it needs to be factored into the decision making process. It will affect the amount of time you spend at your cottage. Will you continue to love and enjoy your property if the drive to Muskoka becomes a trial with jobs and children?
  •  Size of cottage – is the size of your family established or will there be children in your future? Do you want to be able to rent it and if so, what is the best number of bedrooms for a rental?
  • Size of the lake or river – often buyers want to be on a large lake and are willing to pay a premium for it. However, in reality they do not have a large boat and never utilize all of the lake. A smaller lake or substantial river is often quieter and for most families will be more than sufficient. And they usually come with smaller price tags!
  • Accessibility – Do you plan to use the cottage in the winter? Are you prepared to pay private road fees, if any? Would water access work for you?
  • Stunning view or level to the water? – Remember that Muskoka is famous for its rugged beauty so there are far more lots with some elevation than there are level ones.
  • Privacy – Everyone wants privacy so it is a feature that will increase the cost. How private do you need it to be? Great memories at the cottage often include activities with other cottagers!
  • Services – To some, the cottage experience is a rustic, 1 bathroom, lake water no dishwasher cabin. To others, the cottage is a place of relaxed luxury, with en suite bathrooms, 5 appliances, a drilled well and high speed internet? Muskoka has it all; you just need to know what you want.

In general, you can expect properties on larger lakes to be more expensive than those on smaller ones. Properties that have level to moderately sloped lots tend to have a higher asking price than those on steeper lots. A western or southern exposure will have a higher price tag also!

It is worth remembering that the building itself, is of secondary importance. Buildings can be repaired, renovated, and rebuilt over time. In many cases, the building represents only a small part of the property's value. So choosing the right lot and waterfront is of primary importance.

Finding the perfect cottage is a highly personal adventure, everyone has their own dream. I can help you to determine your wants and needs, and select appropriate properties for you to view. Rest assured you will know the right cottage when you see it. I would love to help you make your cottage dream come true! Call now to get started.

Investing In Muskoka in 2016

Green - #1Investing in a vacation property is a big decision and one that, if you do not make wisely, will likely cause more heartache and stress than joy and relaxation. So here are 10 things you should consider before you start this venture:

1. Why are you buying it?

A vacation home isn’t always just about a place to retire or relax. It can and probably should be an investment. Maybe even an investment which generates income when you don’t want to be there. You need to determine how this purchase will fit into your overall investment portfolio. Will it “grow slowly” as the market value increases or will you operate it as a profit maker each year?

If it is mainly for a profit making investment, you need to consider what a renting family is looking for, as much as what you may be looking for!

2. Keep your emotions in check

Buying a vacation home is fraught with emotions and therefore risk! Do not let this be an emotional decision, as it could lead to heartache and stress. Before you start on your journey make sure that you do a thorough check on your finances. Can you carry the operating costs? Do you know what the carrying costs will even be?  If you still have a mortgage on your primary residence can you carry both properties?

3. Where do I buy?

In Ontario, Muskoka, Parry Sound and Haliburton Highlands are the traditional summer vacation locations, and for many people winter locations too. They are within reasonable driving distance of major cities like Toronto, Ottawa and London and are therefore easy to access and enjoy. The important thing to think about is the time and hassle it takes to get there and how often you will actually use it. You’re more likely to head north to cottage country for the weekend if it is only a few hours away, than if it takes 5 or 6 hours to get there.

4. Consider pooling resources

One way to ease the burden or to get a nicer property is through joint ownership. Your brothers or sisters might want to go in with you. Friends may want to do the same. The key is to make sure everyone understands the rules of the road, including a fair way to split up prime time use, what happens when one party wants to sell and who inherits the property. If you are thinking of taking this route, please make sure you have legal advice. Setting up a family trust or a company with share holders can work very well but if not properly established can lead to serious upset.

5. Beware of tax implications

Buying a second or recreational home has tax implications when you sell, as the sale of this property could be subject to capital gains, and advice from a tax accountant or lawyer should be sought.

6. Location is key

Buy a cottage that is set back from the lake or up high on a hill and your potential rental income could drop by half. Vacationers are willing to pay extra for that week or two they spend in paradise. Views and private lakefront are traditionally two of the main features people look for. Consider the trade-offs. You may go for a lesser property on a great lot rather than a larger property on a steep one or without a view.

7. Condo vs Cottage

Do you have a big family and like to be surrounded by friends? Or are your vacations a chance to get away from it all? Thinking about this will help you decide whether you need a small condo, or fully detached cottage with lots of space.

Make a list of your important features. Things that were important in your family home may not be as important in a vacation property. Do you really need tons of closet space for your two suitcases? Will a galley kitchen do since you plan to be eating out a lot?

8. Check out the neighbourhood

Once you’ve decided what to buy and where, stay in the area for a few days and look around. Rent a cottage on the lake or a condo at the resort you are interested in. You’d be surprised how many people buy from blueprints only to have a rude awakening later.

You may have vacationed in the area before but not really gotten to know anyone. Talk to neighbors and locals. What do they think of the area and what is it like in the off season? Can you walk beautiful trails and get to shops in a reasonable time? Are there cross country ski or snowmobile trails in the area for winter fun? Is this a good fit for you and your family?

9. Look for hidden costs

What will it cost to pump the septic, have propane delivered, get the roof shovelled off after heavy snow, keep the lane open in winter? If you are buying a condo, does the condo association allow rentals and if so under what conditions? Must they be long-term periods of several months or can it be weekly? Does the condo association have an adequate reserve fund to pay for future repairs? If not, you could be hit with a special levy once you move in.

10. Cheap doesn’t always mean bargain

Buying on impulse is probably the worst thing you can do. Just because you enjoy your summer in Muskoka, step back and consider all the factors. Don’t be blinded by a seemingly great price. Do your due diligence. Hire a great Realtor!