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Couple on a cottage porch. (Tatjana Strelkova/Thinkstock)
Couple on a cottage porch. (Tatjana Strelkova/Thinkstock)

A dockside slowdown hits cottage country real estate Add to ...

The bleak weather in Ontario’s cottage country this year has made many cottagers gloomy – but none more so than the owners hoping to entice prospective buyers to their rocky shores.

“This has to be the worst late winter-spring-going into summer I have ever seen,” says Muskoka-based realtor Anita Latner. “If the sun’s not out, who wants to go out and buy a cottage?”

Ms. Latner didn’t get out in her kayak until late June when temperatures soared for a few days. By the Canada Day long weekend, the skies were overcast and she was back to wearing jeans.

On Muskoka’s coveted Lake Rosseau and Lake Joseph, three sales have been recorded so far in 2013 for more than $5-million each, says Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd.’s Paul Crammond, who is encouraged by those high-end sales. Another handful of properties sold for more than $3-million.

Still, by the end of June, recreational sales in Muskoka, Haliburton and Orillia had dropped 15 per cent for the year-to-date compared with the same period in 2012. Some areas have held up better than others in 2013, says Mr. Crammond. Sales on Lake of Bays were steady compared with last year and sales on the Muskoka Lakes fell less than 20 per cent in the same time period. He adds that the overall figures were dragged down by the slow sales during the cold and soggy months of March and April.

“Not conducive to buying a cottage,” he says.

But Mr. Crammond also finds it reassuring to see that a number of cottages located on islands have recently sold in Muskoka.

“That segment usually lags the mainland cottage trend.”

Over on Georgian Bay, the unseasonable weather has also dampened sales in and around Sans Souci and Pointe-au-Baril, says real estate agent George Webster of Moffat Dunlap Real Estate Ltd.

“The water hasn’t warmed up so the air is chilly,” says Mr. Webster, who ventured to the Mink Islands this week. “When you’re out on a boat it doesn’t feel like summer.”

A large Madawaska Club property near Go Home Bay changed hands recently but overall activity has been lacklustre, he says.

The Georgian Bay islands have long been popular with Americans but renewed strength in the U.S. housing market has so far not translated into a resurgence of buyers looking for cottages across the border, says Mr. Webster.

In fact a lot of his new listings are from American owners who find that their kids doesn’t want to carry on the cottage tradition. Often Georgian Bay cottages have been passed down through families but many young people are no longer willing to spend entire summers in one place and drive a long time to get there, he explains.

“The next generation just doesn’t want to make the same commitment they did.”

Back in Muskoka, not only the real estate market has been in the doldrums, says Ms. Latner: Shops, restaurants and attractions have all been suffering from a decline in tourist traffic since April floods swamped cottage country. Heavy rainfall, melting snow and high winds caused damage in Huntsville, Bracebridge and the surrounding areas. Roads were submerged and many people were evacuated.

“Some people had fish on their lawns. I had a foot of water on top of the dock,” says Ms. Latner of the aftermath.

Confidence in global financial markets is fairly strong compared with some previous summers, she adds, and the prices in cottage country are holding up as a result. People who were putting off buying last summer in an expectation that prices would tumble are still waiting, she says. She hopes that sales will slowly build in the coming years but she does not expect a return to the eye-popping run-up in prices recorded in the previous decade.

Today she advises sellers to set a realistic asking price or risk having no potential buyers tying up at the dock.

“You can’t be extravagant any more. The days of just throwing a price on because it’s your fantasy price are over.”

Ms. Latner says the pick up in sales in June could gain momentum if a good span of hot days in July and August draws out some buyers who have stayed in the city.

“They say this weekend’s supposed to be gorgeous. We’ll believe it when we see it.”

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