Canadians love cottages, and they're not about to let stricter lending rules, rising mortgage rates or the taxman keep them from the call of the wild.
A new report suggests that while Canadians are concerned about the rising costs of cottage ownership, they are still strongly drawn to the cottage lifestyle - early morning fishing on a placid lake, sipping lemonade on a weathered deck and teaching the kids how to make S'mores by the bonfire. In fact, nearly half of respondents cited lifestyle as their top reason for buying recreational property.
For Wendy Threader, 52, the desire to lounge by the lake spurred her to buy a cottage with about 80 feet of waterfront on Otter Lake, less than an hour's drive from her home in Ottawa. The Algonquin College professor wanted somewhere to relax on weekends with her husband and two children, aged 12 and 24. The family has been up to the $210,000, three-bedroom cottage several times since taking possession last month and couldn't be happier with their purchase.
"It's fabulous," Ms. Threader says. "There's nothing like sitting there and looking out over the water. It changes your entire perspective of life."
As for the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), rising property taxes and Tuesday's interest-rate hike, Ms. Threader is as carefree as a kid with a popsicle melting down her arm: "It didn't affect my decision."
Just less than half of cottage-bound Canadians surveyed by Angus Reid expressed concern about increases in taxation, with 46 per cent admitting increasing property taxes are a worry. In Ontario, 62 per cent of potential buyers are concerned about the HST, compared to 53 per cent in B.C., where the HST is also taking effect in July.
Only one in four buyers say new Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. regulations reduce their desire or ability to buy a cottage. The changes, which went into effect in April, require a minimum 20-per-cent down payment on any secondary home.
One in 10 potential cottage buyers said an interest rate hike, such as yesterday's quarter-point increase, would deter them from purchasing. Another 26 per cent said they were rushing to buy before rates increase further.
Phil Soper, president and chief executive officer of Royal LePage Real Estate Services, which commissioned the report, said the lifestyle benefits outweigh the costs for most potential buyers.
"So many people want to be buried or their ashes scattered at their cottage. They don't care where they grew up, where they lived in the city. They don't want them sprinkled out their condo window on Bloor Street. They want to go up to the lake."
Mr. Soper's wife, an estate lawyer, has a family cottage on Bobs Lake outside Ottawa. Although he admits she had to "drag" him there when they first met, he said he has grown quite fond of the cottage lifestyle.
"It really is beautiful, a lot of Crown land. It's Canadian Shield country, so you've got the osprey flying in the sky and the fish are wonderful. The water is crystal clear and deep and the lake is huge. And you can't see any of your neighbours because the lots are huge. It's beautiful wilderness country."
Asked to rank their most-desired vacation home features, 55 per cent of the survey's respondents said they were looking for waterfront or beach access, 46 per cent said four-season use was important, and for 43 per cent, a quiet location was key.
A new trend this year is the rise in Canadians looking for a waterfront condo rather than a traditional cottage. According to the poll, while 34 per cent rank a "cottage by a lake" as their top choice, that's down sharply from 68 per cent in 2009. Condos, on the other hand, were ranked as the preferred property type for 24 per cent of buyers, up from just 6 per cent last year.
Mr. Soper says the increasing popularity of condos is again a lifestyle choice, with more people going for "the relatively hassle-free ownership of a second-home condominium, where you can spend your weekend on the water instead of whacking weeds."
While there were bargains to be found a year ago, cottage prices have rebounded sharply, with national average prices for a standard 1,000-square-foot waterfront, land-access cottage with three bedrooms and a 100-foot lot ranging from $65,000 to $1.5-million. The Atlantic provinces offer the most affordable properties, while cottages in B.C. and Ontario tend to be the most expensive.
To find a deal this year, cottage buyers need to look outside the two-hour-drive radius of Canada's major cities, Mr. Soper says. In Ontario, where prices for the above-mentioned standard cottage range from $140,000 to $1.05-million, Kingston, Smith Falls and the Frontenac area have good prices. In Atlantic Canada, where prices range from $65,000 to $1-million, there are great deals to be found on the north shore of Nova Scotia, as well as in P.E.I. and New Brunswick.
Just by moving off the water, you can shave a third off the price of a cottage, Mr. Soper says. And if you're willing to rent your cottage out for part of the summer, you can recoup some of your costs.
Thinking of buying a cottage? Mr. Soper offers some additional advice:
Stick to a budget. For most Canadians, cottages are used a few times a year. Buy only when you can afford it and don't stretch yourself thin financially. This is not an investment.
Do research on the Internet. A real estate website can give you a rough idea of what cottages in your preferred area are selling for. You'll be able to see pictures and, in some cases, take virtual tours of the properties. However, don't base your final decision on a picture.
Use an agent. When it comes time to buy, find a trusted real estate agent who knows the lay of the land. In addition to helping you determine availability and pricing, an agent can tell you the finer details about the local property tax, sewage system, water supply and the rules surrounding maintenance and renovations.
Be realistic. Don't expect complete tranquillity. Commuting to and from a cottage in heavy traffic can be stressful. When you get there, there may be grass to cut, weeds to pull, maybe even some four-legged squatters to deal with. Don't underestimate the amount of "sweat equity" that you'll need to put in.