New taxes on foreign buyers, a cooling of the luxury real estate market in the GTA, rising interest rates, new mortgage "stress test" rules – most people seem oblivious to all this in cottage country.
If anything, the market trend seen in 2017 is now rolling into 2018 – low inventory twinned with an increase in buyer demand, particularly cash buyers who want sleek and modern, with the luxury amenities that would typically have been the preserve of Rosedale, the Bridle Path, and Lawrence Park.
"There is pressure on buyers to pony up pretty good offers" says Ross Halloran, sales representative and senior vice-president of sales with Sotheby's International Realty Canada. With Sotheby's, Mr. Halloran covers a terrain ranging from Point Pelee to Bancroft, and from Lake Simcoe, through the Muskokas, northwest to Manitoulin Island.
According to the Lakelands Association of Realtors, for the District of Muskoka (Lakes of Bays, Muskoka Lakes), the average sale price for a waterfront cottage this year to date is $1.5-million, while the median days to sell is 22.
"Agents are frustrated because there is very little product," Mr. Halloran says. At the same time, sellers are maximizing return on investment, looking for ways to attract discriminating, ultra-rich buyers, in part by offering add-ons – paying for elegant, upscale interior design, maximizing curb appeal and water views with plush exterior landscaping, bundling golf and country club memberships and marketing their properties with uber-luxury turnkey options, right down to furnishings, artwork and such high-end chattels as expensive jet skis and wakeboarding boats.
John Fincham, selling luxury real estate in Muskoka for eight years and based in a Re/Max brokerage in Magnetawan (Parry Sound District), points to an uptick in foreign buyers, in part because the new foreign-buyers tax doesn't apply to cottage country.
"They are not looking for market statistics," he says.
"These are people who have a history of owning recreational properties in other countries, and they want the same thing when they come to Canada. They want a place where they can bring their whole families to stay."
Mr. Fincham says he works to instill a mindset that real estate in the region is a decent investment that the buyer can actually enjoy.
"I am not selling properties for people who want to make a fortune on them in five years," he says.
Mr. Halloran points to two types of GTA buyers migrating north to places such as Collingwood and Muskoka full time – empty nesters and career people in their 30s or 40s who work from home and are looking to liquidate stored equity in their urban homes and seeking out the lifestyle advantages north of Orillia.
Anyone driving around Lake Joseph, Lake Muskoka and Lake Rosseau, perusing the array of multi-million-dollar properties – and their multi-slip, over-sized boathouses with extra living accommodations and modern, massive, upper-level accommodations overlooking the lake – knows full well how tastes in terms of luxury living have evolved over recent years.
Mr. Halloran tells the story of one property he was selling on an island in Lake Joseph that had heated pathways so the owners wouldn't have to shovel snow. The home, however, was closed during the winter months.
"Five years ago, the trend was to enable WiFi internet access at most recreational and waterfront properties," he says. "Over the past two years, most luxury recreational and waterfront properties' new 'must-have feature' is remote monitoring, security and Nest Technology, which allows owners to monitor, view and adjust their properties' key systems remotely using their smartphone or devices from anywhere in the world."
Remo Nicefero, an owner of Stonebrook Developments, which is developing the new Monaco condominium project in Collingwood's downtown, is seeing this year's trends first-hand. He says 60 per cent of the penthouses in the project sold right away, and he says what's left won't last.
"That tells us that it doesn't matter how much it costs," he says. "With these buyers, it's more about getting the bigger units first, with the best views. It tells us there is a pent-up demand for quality in Collingwood. With our project, you have Yorkville-type living with a small-town feel, without all the urban traffic and all the challenges that come with that.
"One of the things about Collingwood, when it comes to the discriminating purchaser, anyone looking for high-end quality product, can't find anything," he says. "The developers of yesteryear here have been focused on price point. There was nothing in the way of condominiums. The discriminatory buyers didn't have any inventory to purchase."
An "astounding" recent sale, illustrating market strength, was a record-setting high for vacant land – 1.6 acres, including 300 feet of lake frontage on Lake Joseph that sold for $3.25 million. What was even more newsworthy came down to location – because the land was on a private point, facing south, the new owners can't build an over-sized boathouse, with the upper level accommodation – traditional in the Muskokas.
Mr. Fincham says he expects the market trends seen in 2017 for cottage country to continue, as more and more people opt to retire in the region, or they opt for a quieter, more Zen-like luxury lifestyle, working remotely between mountain hikes, golf or water-skiing, all with the typical amenities they are used to living in the GTA – without the hour- or two-hour-long traffic delays.
"Prices will continue to rise," he says. "I don't have a crystal ball, but all indications is that it will be a very strong market this year for sure."
This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's Globe Content Studio. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.