It was hardly a necessity, but Kate and Rob Kirby had yearned for a cottage for years. After four years of looking – a period that coincided with rapid price escalation in Ontario’s cottage country – they finally found what they were looking for.
Rob, 52, and Kate, 41, have been together 10 years, married for six (second marriage for both) and live in Burlington but wanted to take Highway 118 to a getaway in the country. They both work in the financial-services industry, Rob specializing in loss mitigation and risk management in the property market, and at first, they hoped they might get a modest three-season cottage for under $400,000.
They ended up winning a bidding war and paying $1.1-million (slightly above asking price) for a four-season lake house that they can see themselves moving into semi-full-time in a few years. “We’ve done the travelling bit. I just want to settle down a little bit and chill out,” Kate said. “One day, we can go up there for six, seven months a year and have that be our home,” Rob said.
Here’s how they did it.
The one that got away: 1047 Land Rd., Lake Kennisis, Haliburton
The couple went through five agents in the four years they were searching, and saw perhaps 50 properties in that time. They put in offers on at least six places, all unsuccessfully. A little more than a year ago they began working with Rob Serediuk, who hosts the Cottage Life cable show What’s for Sale? and still works as a sales representative with Chestnut Park Real Estate brokerage in Haliburton, Ont.
In spring, 2017, they put a bid in on a three-bedroom, 2½-bath cottage at 1047 Land Rd., on Kennisis Lake in Haliburton, listed for $789,000. “It’s a good lake, but way at the top of the lake,” which means southern exposure (tolerable, but not ideal) according to Mr. Serediuk. The remote location would make for a “nauseating” drive in the winter, he said. “It was nice, but I didn’t like it for them: It was at least 50 stairs to the water, way too far from the cottage,” said Mr. Serediuk, the couple’s fifth and final agent. “I always say, you’re buying the lot: You can change the cottage, you can’t change the lot.” Rob and Kate also felt the cottage was a little high, almost like a “tree house.” The décor featured a lot of blonde wood-panelled walls in the living room, the bedrooms, the bathroom; basically everywhere.
Nevertheless, the Ontario property market was on fire and good-looking cottages were hard to find, so they joined in a bidding war with five others. Rob recalls that one bid came in over popular Chinese messaging service WeChat. The Kirbys are cautious people and insisted on a home-inspection clause, but they lost to an $840,000 bid that came with no conditions. They were pretty disappointed, but determined not to put themselves at risk for the sake of a dream. “[My husband] is the one holding the pin, and I’ve got the dream bubbles, so that we don’t ever go over our heads,” Kate said.
As the months went by, the couple and Mr. Serediuk looked at properties on weekends, always on day trips featuring four-hours plus of driving, never staying over in cottage country. Mr. Serediuk turned down as many listings, or more, than he agreed to show them. “I would say all the time, ‘Nope, nope, nope,’ and at one point they asked, ‘How do you ever plan on selling us a cottage if you keep saying no?’” Kate recalls Mr. Serediuk warning them that, with such low inventory so far in 2018, they might have to wait another year. “To get the right property … he thought we should wait until 2019,” she said.
The winner: 1015 Crosswind Court, Moose Lake, Haliburton
Finally, on June 7, a new listing went up that seemed like it ticked all the boxes, even though it was above the budget they’d agreed to. “Let me go up and take a look, I’ll get back to you,” Mr. Serediuk told the Kirbys. When he did call back, his message was urgent: Come up, there’s nothing on the market like this.
The house is a three-bedroom, three-bathroom custom-build from 1998, with finished rec room and so-called “Haliburton Room,” with cathedral ceilings and a wall of windows on the lake view, which is western exposure. Western exposure is everything in cottage country: “You get sun all the time, the most fantastic sunsets, that’s what people want.“ As for eastern exposure, run, don’t walk, from that kind of cottage: “There’s nothing worse than it being 3 o’clock and you’re in the shade, looking across the lake at people in the sun.”
Beyond making sure the financials were doable and the features they wanted were there, Rob Kirby had one other test: Call it the couch test.
“You’ve got to have a sit, you look out and you get a feeling that comes over you,” Rob said. “I feel contented, excited, this feels like a home. For me, that’s important.”
“Rob’s a very clear thinker. I’m an emotional thinker; he’s the common-sense approach,” Kate said. “I knew as soon as I saw him sitting on the couch if we didn’t get this one, we probably would stop looking for a while.”
Mr. Serediuk also likes to say that when you’re buying a cottage, you’re also “buying” a lake, and no matter the cost of the cottage, it can’t make up for a stinky, weedy lake. Moose Lake has none of those drawbacks: “It’s a very clean lake, part of a two-lake chain; it has a marina which is unusual for Haliburton, 10 minutes to Haliburton [town], 10 minutes to ski hills.”
By Monday, the sellers were holding offers, and again, there were multiple bidders: “They asked $1.099-million and we offered $1.1-million, and we offered a high deposit, which impressed the seller,” Mr. Serediuk said. Also, none of the other buyers went over asking. “It’s very unusual in Haliburton for places over a million with multiples to get 10, 15 per cent over asking. A million dollars in Haliburton is high end: It’s always been where your average Joe could buy a cottage, but it’s changed over the last few years.”
The Kirbys close on July 23; the home inspection and financing conditions have been met. The Kirbys say they plan on renting it out as soon as they can as an income property. But after finding a spot that met all their needs, and at a premium price, Mr. Serediuk’s not so sure they’ll want strangers tromping through their new prize.
“I knew what they would go for if I found them perfection,” he said. “They close on July 23 and spend 10 days there after close. I bet they don’t end up renting it out.”