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A cottage stands on a lake in Muskoka, the heart of cottage country in Ontario. A survey in 2017 suggested 65 per cent of millennials want to buy a cottage and that, faced with astronomical price rises in urban centres, some were looking to buy cottages first while maybe still renting in the city.

Mark Blinch

Every spring, a ritual begins anew in cottage country: Buyers and sellers leave their winter burrows and begin to assess how much they really need their perfect country getaway.

Agents who work the lakefront lots and rural backroads say that after a wild 2017 that saw a frenzied pace of transactions, sellers this year appear shy and, so far, the volume of cottages available for sale is about half what they saw last year. "Waterfront is still hot, listings are going up and being sold within a few days, we just don't have a lot of listings available," says Jackalin O'Brien, who works on the three-person Re/Max Country Classics team in Bancroft, Ont. "Typically, we would carry 50-70 listings and, right now, we only have 18, which is unheard of. We've never encountered that and my husband's been in real estate for 25 years. It's looking like it's going to be another really crazy year."

It also appears the profile of the potential buyers has changed in 2018: Gen-Xers appear less keen to extend themselves and use loans to tap into equity in their homes (particularly if the assessed value has fallen in a softening market) in order to buy a cottage and millennials are seen as more willing to travel far and wide to find an investment property they expect to rarely visit and rent out for up to 36 weeks a year. And while boomers retiring to cottage country still dominate the market, they are sometimes forced to walk away from deals when their primary home sells for less than they hoped.

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In 2017, Re/Max and Leger market research released a poll that suggested 65 per cent of millennials want to buy a cottage and that, faced with astronomical price rises in urban centres, some were looking to buy cottages first while maybe still renting in the city. That is still happening, according to Rob Serediuk, a sales representative with Chestnut Park Real Estate in Haliburton County.

"They can't afford a place in the city and they do want to get into the market," says Mr. Serediuk, who is also the host of the Cottage Life TV show What's for Sale? "What we have to educate millennials on is the values of cottage properties don't go up like the value of a city home: you can't buy something for $499,000 today and be guaranteed that it's gonna be worth $650,000 in seven years."

Mr. Serediuk says cottage hopefuls looking for a place on level lot on a clear lake – outside of the big three Muskoka lakes where entry prices start at $1-million – should budget for a range of $600,000 to $800,000.

The cottage curious can also check out this week's Spring Cottage Life Show, which runs until March 25 (it added an extra day this year after last year saw record attendance of more than 39,000 browsers). Cottage Life editor-in-chief Michelle Kelly says there will be 60 realtor booths and more than 400 individual agents, and she also wants to reassure younger folks that cottages aren't just for wealthy boomers.

"There really does exist this idea that they are this out of reach thing and only for rich people. That's such a small slice of what cottage country is," she says. "We hear a lot more about people who want to share a cottage – with their friend or with their family – to share the load financially."

Luckily for millennials bidding against typically better-heeled boomers, what they want is a little different.

"The younger buyer is willing to take on a little more work," says Ms. O'Brien, who flipped a number of cottage properties herself in the years before she became a real estate agent. "People in the older age group – they don't want to do too much, they're looking for more turnkey."

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"We are finding that people are getting pickier and willing to wait longer for the right place," Mr. Serediuk says. "Buyers will look for two years if they can't find what they want especially the millennial buyer, they don't want to make a mistake."

After all, as he tells all his clients: "No one needs a cottage."

Want, though, is another matter.

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