Where Do We Start – Cottage Hunting?
This outline describes some of the more significant factors that will affect your choice of a waterfront lot or cottage – and it’s value. There are many different considerations in cottage country that are not in an urban setting. For example – exposure – the direction the property faces when there is a lake and a sunrise or sun set to consider! It is useful to prioritize your requirements, using these factors as a guide. It is important to realize that you can’t always get everything you want but by developing a list and prioritizing what is most important you, I can help you get most of them.
Location - or driving time from home
- Generally speaking, the further you get from Metropolitan Toronto, the less expensive property becomes. There are of course exceptions; some areas of Lake Simcoe can be less expensive than upper Lake Rosseau. But as a general rule, properties around Burk's Falls (a 3 hour drive from Toronto) for example, are less costly than a similar property close to Gravenhurst or Bracebridge (2 hours or less from Metro). Decide on how long a drive you can tolerate. Some factors to consider in this decision are whether you will be using the property mostly on weekends or for extended periods. Being able to get to cottage country on a Thursday and come home Monday naturally will also influence driving time.
Size of Lake
- Is boating a big part of your cottage plans? Do you want to travel long distances by boat to interconnected lakes or on a large body of water? How large the lake is affects the number and size of boats on it. Being on Georgian Bay or the Trent/Severn system can mean more boat traffic in front of your cottage. A smaller lake will typically be quieter and often have property owners who desire a quiet cottage experience.
Lake vs. river
- Riverfront property is generally less expensive than lake property but usually precludes sailing and waterskiing. On the other hand, paddling, kayaking or fishing down a quiet river is appealing to many.
Water access (island properties)
- In Muskoka, there is usually a significant price differential between water access only properties and ones on the mainland. Having said that, people with cottages on islands generally love being on an island for the privacy, the lack of cars, greater security from burglaries, fewer mosquitoes and black flies, and the sense of community. Offset against these factors are some negative issues – difficult, but not impossible, year round use; more time consuming and challenging to get to (load the car, unload on the dock, load the boat, unload the boat, carry to the cottage); less of a re-sale market; more expensive construction and renovations.
- Steeply sloping sites usually present the most architectural potential and the best views but are the most expensive to build on and can be challenging for grandparents. And families often want some level ground as a play area. Level lots command a premium so are often more expensive.
- Gently sloping vs. a drop-off. This can be a factor in the type and size of watercraft you have, safety for small children and the length of dock required. A shoreline that gets deep quickly can be great for swimming, and conversely one that slopes very gradually may rule out a large boat or may mean mooring off-shore. Also consider sand vs. rock bottom and weed growth. A weed free shoreline seen in April or May can sometimes look quite different in late August. The location of fish habitat can also mean that docks must be located in approved areas.
Shape of shoreline
- Usually, the greater the shoreline length, the greater the privacy -but not always. A straight or point of land shoreline will generally provide more privacy per foot than a comparable length in a bay. Most cottagers are looking for privacy. If they can achieve the desired privacy with 150’ frontage, why pay taxes on a 250’ lot.
- For the most part, Muskoka does not have significant annual water level fluctuations other than the naturally increased level during the spring run-off. Unlike water systems like the Trent/Severn, Georgian Bay and parts of Haliburton and the Kawarthas, the water levels in Muskoka lakes are only regulated to a small degree to compensate for increased spring flows and not for navigation as is the case in other areas.
Open vs. closed shore road allowance
- A shore road allowance is the original 66’ right-of-way surveyed around the shores of most lakes in Muskoka. These allowances are owned by the Crown and administered by the various Municipalities. They can, by statute, only be used for pedestrian or vehicular travel. In many cases, these right-of-ways have been purchased, by the abutting property owners, so they own the land right to the shoreline. This of course means that there is currently no contiguous right-of-way around most lakes.
- Do you want to see the sunrise or sunset? If so, you usually have to be able to see to the NE and NW respectively. While a due south exposure will give you the most hours of direct sun, you may not receive it later in the afternoon unless you are facing SW. Exposure will also affect whether you get an onshore or offshore breeze predominantly. The prevailing wind in Muskoka is from the northwest on the larger lakes. Sunset exposures will typically cost a little more.
Long vs. short view
- A personal preference but generally a longer view is preferred. A shorter distance to the opposite shore can mean that passing boats will be closer to your dock and you may be able to hear what’s going on in the cottages on the far shore. Again a long exposure will typically command a slightly higher price.
Year round access
- Municipally maintained year round access is probably preferred but may be the most expensive – both initially and year after year in property taxes. Most properties can be kept open in winter (topography being the limiting factor) for less money than the premium one pays in property taxes. However, if your cottage is accessed by a private road, liability may also be a factor. Insurance premiums can be less for properties which are accessible on a year round basis. For private roads you should get information regarding who maintains the road and at what cost. Deeded access to cottages on private roads is preferred. If this is not the case with a property you are considering, it would be prudent to discuss the possible ramifications of a trespass access with your lawyer.
Waste Disposal and Water Systems
- For the most part, Muskoka properties are on individual septic systems. The age and condition of the septic tank and tile bed are usually addressed during a home inspection. Generally, if the septic system was installed prior to about 1972 and has not been upgraded, you can expect the tank will be steel and will be in need of replacement. Most cottage properties get their water supply from the lake or river. If this water is to be used for drinking, a ultra-violet purification system or some other form of treatment should be installed. Only water from wells will be tested by the Ministry of Health for drinkability. Most mortgage holder will require a safe drinking water source as part of their mortgage conditions.
- The Federation of Ontario Cottager’s Associations has information on all associations in Ontario. Find out how active the association is - do they monitor lake water quality? Have the septic systems on the lake been inspected recently? Is there a roads committee? Do they have annual meetings and regattas?
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Please do not hesitate to call me anytime if you have any questions or would like to set up an appointment to meet with me:
Lester Johnstone | ROYAL LEPAGE LAKES OF MUSKOKA | Bracebridge