Where Do We Start?
This outline describes some of the most significant factors affecting the choice of a waterfront lot or cottage – and influencing the values. There are different considerations in cottage country than in an urban setting. For example – exposure – the direction the property faces. It may be useful to attempt to prioritize your requirements, using these factors as a guide, and realizing that you can’t always get everything you want. Well, actually you can – but you have to be a hockey player to afford it!
Location (or driving time from Metro)
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 Burkes 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 up north on a Thursday and come home Monday naturally will also influence driving time.
Size of Lake
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 (at least a 20% premium).
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. My opinion is that ownership of the allowance is a non-issue except where a mortgage is required.
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 which is probably the preferred exposure for most cottagers. 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.
Long vs. short view
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 however 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 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, 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 filter or some other form of filtration should be installed. Only water from wells will be tested by the Ministry of Health.
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Robert + Mary Jane Philp | ROYAL LEPAGE LAKES OF MUSKOKA | Bracebridge