Cottage Buying Tips


This outline describes some of the more significant factors that will affect your choice of a waterfront lot or cottage - and its 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 sunset 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 to you, I can help you get most of them.


Generally speaking, the further you get from the GTA, 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 the GTA).  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.


Is boating a big part of your cottage plan? Do you want to travel long distances by boat to interconnected lakes or on a large body of water? How large the lake 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, while a smaller lake will typically be quieter and often have property owners who desire a quiet cottage experience.


Riverfront property is generally less expensive than lake property but usually precludes activities such as sailing and waterskiing. On the other hand activities such as paddling, kayaking, or fishing down a quiet river is appealing to many. 


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 blackflies, and the sense of community. Disadvantages may include - difficult, but not impossible, year-round use; more time consuming and challenging to get to; less of a resale 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 may be challenging for seniors. Families often want some level ground as a play area. Level lots command a premium therefore are often more expensive. 


Gently sloping vs. a drop-off. This can be a factor in the type and size of watercraft you keep, the length of dock required and safety for small children. 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. 


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 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.


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, their 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 have to be able to see the North East and North West 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 South West. Exposure will also affect whether you get an onshore or offshore breeze predominantly. The prevailing wind is from the NorthWest on the larger lakes. Sunset exposures will typically cost a little more. 


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.


Municipally maintained year-round access is no-doubt preferred but may be the most expensive - both initially and in property taxes year after year. 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 that are accessible on a year-round basis. For private roads, it is recommended 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 wise to discuss the possible ramifications of a trespass access with your lawyer.


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 1972 and has not been upgraded, you can expect that 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, an ultra-violet purification system or some other form of treatment should be installed. Most mortgage holders will require a safe drinking water source as part of their mortgage conditions.