What to consider before buying that Family Cottage

With mortgage rates at an all time low in Canada and the increasing interest in recreational property, it is tougher than ever to find a Cottage on a Big Lake at a small price.
But before you rush out, there are a few things you should consider to ensure years of pleasure from your purchase. Listed below are a few tips for buying a cottage.
1. Research
It’s easy to find information on the Kawarthas and Muskoka, but what about the Thousands Islands or Port Elgin? The internet is a great place to start.
2. Small lakes are great
Take into account area, exposure, and view, especially if you enjoy sunsets. Lake size is important, but your new cottage does not have to be on one of the “big three” to make it worthwhile. There are thousands of little lakes around Ontario that could be the perfect location for your new cottage.
3. Price
What are you paying for? Include sale price plus taxes, professional fees, surveys, and inspections. And, don’t forget to think of resale value. Is your property going to increase in value over the next five years? Will development in the area help or hurt your property value?
4. Income potential
Are you interested in making an income from your property as well as using it as a recreational retreat? Over 40% of cottagers rent their summer retreat for one or more weeks to cover some of the operating costs.
5. Who else has claim to the land?
Are there any current or possible lands claims issues from First Nations? Will you own the mineral rights (not just the surface rights) to the land? Who owns the surrounding treed areas (it could be Crown land, or leased to a forest company)? Get your lawyer to investigate these issues and decide how much potential for disruption you’re willing to live with.
6. Access
By road or by water? Check winter access and road ownership (private, municipal or deeded). Many cottage roads are owned privately by local road associations. Find out who maintains it, when, and what your annual cost will be.
7. Shoreline
Who owns it (there may be a 66′ shoreline allowance owned by the municipality), and who has access (check if there are deeded rights of way)? Can you alter it (if it’s considered fish habitat, you’ll have difficulty getting a permit)? Take into account water depth, slope, and whether it has a rocky or sandy bottom. Remember that the water level you see in April is not necessarily what you’ll be getting in August. Consider erosion issues — what will your shoreline look like in 10 years?
8. Services
Check into availability of local services — phone, grocery, hospitals, marina, electricity and garbage collection. Is 911 service available? What’s the response time? Can they even reach your property? What medical services are available and how far from the cottage?
9. Water Source
Lots of possible options here: municipal supply, lake, or well; drilled, bored, or dug well; communal or private well. For waterlines from the lake, ask about the treatment system (if you plan to drink the water). Also, check the condition of the pump and intake lines. Replacing a broken pump might set you back about $500 but having to drill a brand new well costs about $10,000.
10. Water quality
Your mortgage provider will likely require a potability test (which checks for bacteria like E. coli), available free from the local health unit. Once you decide it’s the cottage for you, get a thorough chemical analysis done ($100 and up at a private lab) to test for contaminants such as nitrates from farm runoff, metals such as lead, and sulphate. If it’s drinkable, how do you feel about the water’s small, taste, and colour?
11. Water levels
Ask how the water levels change from year to year, and seasonally. Will fluctuations affect boating, swimming, and even building (e.g., a new dock)?
12. Waste disposal
Cottage sewage systems range from an outhouse or composting toilet to a septic system or a holding tank that must be pumped. Is there room to upgrade the system? Check the age (more than 20 years is likely the danger zone) and condition (e.g., is the lawn over the system wet or unusually lush, both bad signs?).
13. Cottage culture
Is there a cottage association, and is it active, cranky, or dormant? Is the lake one big booze cruise or so quiet your kids will boycott it?
14. Building approvals
Planning to build a new deck, dock, or boathouse or, heck, a whole new cottage? You’ll need a permit. Depending on the project and which level of government jurisdiction it falls under, your plans may not be allowed. Also, ask how long approval takes.