You picture yourself stepping outside your chalet in the crisp morning air, clicking into your bindings and skiing down to the lift to catch the opening run of the day. Or, climbing aboard your snowmobile for an exhilarating day on the trails.
For many Ontarians, these idyllic moments are reason enough to own a recreational property. But what happens when a large tree branch snaps in an ice storm and damages your roof? Who plows the driveway so that you can get into your property late on a Friday night? Where can you buy seasoned firewood to fuel your wood-burning stove?
Recreational properties can be your playground and therapeutic oasis. Before you decide to purchase one, know what you are committing to. Recreational properties, by virtue of their nature and location, often have costs and characteristics you wouldn’t normally worry about with your home.
Since recreational properties have unique characteristics, it is best to hire a real estate professional with experience in this sector of the real estate market, and ideally in the specific area you want to buy. A sales professional with knowledge of the local real estate environment will be able to help you ask the right questions about a property and determine what this investment means to your lifestyle and budget.
A professional home inspection is also a must. A good home inspector with knowledge of recreational properties will be able to identify underlying issues with a property’s major systems, including heating, cooling, plumbing and electrical.
Two major considerations for a vacation property are water and septic systems. If your water source is a well, ask for a water quality test to be done and consider hiring a well inspector to make sure you will have sufficient water for your needs and that the well installation meets provincial standards.
The health of a septic system can sometimes be difficult to determine, but you can ask for service records for the system or find that information at the local health unit. Also be aware that septic systems are not always included in a regular home inspection and may require a specialized inspector, so you should ask for the appropriate professional to conduct each type of inspection you want.
Access and easements are other matters to investigate. If you do not have year-round access by a municipal road, how do you get to your property in the winter? Is it through a neighbour’s property? If so, is there a formal agreement in place?
What about beach or water access? Do you have direct access or is it through rights that apply to another neighbouring or nearby property? Are those rights unique to your property or is it shared and if so how widely? How formal and/or secure are those rights for the future?
And if the property is zoned “seasonal”, does the municipality provide emergency services in the winter? What about the zoning of neighbouring properties? Could your natural view be changed someday by new development? These questions and more need to be answered before you purchase.
Finally, it is important to know your carrying costs for the property. Whether you occupy it year-round or seasonally, there are certain expenses that are constants, such as mortgage payments, property insurance and taxes.
Utility charges can vary widely depending on the property and how it is used, so consider how it is heated – the price of electricity, gas, propane and wood can differ dramatically – and what you can expect to pay for hydro.
Even travel time and fuel costs should be taken into account. If traffic jams are a constant problem in getting to your property, it would be good to know there are alternative routes to take. And what does it cost in gas to get there and back?
All of these questions – and more – are important considerations when contemplating the purchase of a vacation property. A registered real estate professional with knowledge of the recreational property market can help you get the answers you need so that you can determine whether owning a cottage is right for you.