I recently inherited the family cottage and I want to put it up for sale. Are there special considerations for selling a cottage?

If you’re thinking of buying or selling a vacation home, your first steps are to find a real estate salesperson and a lawyer who have handled sales of recreational properties, because they sometimes involve a few unusual issues. Since this is an inherited property, there may be special tax or estate considerations to navigate.

Water and septic issues
You may wish to arrange for a pre-listing home inspection. Certain items, such as oil tanks, wells and septic systems should be inspected by someone who is qualified and knowledgeable in conducting those types of inspections. Also be aware that the contract for the inspection may contain limitations regarding if and how the inspection report may be shared with buyers.

As a seller, you would be well-advised to gather any written records of when required maintenance and inspections were performed on the cottage’s septic system, and to understand its overall condition. You may also want to hire a well inspector to ensure the tap water and well installation meet provincial standards, and the flow of water is adequate.

Boundary, zoning and rights of access issues
Some properties in rural Ontario were originally measured using the “metes and bounds” method, meaning the measurements referenced nearby fixed points, such as roads, waterways, adjacent properties or fences and trees that may no longer exist. When you buy or sell a cottage, it’s important to know your property’s actual boundaries, so your representative may advise you to have a survey done, if you don’t already have one. Be aware, these can be expensive.

If you need to go through a neighbour’s property in order to access a road or a shoreline, you should ask your representative or lawyer to check if there are any formal agreements in place, because informal agreements may not be extended to new owners.

Speaking of shorelines and access, the land underneath a lake or a river actually belongs to the Crown (the government), and public ownership may extend beyond the waterline and up the shore on some properties. Buyers will want to know if they’ll have to provide public access to boaters and sunbathers on what appears to be their own private beach.

They’ll also want to know how the property is officially zoned, and if the municipality provides either emergency services or snow plowing. If the cottage is zoned “seasonal,” an owner might not even be allowed to use it year-round. Should any of these issues apply, make sure you discuss them thoroughly with your salesperson.

If you have a question for Joe about the home buying or selling process, please email information@reco.on.ca.


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Joseph Richer is Registrar of the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO). He is in charge of the administration and enforcement of all rules that govern real estate professionals in Ontario. You can find more tips at reco.on.ca, follow on Twitter @RECOhelps or on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/RECOhelps.

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