What do I need to know about buying a cottage?

Owning a cottage is one way to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and enjoy the relaxing effects of being surrounded by nature. It’s no wonder recreational properties are always in demand.

However, cottages often come without many of the amenities you take for granted in urban settings, such as municipal water and sewer, access to high-speed internet service or in some areas cellular service.

These differences are why I recommend you hire a real estate agent who is familiar with the unique characteristics of recreational properties as well as the area in which you want to buy.

Potable water is a key consideration. A lot of cottages are not hooked up to a municipal water system and instead rely on either a well or a lake for their source of drinking and cooking water. For many, that means bringing large blue bottles of water with them for their time at the cottage.

Well and lake water may contain contaminants, so if the water comes from one of these two sources it’s important to have an independent water test done by a water quality specialist, even if the seller provides you with previous, clean test results. Water quality can be affected by a host of factors, including flooding, so you need to ensure you have your own test done before you buy, and maybe even periodic tests to assure yourself of the quality of the water.

It may be wise, if you can, to include a condition permitting a test to confirm that the water is safe to drink (potability) and that there is adequate supply (flow rate) prior to purchasing such a property.

All of these precautions are important since most lenders require potability and flow-rate tests to be done before they agree to provide financing.

If the cottage has a septic system, you should also have a septic inspection conducted to confirm that the property’s system is working properly and follows government guidelines. It’s a good idea, as a condition of sale, to have the seller pump out the septic tank before you take possession.

A home inspection by a professional who has experience with recreational properties is strongly recommended. An examination of the cottage’s major systems – including heating, cooling, plumbing and electrical – may reveal issues that could be costly to fix.

You should also determine how the property is zoned. If zoned as “seasonal,” the municipality may not provide emergency services or road plowing in the winter, which may prevent you from enjoying the cottage year-round.

If you are on or close to a body of water, you need to verify your access rights to the water. Ask your real estate agent to confirm whether you will own the shoreline and, if not, whether you have the legal right to use it.

And finally, you may want to ask for an existing survey of the property from the seller. If there isn’t one, consider having a survey done.

While it sounds like a lot to do, all these steps will help you make a smart decision when shopping for – and ultimately buying – the recreational property of your dreams. It is often a several months long process, and you will want the guidance of someone experienced.

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

This column is for general information purposes only and is not meant as legal or professional advice on real estate transactions.

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.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Addthis
  • LinkedIn
  • Email
  • Print
PDF Online
  • MyWeb Registrant Login

  • Look up a salesperson or brokerage

  • File a complaint

  • Public Advisories

  • Real Estate Education Programs

  • Ministry of Government and Consumer Services website