My family is interested in buying a cottage; are there any special considerations we should know about before we get started?

The short answer to your question is yes – purchasing a vacation property sometimes involves unfamiliar issues you may need to consider. I strongly recommend working with a real estate salesperson who has experience in dealing with recreational properties. They can help you find suitable properties and ask the right questions.

For starters, you’ll want to verify if there are any restrictions on access and services provided to the property. If the municipality has zoned the cottage as “seasonal,” it may not provide emergency services or snow-plowing in the off-season, and you might not be able to live there, rent it out or even access it during certain months.

You’ll also want to verify the property’s actual boundaries. If the property’s dimensions are described by the “metes and bounds” method, the property lines could refer to objects (for example trees or fences) that no longer exist. You may need to have a survey of the property performed (assuming one doesn’t already exist) so be aware that surveys can be expensive.

Did you know that even if the cottage is adjacent to a lake, you might not have title to or exclusive use of the “private beach?” Public ownership may extend beyond the waterline on some properties, and there could be restrictions on building docks or boathouses on the waterfront.

The cottage might also be accessible only by cutting through a neighbour’s property. Should that be the case, ask your salesperson or your lawyer to see if there are any formal right-of-way agreements, or easements in place, because existing agreements might not be transferrable to new owners.

Cottages aren’t always properly maintained by their owners, so it’s a good idea to make your offer conditional upon the property passing a home inspection. Certain items such as oil tanks, wood-burning stoves, docks, wells and septic systems should only be inspected by somebody who is qualified and knowledgeable in conducting those types of inspections.

The cottage might not be linked to the municipal water and sewage system. Should that be the case, ask the seller to provide you with any written records of when required maintenance and inspections were performed on the cottage’s septic system, and take some time to understand its overall condition. You could ask your salesperson to insert a clause in the Agreement of Purchase and Sale to require the seller to empty the tank at their expense before you take possession.

You would also be well-advised to confirm the source of the cottage’s water supply (most likely a well or a nearby lake), and hire a water specialist to determine if the tap water is safe to drink, the flow of water is sufficient for your needs and the well installation meets provincial standards.

If you have a question for Joe about the home buying or selling process, please email

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, follow on Twitter @RECOhelps or on YouTube at

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