Real Estate

What to consider when buying a cottage property

By Kirsten McMahon, Associate Editor

Purchasing a cottage can be an attractive option to get into the market at a lower price with the potential to earn rental income, but Toronto real estate lawyer Blair Drummie says recreational properties have a number of unique issues prospective buyers should watch for.

“When it comes to due diligence in acting for somebody who's purchasing a cottage, there are a number of things that are over and above a city transaction,” Drummie tells AdvocateDaily.com.

The Globe and Mail cited a recent study that says millennials are twice as interested in owning a cottage property than the rest of the population.

“This non-traditional entry into the property market is partly the result of two intersecting trends: sky-high real estate prices in Canada's largest cities (the average price of a detached house in Toronto passed $1.2-million in 2017) and the rise of the sharing economy, in which tech-savvy millennials leverage their assets (cars, parking spaces, houses) to offset costs and make extra money,” the article states.

Drummie, a cottage owner and urban dweller, says he’s representing more people in Toronto who are buying in cottage country.

“I’m seeing fewer couples looking to buy their first house in the Greater Toronto Area and more people who own or rent in the city who also want to buy a cottage,” he says. “But before you put major money into a recreational property, you want to avoid future problems down the road.”

He notes that unlike city properties — which tend to change hands quite frequently with appropriate searches conducted each time — cottage properties may have been passed down through generations or had very few owners.

“The primary concern is access,” he says. “You can run into problems if there are shared laneways or dirt roads that go over somebody else’s property. If the right of way over that property is not settled, you may not be able to access your property.”

Even if a vendor says access is not an issue with the current neighbours, Drummie says if somebody new moves into a neighbouring property everything can change.

Another issue to watch for is shoreline road allowance, which is the size of a portion of land determined by measuring 66 feet from the high water mark. Drummie says shore road allowances were established by the province in the 1800's to create access to and from the water for commercial uses such as fishing and logging.

A shore road allowance can be found on most surveys and if the cottage is within 66 feet of the shoreline, you should inquire if it is something you can purchase.

“Generally, when the cottage or any structure on the property is within 66 feet of the high water mark, the shoreline allowance has already been purchased,” Drummie says. “But if it hasn't, you may find that the province still has the right to do things with that allowance.”

Potability of water is another issue unique to rural areas, he says, and buyers should ask is where the water comes from.

“If you're drawing your water through a pipe and a pump from the lake, you're going to have to take care of your own purification and there are systems you can buy. That would be the responsibility of any of the cottage owner,” Drummie says.

“If there's a well, that's a different story," he says. "You should have the well tested for potability and have it in your agreement that the water is drinkable.”

If the property has a septic system, your agreement can state the vendor will do a pump out so you can start fresh.

“You want to find out if it's a newer septic system and that all the appropriate municipal approvals were given,” Drummie says. “If it's an older system, a home inspector should determine that it's still viable.”

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