Part 1 - How to Find the Perfect Cottage Investment Property in Ontario
Welcome to the 3-part Series on How to Buy a Cottage Investment Property in Ontario. With so many buyers priced out of the Toronto housing market, many are looking to have a real estate investment elsewhere in Ontario and a cottage can be the perfect alternative. Not only can it produce great rental income, it also provides tremendous lifestyle benefits.
In Part 1, you’ll learn how to go about finding a property to ensure you’ll appeal to renters who will keep the income flowing. Part 2 will cover how to decorate and outfit your investment cottage to appeal to a broad range of renters and ensure they pick your property to rent over the competition. Lastly in Part 3, we’ll cover how to go about marketing your property and common pitfalls to avoid.
I started renting cottages just over a decade ago for a yearly vacation with my parents and my own growing family. Every year I’d start my search for a property that would check all my boxes and I was never able to find something that checked everything, but I did learn a lot and ended up cutting one vacation short by a few days because of a colossal mistake on my part.
Although renting is a great option for most people, I’ve known since I was a kid that I had to have my own cottage one day and I’ve been saving for years to make it happen. Earlier this year we decided it was time to pull the trigger and we purchased a Beach House on Georgian Bay. I had to furnish and decorate it from scratch and have it listed for rent within 2 weeks of taking possession. It sold out very quickly and I’m already taking bookings for next summer. So how did I find my cottage?
Step #1 – Cast Your Net
It’s helpful to narrow your search down to properties located within a 2 hour drive from the GTA. As an owner who will also be using the property for personal enjoyment, you’ll appreciate the proximity immensely. It’s also helpful for those times you have to scoot up there to address an issue.
It’s also worthwhile to focus your search, based on where you live. If your home is located in Pickering, it’s probably not ideal to have a vacation property in Sauble Beach. Prince Edward County or Kingston on the other hand is perfect. As a general rule, if you’re west, stay on the west side of the 400 (think Lake Huron, Niagara on the Lake, Collingwood, Balm Beach, etc.). If you’re east, stay east (Kawarthas, Prince Edward County, Haliburton, etc.). If you’re north, go north! Georgian Bay, Lake Simcoe and all the Muskokas are your oyster. Sometimes the longest portion of your drive is just getting out of the city, so it really helps if you don’t have to cross over the entire city, at the start of your journey.
Step #2 – Find a Knowledgeable, Local Realtor
If you’re going to be looking for a cottage in different areas of Southern Ontario, you may need to work with a few different agents that specialize in each area of cottage country. It’s imperative that your realtor has detailed, local knowledge of issues such as septic systems, well water, shore road allowances, water quality, rental restrictions, etc.
When we were looking at cottage properties, I dealt with a number of different agents – some were fantastic and others were downright terrible. But the one consistent trait I had to get used to, was that cottage country realtors work at a MUCH slower pace, than Toronto. It was the most frustrating part of the process for me, as I’m used to the hustle and fast-paced Toronto housing market. I submitted one offer and didn’t hear a word for 3 days! Alas, it was my first lesson in learning to slow down and chill a little.
(UPDATE) Since writing this article, I have heard from hundreds of buyers who have experienced frustration finding a cottage country realtor, so we did the research for you and have partnered up with a group of fabulous realtors throughout Ontario, who share the same hustle we do! You can find our specialists here.
Step #3 – Create your wish list
Before getting started, it’s important to have a clear vision of what you’re looking for. You’ll never find a property that checks all your boxes, but use the guidelines below to focus your search, keeping in mind this criteria is for a property that you’re looking to rent for top dollar vs. using strictly for personal use.
- waterfront – this is not negotiable
- within 20 minutes of amenities (groceries, liquor store, drug store, etc.)
- within 25 minutes of a hospital
- easy water access for children & seniors
- year-round road accessibility
- good-sized septic system
- parking for 3+ cars
- lots of sleeping capacity – bunkies are a bonus!
- at least 2 bathrooms (one with a tub)
- big dining space
- laundry facilities
GOOD TO HAVES
- main floor bedroom (for senior renters with limited mobility)
- municipal water supply
- municipal sewers
- forced air gas and not electric baseboards
- west facing for sunsets or south facing
- winter amenities nearby – downhill or cross country skiing
- options for sunshine & shade
- gradual entry water for little ones
- central air conditioning
- no weeds
- outdoor seating & dining areas
- renovated kitchen & baths
- hardwood floors vs. carpeting
- a room to lock up to store your personal belongings during rentals
- hot tub
- sandy beach
- vaulted ceilings
- charm & character
- spectacular views!
Step #5 – Making the Numbers Work
Delving into the complete finances of an investment cottage purchase is outside the scope of this article, however at minimum you’ll need to keep in mind the following annual expenses:
- Mortgage payments (interest portion only)
- Property taxes
- Property insurance – you’ll need to have special insurance that incorporates the rental of your property. There are different plans available depending on how many weeks a year you plan to rent your property. Here’s the insurance broker we used.
- Utilities – you’ll need to budget for electricity, gas and water expenses if you’re on municipal water. Keep in mind if your cottage is only heated by electric baseboards, the winter bills can be astronomical. All the more reason to find a cottage with forced air gas heating!
- Satellite TV
- Annual Maintenance
Before putting an offer in on a property, it’s worthwhile to research other rentals in the area to see what they’re charging and guestimate how much you’ll be able to get. It’s always a good idea to be conservative with your numbers. We’ve increased our rental rate by $1000 per week, since first listing. In my research, I found the website www.cottagesincanada.com to be the most popular rental site.
There are traditionally 9-11 peak rental weeks where the max rent can be charged. At minimum, you want your rental income from those peak weeks to cover all of your operating expenses. The better scenario of course, is to find a property that pays for itself by only renting it out about 8 weeks, which allows you to enjoy it for free, for your own summer vacation and the remainder of the year! Then of course is the jackpot – where your cottage investment property not only pays for itself, but actually earns you an income, while you still get to enjoy using it.
Everyone has different goals, some may want to just offset a portion of their annual expenses and others may want to be earning income and not actually use the property at all for themselves.
Contact me to learn more.