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Tips for buying a cottage

Long weekends at a cottage by the water sounds great, but there’s plenty to consider before buying a recreational property

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Photo by Trisha Campbell

Call it a bungalow, a cottage, or your home away from home, a recreational property gives you a chance to get back to nature without roughing it. But before you think about setting up that new barbecue and inviting your friends for a swim, there’s a lot to keep in mind .

“When purchasing any property, buyers need to be aware of any costs that go along with each sale,” says Amy VanBuskirk, a realtor with Creativ Realty in Moncton, N.B. Research the property tax in the area you’re considering. Keep in mind, she says, “Homes in cottage country tend to be closer in proximity than what you normally see in a city. I always recommended locating the property pins or have the land surveyed to be sure you know exactly what you are purchasing.”

Trisha Campbell, a realtor with Exit Realty in Charlottetown, agrees that it’s key to take your time and learn all you can about a property before making your move. “If a property has been sitting on the market for an extremely long period of time, it’s usually overpriced,” she says. “This is where talking with a real-estate professional can come in handy as they can check what comparable listings sold for and ensure that you’re not getting taken advantage of.”

Investigating the financial side is your first step, but there are other major factors to consider if the price is in your range. The run-of-the mill precautions for buying a house all apply.

Campbell recommends property and septic inspections before the sale. “When considering purchasing any property, you need to do a thorough home inspection so you are aware of the condition of the structure, the windows, electrical system, and anything that might require repair in the future,” Campbell says. “You can then plan your repairs or updates accordingly.”

If the long-term plan for your vacation property is turning it into a permanent residence, VanBuskirk suggests making sure what you want will be possible.

“If you’re planning on adding onto the structure in the form of an addition or a second floor, be sure to look into this before making the purchase,” says VanBuskirk. “This way, you could potentially avoid problems down the road when you want to put your plans in action.”

Another factor to consider before making your summer home your permanent residence is ensuring the roads in the surrounding community have year-round access. Campbell says this is not a given in all cottage communities. If the cottage is on a private road, you and other owners could be responsible for road maintenance.

“Additionally, if you’re looking to call your cottage home on a full-time basis, you will need a property that is not only properly insulated, but also has a foundation under it,” she adds. “Many cottages aren’t built with those considerations in mind, both of which will ultimately add to the cost of the home.”

If you’re still a part of the workforce and aren’t in the position to live at your cottage full-time, you could turn it into a rental property.

Campbell agrees that it’s a smart way to have the property pay for itself when you’re not in a position to use it, but advises people to ensure they are compliant with governmental regulations. For example, in P.E.I., rentals that are not monthly are highly regulated in the province, and the owners of unregistered properties face big fines.

Another critical consideration when it comes to owning a summer property is ensuring you have the proper insurance coverage in case things go awry.

Recreational-property insurance is different than the coverage for your primary home. How much the cottage will be used and how often it is occupied affect the insurance you carry on the property.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada’s website says that due to the risks associated with part-time occupation of the property, insurance for a cottage is normally provided on a “named perils” policy instead of a comprehensive or all-risk policy.

With a named perils policy, risks including fire, smoke damage, or explosion are covered, while other risks like water damage or vandalism may be more difficult because your cottage could be vacant for weeks at a time, leaving an issue like a burst pipe to become a bigger problem than it would in a year-round home.

There’s a lot to consider before purchasing a cottage, but the work will all be worth it when you’re sitting on your deck listening to waves crash on the beach.

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