People make the decision to acquire recreational real estate for many different reasons. For some it's the dream of waking up in their cottage and walking out for their morning coffee on the dock overlooking the lake or river. Some want to find the peace and serenity of nature. For others it's a more rational decision like travelers who depending on their budgets and types of travel all of a sudden realize that for what they spend on travel throughout the year or a bit more for two or three weeks away they could own a piece of heaven that they can escape to anytime. Finally there are those who see their recreational property as an investment, possibly looking at short term rental or other options to either help pay for their property or even generate cash flow and a profit.
Whatever your reason for wanting to acquire a recreational property, you are not alone as more and more people are looking for the same experience.
Buying recreational real estate is however a little different than buying residential real estate and there are several things that should be considered during your search and your transaction. Here are 11 things not to forget specifically when looking for and buying recreational real estate.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself looking out the window of your dream cottage. What do you see?, What's around you?, What kind of cottage are you in?, What are you doing? One thing for sure is that if you ask 10 people the same questions you will get 10 different answers. Your dream is your own and if it is just you buying your recreational property then great, make your list of wants and needs and share them with a real estate broker experienced with recreational real estate in the area you are considering.
If you are a couple or a family you will need to all list your wants and needs then see what your common criteria are and discuss your differences.
Once you all agree on your final list share it with your broker and start your search.
There is a saying that says real estate is location, location, location. That couldn't be more true with recreational real estate and for several reasons. First of all the distance from your home. We always recommend starting your search within a 1.5 hour radius of your home. From experience (personal, client's and acquaintance's), once you get to the two hour mark there are many Fridays or other times at the end of the week that you are going to be just to tired to make the trip and also impromptu trips to the cottage will be far less often . The idea here is to get the most use possible from your property and to do that you need a certain amount of convenience and accessibility.
Another thing to understand about distance and travel time from your home is that the travel time can be significantly different during different times of the year. If you live in Montreal for example and your cottage is is the Laurentians or the Eastern Townships it may be 1.5 hours away according to Google Maps but from Friday noon to Saturday afternoon during the months of May, June, July and August you can sometimes almost double that dur to traffic. Other regions like the Outaouais are far less affected by this phenomenon due to less traffic and more, better road options. Regardless of the city you live in this phenomenon exists, so be mindful of it and be sure to take it into consideration when deciding on the search criteria for your property. You'll be glad you did.
What type of experience are you looking for? For most people the cottage experience includes a lake or river but not all. So figure out what that experience is for you taking these few things into consideration.
Do you want any water at all? Some people love activities that have nothing to do with water and could save an enormous amount of money by not buying waterfront if that's not important to them.
Other people like the water but are fine with just having access to it without actually being on it. This can often offer more privacy while still allowing you to use the lake or river whenever you want. Finally some people have a fear of water in which case it isn't even a factor in their search.
If water access without being directly on the water works for you be sure that your water access is deeded and that no one can take it away from you in the future.
If for you it's waterfront or nothing, consider what type of waterfront experience you are looking for. If you love motorboating, water skiing and other motorized watersports, make sur ethe lake or river you are considering is navigable (meaning that they allow motor boats). Maybe you want a clean, natural and quiet lake, then choose a non-navigable (meaning no motorboats) lake.
When you imagine yourself at the cottage or on your dock are you all alone with lots of privacy or are you among others in a community enjoying the company of your neighbours all around you. One thing that people often don't think of when considering a lake and privacy issues is that depending on the size of the lake, if there are cottages all around the lake you may have a whole lot of nice people looking at you from all around the lake and across the water. On a smaller lake or a river that could be very close. Often river properties can offer more privacy. Be sure to consider this when choosing your search criteria.
Are you a sun lover or do you a problems with the sun. Remember that if your waterfront property is facing south or south west, you will have the sun all day if it is facing north you may have shade most of the day. Easy sunrise... West sunset, all things to consider.
The health of the lake is something to consider as well and can have a huge impact on your experience in years to come. Be sure to ask about it. Most lakes are tested and an experienced broker should be able to help you get that information.
We will talk more about this in the Zoning, Regulations and Building Codes section but know that there are several rules regarding the protection of the shoreline and the lake or river itself that will affect what you can do with your property.
Last but definitively not least, if the property you are considering is on a body of water, river, creek or lake, you need to check that it is not in a flood zone! You will want to check the flood maps for your area. Here in Quebec you can consult the provincial flood map at: www.cehq.gouv.qc.ca/zones-inond/carte-esri/index.html
Be careful when interpreting the information on the map, the different zones are identified by different colours and the coulours are unfortunately there is not that much contrast between them. I would highly recommend reviewing the flood map with your experienced real estate broker and a step further could even be to call the city or municipality to check.
Examples of flood zones are 0-20 and 0-100. 0-20 means that the area is likely to flood at least once with a 20 year period. In a 0-20 zone you will not be able to do much with your property over and above what is already there. Any kind of permit is almost impossible to get, again the city or municipal inspector is a good person to refer to regarding a flood zone affecting your property. A 0-100 zone is less of an issue but you will still want to follow up and find out what the repercussions are for your property. Better to avoid flood zones all together!
Whether you are buying an older or newer cottage or a vacant lot to build on you will need to understand the rules regarding zoning, the use of your property, the shoreline protection rules as well as building codes. All of these considerations will affect what you and your property now and into the future.
Zoning will affect what you can do on and with your property. Some zoning designations and rules are provincial, some regional and some specific to your municipality so be careful when getting your information an experienced real estate broker who is knowledgeable about the municipality you are looking in will be a big help. If you want the ultimate resource for zoning and rules contact the municipalities inspector, if your broker works in the area he or she should have the inspector's coordinates. If your real estate broker is hesitant to give you the inspector's coordinates... ask yourself some questions, why?
It is important to note that every municipality has its own rules and building codes which affect everything from land use, outdoor fires and under what conditions, the most importantly the sizes and measurements that affect your lot and construction or future expansion or renovation plans. You will have minimum square footage limits for both your property and house/cottage. You will have maximum square footage limits for garages and out buildings, depending on your zoning. There are measurements that need to be respected concerning the septic system, well, property lines and others.
Finally if you are on water (lake, river, creek or pond or even wetlands) there are several environmental protection rules and regulations that you must abide by. For example in Quebec we have the Shoreline protection Act that prohibits any building or land altering work to be done within 15 metres (49.2 feet) from the highest point of the shore line. Depending on the type of body of water the rules can vary. The environmental protection laws are strict and enforced so be sure you understand them and what they mean for your specific property.
There are several things that urban or suburban communities don't deal with that rural ones do. There are also some common things that just work differently in a rural community.
The rural considerations we're talking about here are;
Different people have different expectations when you talk about "Cottage Country" and there is something out there for every taste. Make sure that your new "Cottage Country" community is a fit for you.
Some "Cottage Country" communities are...
If you are buying a recreational property or second residence consider that these types of properties have probably gone unused for extended periods time and often don't get the same level of upkeep as peoples primary residences. An inspection by a qualified home inspector, recommended by someone you trust is a must!
During the recent overheated pandemic real estate market many buyers made the mistake of buying homes and foregoing inspections to try and make their offers more attractive. Many of them have come to regret these decisions as they are left with everything from large repair bills to in some cases unusable properties. An experienced broker that works in the region should be able to refer you to home inspectors that they have worked with in the past to help protect you in your transaction.
If you are purchasing vacant land to build on a geotechnical analysis of the property will usually be required by the municipality before they issue you a building permit. The technician that does the analysis will also be able to recommend the type and location of your septic system as well as water well placement among other things. I your going to get it done anyway, why not get it done before you buy and protect yourself. It does cost some money and warning the wait time for a technician can be a little long but try and put it as a condition in your offer. A broker experienced in the area should be able to provide you with some referrals to some technicians he has dealt with in the past. Some properties have more obvious needs for the geotechnical analysis that others for instance lots on the top or side of a hill or mountain.
Talk to your broker it's their job to protect your interests.
One of the first questions many cottage seekers ask me when we first talk about a specific property is "are short term rentals allowed" half of them are asking because they want the answer to be yes and the other half want the answer to be no.
There is no question that short term rentals can be very profitable for cottage owners BUT...
more and more municipalities are passing laws against short term rentals and the movement from residents is not moving in favour of short term rentals. Check with the city or municipality regarding the rules that affect short term rentals.
As far as a cottage holding it's value and possibly increasing in value the trend is definitely in your favour but of course that kind of conversation is specific to each property and one that should be had with your broker who is experienced in recreational real estate in that region.
The four main options for financing a cottage/recreational property.
Cottage insurance is not like your primary residence home insurance. How much you use your cottage, when you use your cottage and what type of cottage all impact the type of insurance that you will require. If you rent out your cottage that will require additional insurance coverage as well.
Here is a link to a great article from CAA Quebec on cottage insurance.
CAA Québec Cottage Insurance Article
Be sure to contact your insurance company to find out what your insurance costs might be before moving ahead.
An easement (also known here in Quebec as a servitude) gives one individual access through another's property. You may benefit from one in the case of outdoor trails or water access through someone else's property. Or others may benefit from an easement through your property for the same reasons. Private roads are usually an easement through several properties. Almost all properties have easement in favour of utility companies ie: here in Quebec Hydro Quebec to assure access for maintenance, repair and in the case of urgent issues like power outages. Find out what easements are on your property or that you benefit from before buying. These can make a big difference in you decision making process.
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