There's something cathartic about packing up a cooler, an overnight bag and the kids and getting out of the city, even if it is only for a weekend.
Surrounded by tall trees, clean air and natural beauty, a home in the country can be an ideal escape. It can also be a nightmare if you don't ask the right questions when shopping around.
The question you should ask yourself is: can you afford a second home? "Go to the bank and open up the books of your life," says Michael Baum, a sales representative for Century 21 Cottage Country Realty Inc., based in Ontario's Muskoka/Haliburton area. Financial institutions offer several methods to pay for the cottage, such as increasing the mortgage on your city home or creating a second mortgage, but you have to have the income to make the payments.
Be aware your physical condition can play a factor in your approval. "If you're pregnant, watch out," says Baum. "You may not fit into the formula when they calculate your finances."
Once you've determined the amount you can comfortably spend, you have decide upon a location you can afford and will enjoy. "The area people look to usually has to do with time," explains Baum. "That's usually a maximum of a two and a half to three hour drive. But the saturation of the market is adding an hour."
Identify property attributes important to you and your family. Do you want to be by the lake or by a ski hill? Do you want neighbours near or far? Are you partial to sun exposure or do you prefer a heavily wooded lot?
Not only do you need to consider the number of bedrooms, the structure of the house and the condition of the electrical wiring in a cottage, you also have to find out where your water comes from and whether you can enjoy your home away from home in the winter.
Things to consider
• Is the road to your cottage open and maintained year-round?
• Does the cottage pump water from a lake or a well?
• If from the lake, is this same water used for recreational or industrial purposes?
• If from a well, is it on higher ground than the sewage system and has it ever dried out?
• Does the sewage system – usually a septic tank or tile bed – work and is it far enough away from trees to protect it from being blocked by roots?
• Will the sewage system eventually need to be connected, at a cost of thousands, to a town sewer supply?
• Will you be able to renovate or build additions to the cottage?
• What are the laws regarding water exclusivity, as well as hunters, cross-country skiers and others crossing your land?
Peace of mind
The last thing you want is to cast that rod and have a canoeist pull up moments later to tell you fishing is forbidden. Ask the municipality about fishing, hunting and boating, particularly about motorized crafts.
"Check the zoning," says Baum. "The zoning for most cottages doesn't allow for year-round residency, and for some areas that are zoned ‘rural', people are not supposed to be there outside of hunting season." You'll also want to find out whether garbage is picked up or if you are to deliver it to a designated dump site.
With financing available, location decided upon, house chosen and pastimes permitted, all that's left to do is breathe in the fresh air, enjoy your surroundings and wonder why you hadn't bought a cottage sooner.
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