Cottage country shows early immunity to GTA real estate cooling

Sales data from Royal LePage show Ontario recreational-property prices have climbed to an average of $413,000 in May this year, while prices for lakefront properties in Muskoka grew 20 per cent year over year to $1.5-million from $1.25-million in May, 2016. (Because it has implemented a new methodology for compiling data, Royal LePage does not have a comparable average provincial price for recreational properties in 2016.)

Kevin Somers, chief operating officer of Royal LePage Real Estate Services Ltd., said the vacation-property market around Toronto is “very different” from the market for homes in the city, and he predicts a strong summer of sales in vacation centres even as the Toronto region experiences a slowdown.

“Based on the underlying supply and demand factors, coupled with very lucrative financing, I think we’re going to see a very strong sustained summer market,” he said.

Most cottage-country buyers are typically wealthier and are buying second homes using financing that comes from the strong equity position in their principal homes, so are not spooked by the province’s recent measures to cool the Toronto market, Mr. Somers said.

“They are less impacted, frankly, by the pause or the reprieve that is going on in the GTA market proper right now,” he said.

While most buyers are still seeking vacation homes, he said there is also a growing number of people approaching retirement who are opting to sell valuable city homes and move permanently to a relatively less-expensive vacation market.

Some vacation markets in Muskoka and around the Collingwood area have even started seeing bidding wars, which have been a rare sight in communities hours from the GTA.

“Historically, the process to purchase recreational properties tends to be a more relaxed and extended pace, so it’s a bit of a new anomaly in cottage country,” Mr. Somers said.

Price gains have varied within hot regions, depending on the type and location of the properties.

In the Collingwood region north of Toronto on Georgian Bay, for example, prices for lakefront homes rose 5 per cent in May compared with a year earlier to an average of $801,500, Royal LePage reported. But prices for resort and condominium units remained red-hot over the same period, climbing by 27 per cent to an average of $342,200 as buyers continue to seek more affordable, year-round units that can be used during ski season.

In the Haliburton Highlands area northeast of Toronto, lakefront-home prices climbed 13 per cent in May compared with a year earlier to an average of $425,000, while riverside-home prices were up 20 per cent to an average of $300,000 and island properties climbed 17 per cent to $350,000.

Non-waterfront woodland cabins remain the most affordable option in most centres, averaging $200,000 in Haliburton and $300,000 in the Muskoka region.

Prices for riverside properties in the Muskoka area were also well below prices for lakefront properties, averaging $800,000, while island-based properties averaged $650,000, up 18 per cent over 2016.

Cottages are the new ownership dream for young people

Forget buying a house in Toronto: Cottages are the new ownership dream for young people, says report

Two-thirds of Canadian millennials would consider buying a recreational property like a cottage or cabin

By Alexandra Sienkiewicz, CBC News Posted: Jul 01, 2017 6:00 AM ET

With the high cost of real estate in Toronto pricing many first-time homebuyers out of the market, millennials are starting to look outside the city — way outside.

They’re not looking with the intention of buying a home, but rather buying a recreational property like a cottage, cabin or ski chalet.

A report released this week by RE/MAX and Leger said almost two-thirds of Canadian millennials would consider buying a recreational property in the next 10 years.

Adrienne Atkins, 29, falls into this group, having just recently bought a property in Grand Bend.

“It’s really unaffordable in the city, I wanted a bit more bang for my buck,” Atkins said. The Yonge and Eglinton resident doesn’t yet know if she’ll make Grand Bend her forever home, but said she would consider moving if she could find flexible work.

Residential sales ‘unprecedented’

Suzanne Martineau has also seen an increase in millennial interest in the Muskoka region, where she leads a team of agents with RE/MAX Hallmark Realty. She describes the growth in residential sales as unprecedented, and said it’s “definitely being driven by the city.”

“I hear often, the city is too congested, it’s getting too busy, it’s unaffordable, it’s not an enjoyable lifestyle.”– Suzanne Martineau, RE/MAX Hallmark Realty

“I hear often, the city is too congested, it’s getting too busy, it’s unaffordable, it’s not an enjoyable lifestyle… so [people] are rethinking their choices in life,” she said. “With technology, I think it’s allowing people to be employed further from core centres in this country.”

Martineau added that millennials she’s met who have moved to the Muskoka region “know what they want” and that they’re making “very active choices to be in a more natural environment.”

“Some of them raise chickens, some of them live on three or four acres … some of them want to be off-grid,” she explained.

Off-grid trend is growing

The off-grid trend is one Martineau said has grown in the last year, noting that in the past off-grid properties were difficult to sell — whereas now they’re purposely being sought out.

Laurie McVey, 29, is a Toronto office manager and executive assistant who started her search for a recreational property in the spring.

Despite making “fairly good money,” the reality of buying a home in Toronto “will just never happen,” she said.

“Even if I can get a home in Toronto, it’s only going to be a shoebox, and I don’t want a shoebox,” she said, adding that she has two dogs and that condo life is not conducive to pets.

After years of frustration seeing real estate prices rise at rates that didn’t match the increase in her salary, she contacted a real estate agent in Muskoka. Unlike her friends, who she said have moved out of the city to own a property, she plans to buy a recreational property, which she could potentially rent out when she’s not using it.

Listings in cottage country down

The increasing popularity of recreational properties is well-reflected in real estate listings and prices. In Muskoka, the number of listings is down 41 per cent since 2016, with sales up 21 per cent in the first quarter. Martineau speculates that residential sales will be even “more extreme” for the second quarter — which tends to be the region’s busy season.

Prices have also jumped, with many properties being sold at asking or above, and bidding wars becoming more common, which Martineau called “very unusual.”

She credits some of that to city buyers.

“They’re coming from a very aggressive environment and bringing those behaviours with them … which isn’t always necessary up here,” she said. “It’s been interesting to watch how buyers are coming up from the city and placing offers on properties — they’re coming in strong, hard and firm, even without competitive bids.”

This behaviour is also reflected in other popular cottage-country areas, to the east of Muskoka.

Take for example the region of Haliburton, which has seen a 42 per cent increase in year-over-year prices for non-waterfront properties. That being said, even with the price hike, the average price of a property in Haliburton is $66,038 according to RE/MAX — a steal for anyone used to Toronto prices.

Waterfront properties have also seen a jump, with prices in regions like Prince Edward County, Wasaga Beach and the Bruce Peninsula seeing growth of up to 38 per cent.

Get a local real estate agent

Martineau does have one piece of advice for people from the city looking for recreational properties: get a local agent. The regions are so wide and have certain quirks, so agents who do most of their business in the city may not be aware of certain specifics — which could mean a buyer pays more than the property is worth.

There are some things Atkins said she would miss about the city, including the conveniences and having everything within a five-minute walk. But, she said: “I’ve lived here my whole life so I’m good to move somewhere quieter.”

McVey echoed Atkins’s feelings, saying: “Getting away into a small town is a huge relief from being in the city,” adding that she won’t miss much about Toronto.

Cottage Country Feels The Heat

Cottage country feels the heat from
Toronto’s real estate fire

Even before the snows melted, equity-rich boomers were chasing scarce resort-area getaways.

The May long weekend is the traditional kickoff to cottage season. But long before the snow melted this spring, equity-rich baby boomers from the city had been turning up the heat on resort-area real estate.

Agents in Muskoka and Haliburton say most of the action is down to a new breed of older buyer: 50-somethings, cashing out and driving north to retire or telecommute. Many maintain a condo in the GTA or they go south in the winter.

Toronto’s runaway real estate market, which has only recently started to cool, is still radiating heat into cottage country, according to Mike Taylor, an agent with Port Carling Chestnut Park and president of the Lakelands Association of Realtors, which represents 680 realtors in Muskoka, Haliburton and Orillia.

Its latest statistics show waterfront property sales up 5.1 per cent this year to date, compared with 2016. The value of that property, however, surged 51.4 per cent year over year in April, to $118.1 million. The median price of $485,000 was up 30.4 per cent from last April.

“We haven’t seen a slowdown like the Toronto market has over the last month as yet, but it may be filtering our way. As the end of May comes and we are getting more listings put on the market for waterfront, it will be interesting to see how that all plays out,” Taylor said.

But many cottages never hit the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) that provides real estate association data. A lot of agents find a buyer and seller before the property even goes on the market, said Bob Clarke, a Port Carling-based broker.

He said the inventory of listings is at historic lows — down about 30 per cent from 2015 levels. Prices, however, are up about 26 per cent on the small lakes and about 41 per cent on the big three lakes: Muskoka, Joseph and Rosseau.

Typically, Muskoka doesn’t see a lot of bidding wars and vacation homes can sometimes take up to two years to sell. But Clarke said competitive offers have been popping up since the fall, with many properties selling in a day, and it isn’t even high season.

“We’re putting places out there and getting 30 showings in a day and a half,” said Clarke, who is president of Royal LePage Lakes of Muskoka–Clarke Muskoka Realty.

The trouble is, he said, this is supposed to be the slow season. Usually only 12 per cent of the company’s transactions occur in the first four months of the year.

In Bracebridge and Gravenhurst, entry-level homes in the $229,000 to $279,000 bracket are selling for $30,000 or $40,000 over asking, he said.

“Torontonians have hit the Lotto Max jackpot and they come up here and say, ‘Who cares? What’s $299,000 instead of $279,000?’” Clarke said.

Ninety minutes east, Troy Austen, with Team Haliburton Highlands Re/Max, says one of his clients put it best.

He said he felt like he’d won the lottery, Austen said. “I just sold my house for $1 million. I can make the same money with what I do in Haliburton and I bought a 50-acre farm — no mortgage — and money in the bank.”

Austen usually spends his winters travelling. He’s been all over the world because once the snow flies, the cottage market typically shuts down.

Not this year.

This year it never stopped. Real estate left over after the summer continued to sell and buyers were on the prowl even after the lakes froze.

“It’s my 22nd year (in the business) and I’ve never seen it this busy in the winter,” he said.

It’s not just housing trends and demographics. Austen said the Internet has finally put Haliburton on the map for its relative affordability and proximity to the city.

“The taxes are way less, the prices are way less and, coming out of the GTA, we’re anywhere from two hours to two hours and 45 minutes from downtown,” he said.

Although less expensive cottages always sell faster, “every price range right now is hot and active up to $1.5 million in Haliburton County,” Austen said.

Buyers, he said, are looking for a dream home.

“Everybody’s looking for a 400-foot frontage lot or teardown,” Austen said. “All of the contractors are booked a year and two years out. It’s good for the economy.”

The same quest is taking a toll on the traditional fabric of Muskoka, says Hugh Nichols, a Re/Max North Country agent in Gravenhurst. Cottaging has become more sophisticated, he says.

“I don’t think it’s so much an escape where you went up to the cabin and your mom didn’t yell at you when you left your wet bathing suit on the floor. Now they’ve got them finished with granite countertops and drywall, and carpeting or hardwood floors throughout. Your mom would die if you left your bathing suit on the floor now,” he said.

“The demand is for three-season (cottages) where 10 years ago people were happy with a seasonal cottage. We have investors and contractors who are buying them to improve them or rebuild to flip, or we’ve got investors who are buying to rent,” said Nichols, who admits entry-level cottages for young families are limited.

“It is possible, but that’s not our major market. I’d like to see that again. I don’t see a lot of 40-and-unders buying,” he said.

Last week, Nichols said, there were only seven waterfront properties listed under $500,000. The lowest was a cabin for $179,000 on a narrow bend of river. It might suit a kayaker but you couldn’t water-ski there.

On the big three lakes, there were 51 properties listed with an average price of $3 million.

“Privacy is still the key factor when it comes to price. Up here, the definition of privacy is when you can stand on your front deck naked and nobody can see you. You need 200 feet of waterfront to do that … the younger people know they’ll have to pay to get a smaller waterfront where you can see the neighbour,” he said.

A boathouse requires similar water frontage.

There’s not much call for the rustic cottages of a generation or two back, says Clarke, who is also a builder.

“Places I’m building now have 20-seat theatres; we have walls of glass that open to the outside; gas and wood fire pits; butler’s pantries. And those are the ones that are $10 million-plus and they’re often the least used,” he said.

Custom builds are so popular, Clarke said. “We are very quickly reaching the point where we do not have vacant lots on Rosseau, Muskoka and Joseph. They’re basically (as scarce as) hen’s teeth.”

The Dangers of Over Pricing Your Muskoka Home

If your Muskoka home gets no showings or very few showings, it is probably overpriced by 10%. If your Muskoka home gets a lot of showings (2-3 per week) but no offers, then your it is probably overpriced by about 5%. If your Muskoka home gets an offer within the first 30 days, then your home was priced correctly from the beginning.

Your top priority is not to sit on the market for longer than 30 days. If you sit for that long, people will believe that something is wrong with your property and they will not offer top dollar on your home.

Sometimes agents will be desperate for a listing and they will promise you an unrealistic sale price. As a real estate professional, this is highly frowned upon and it is a major disservice to the consumer. I would rather pass on a listing than promise a client something that I know I cannot give them.

If you’re looking for an honest answer about what your home might sell for on the market, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I would be very happy to help you!

Which Renovations Add Value to Your Muskoka Home?

People often ask, “What type of renovations should I invest in before listing my Muskoka property?” Fortunately, I have advice about the most valuable renovations to invest in.

First, add a fresh coat of paint. Painting is the cheapest way to add value to your home. A crisp, clean property appeals to the buyer and makes a huge difference.

Second, replace the carpets. You may get away with a simple wash. However, if your carpet is worn out, consider the fairly small investment to replace it entirely.

Third, declutter the property. This isn’t a costly investment, but it requires time. Ultimately, it will help make your home more appealing to buyers.

Finally, create curb appeal. You have only one chance to make a first impression! Clean up the yard. Plant flowers. Ensure the entryway looks nice. Make your property shine.

Buyers should fall in love with your home. Buying a home is an emotional experience. Give buyers the ultimate experience. If you have any questions, give me a call or send me an email.

Non-waterfront and waterfront sales hit multi-year highs in March

Residential non-waterfront sales activity recorded through the MLS® system of Muskoka Haliburton Orillia – The Lakelands Association of REALTORS® numbered 157 units in March 2016, up 4.7 per cent from March 2015.

On a year-to-date basis non-waterfront sales were running 7.7 per cent ahead of the first quarter of 2015.

Sales of waterfront properties jumped 28.8 per cent year-over-year to 85 units in March 2016.

On a year-to-date basis waterfront sales were up 17.4 per cent from the first quarter of 2015.

“Demand for both waterfront and non-waterfront properties was extremely strong in March, with sales of both hitting their highest levels in more than a decade,” said Tom Wilkinson, President of Muskoka Haliburton Orillia – The Lakelands Association of REALTORS®. “Rising sales combined with falling supply appear to be putting some upward pressure on prices.”

The median price for residential non-waterfront property sales was a record $253,000 in March 2016, up 10.4 per cent from March 2015.

The median price for waterfront sales was $425,000 in March 2016, rising 21.6 per cent from March 2015.

The dollar value of all residential non-waterfront sales in March 2016 totalled $40.8 million, rising 10.3 per cent from March 2015. This was the best March level on record.

The total value of waterfront sales was $60.1 million, more than double March of last year and a record for the month. This was such a strong March showing that it marked the first time volumes had surpassed even $30 million in this month.

Summary – Sales by Housing Type
Category March 2016 March 2015 Year-over-year
percentage change
Non-Waterfront Residential 157 150 4.7
Waterfront 85 66 28.8
Includes transactions in all areas recorded by the REALTORS® Association of Ontario Lakelands
Summary – Median Price by Housing Type
Category March 2016 March 2015 Year-over-year
percentage change
Non-Waterfront Residential $253,000 $229,250 10.4
Waterfront $425,000 $349,500 21.6
Includes transactions in all areas recorded by the REALTORS® Association of Ontario Lakelands

Detailed – Non-Waterfront Residential Sales and Median Price by Area
Non-Waterfront Residential
By Area Unit Sales Median Sale Price
March 2016 March 2015 Year-over-year
March 2016 March 2015 Year-over-year
Muskoka 83 61 36.1 $223,000 $205,000 8.8
Haliburton 14 10 40.0 $164,500 $214,250 -23.2
Orillia 57 48 18.8 $268,500 $251,000 7.0
Detailed – Waterfront Sales and Median Price by Area
By Area Unit Sales Median Sale Price
March 2016 March 2015 Year-over-year
March 2016 March 2015 Year-over-year
Muskoka 46 44 4.5 $482,500 $358,750 34.5
Haliburton 24 13 84.6 $388,750 $365,000 6.5
Orillia 15 5 200.0 $407,500 $430,000 -5.2


The Tamaracks Have Just Peaked

Tamarack, the latest changing tree species in Algonquin Park, has “just peaked” depending upon the location, showing a brilliant golden colour in wetland areas before the needles of this coniferous tree species drop for the winter. The rusty reds of Red Oak are also present on the landscape offering some colour, in combination with the Tamaracks. All the other deciduous tree species are bare and fully prepared for the onset of winter.

During the past 42 years in Algonquin Park, the peak Sugar Maple fall colour has ranged from as early as September 15 (1982) to as late as October 9 (1996). This year the peak Sugar Maple colour was determined to be October 8, 2015 (nearly record late as a result of warm fall temperatures). Many factors such as temperature, rainfall, wind speed, and daylight length all play factors in when the peak will occur and how long it will last. High winds, rain, or even snow can sometimes quickly result in fragile leaves being knocked off the trees increasing what is called “leaf fall”.

The peak of Algonquin Park’s Sugar Maple forests is traditionally expected during the last week of September or first week of October. An Algonquin Park visit between early and mid-October will observe the peak yellow-orange colours displayed by poplar and birch species. A mid to late October visit showcases Tamarack at their peak yellow colour before dropping their needles in preparation for winter.

Three Muskoka Lakes In A Day

Yesterday I found myself on three different lakes in Muskoka. Lucky me. My morning started on Brandy Lake in Port Carling, then I travelled to Lake Muskoka and by the end of the day I was on McKay Lake in Bracebridge. We are so lucky here in Muskoka to have so much water around us. I think most of us take it for granted. As an appraiser and a real estate agent, I see things through a different lense than most. Yesterday, as I stood on a hard sand beach looking out at the morning sun on Brandy Lake, I tried to shed that analytical mind of mine that’s always looking at exposure, frontage, view, topography – and just breath it in and enjoy. I love my job. Who else gets to visit three lakes in a day and call it work! But my analytical mind can’t rest for long. I started to think about the different people that certain lakes attract – and they do. Just hearing a lake name will bring to mind a certain “type”. Now of course there are exceptions to every rule, but here in Muskoka it really seems to be true. People either want to be on the “Big Lakes” or the absolutely DO NOT. Some want the smaller lakes, but still be close to the big lake action, and others want to be far away from it all. Where ever you are, they are all beautiful. Muskoka and it’s lakes are an amazing resource for us. Their towering pines, granite rock outcroppings and varied terrain are one of a kind, and their beauty is something I will never get used to.

Privacy Settings
We use cookies to enhance your experience while using our website. If you are using our Services via a browser you can restrict, block or remove cookies through your web browser settings. We also use content and scripts from third parties that may use tracking technologies. You can selectively provide your consent below to allow such third party embeds. For complete information about the cookies we use, data we collect and how we process them, please check our Privacy Policy
Consent to display content from Youtube
Consent to display content from Vimeo
Google Maps
Consent to display content from Google