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Canadians Go Remote for Affordability

Written by Posted On Wednesday, 05 July 2000 00:00

As real estate prices soar in cottage areas within an hour or two of Canada's major centres, Canadians must search further off the beaten track for affordable cottages. Cottage and land prices may be lower for a number of reasons, including:

  • the property is not waterfront or does not have a view
  • driving times are in excess of 2 hours
  • properties are only near small lakes or rivers
  • there is no road access
  • there is no electricity on site
Canadians who decide to buy a cottage without electricity are probably also leaving municipally-provided sewers and fresh water systems behind. If you decide to try this, determine how much inconvenience you consider charming before you put in an offer to purchase. Try renting a cottage that is set up for the level of roughing it that your price range dictates.

Properties that are cheaper to buy may not appreciate in value as quickly. Location is the most important value factor to keep in mind with cottages, especially when it comes to waterfront access. Your price range will also reflect the level of services available for your chosen location. Local Realtors can help you sort these location concerns out. One savvy buying approach is to take the best location you can afford and rough it until services can be added.

"If hydro is within a kilometer of the property, it may be financially feasible to get electricity to the cottage. If not, oil or propane may be the ideal energy source," said Huntsville, Ontario, electrician Pete Ayles, owner of Muskoka Renewable Energy.

Ayles emphasizes that the best energy systems are customized hybrids which match affordability with energy efficiency and lifestyle.

"Before I'll sell a solar system," said Ayles. "I want to be sure that they are willing to live the way they should with the system. One person was comparing it to the cost of hydro and wanted a [solar] back-up to run all his systems. I told him to go buy a generator for $1,500 because to do that with solar would be $70,000."

Solar systems can run lighting, small appliances, water pumps and electronic equipment but are not yet practical for heating. Oil or propane is ideal for high-demand appliances such as stoves, heaters and clothes dryers. Wood stoves and furnaces are practical, inexpensive heat sources and can add to the rustic ambiance of a cottage. Wind generators are becoming more reliable as supplementary sources. Gas generators are useful backups and can be run for short periods to top up solar storage batteries. Talk to installers and cottagers who have experience living with these energy alternatives and learn first-hand some of the compromises that must be made.

As Canada's 9.8 million baby boomers (those born between 1947 and 1966) continue to cross the age-50 threshold and think seriously about retirement plans, the demand for cottages will continue to grow in many parts of Canada. This should push new cottagers out into more remote areas. The resulting real estate boom may rival that driven by boomer home buyers in the eighties because those preparing for retirement often have more money to spend. Already, reports are that prices in Muskoka (a prime cottage area about an hour or so north of Toronto) have reached the point where a CDN $1/4 million buys you little or nothing.

We can only wonder whether cottages will remain tranquil havens when condominium developments, traffic jams, big box stores, strip malls, environmental pressures and all the other urbanization features travel to cottage country along with the population explosion?

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PJ Wade

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