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Cottages, cabins: 5 things to know about Canada's recreational real estate market

Would-be cottage owners are driving up the price of recreational properties across the country, according to Royal LePage. (Getty Images)
Would-be cottage owners are driving up the price of recreational properties across the country, according to Royal LePage. (Getty Images) (Boris Spremo via Getty Images)

A cabin in the mountains. A cottage on a lake. A shack in the wilderness. A chalet in a maple forest.

No matter what you call them or where they are, the dream of owning a second home away from the city has long been a standard Canadian fantasy. That's never been more true than now, when remote work is the standard. Internet signals reach some of the furthest corners of the country (for those wanting a complete escape, there are still some pockets of peace where getting a signal is next to impossible).

Here are five things to know about the recreational real estate market, which is increasingly difficult to navigate.

1 - Cottagers are holding on to what they have

Bidding wars have long been a staple of the Toronto real estate market. They have increased across the country as city dwellers look to either upgrade their existing residence or flee the hubbub of our biggest cities. But bidding wars have broken out in the quietest of forests as desperate, would-be escapists throw down increasingly large amounts of borrowed money to get in on the action.


"The low inventory, high demand scenario that is defining Canada's current real estate landscape can be frustrating for buyers and agents," Royal LePage chief executive officer Phil Soper said in a recent report on the countries so-called recreational property market. "With so few listings to choose from, owners are concerned they will have nowhere to go if they sell before buying, so they hesitate to list. This cycle makes it difficult for anyone to move ahead."

2 - Found a cabin? Open your wallet

Oh, for the days when a second property was an affordable middle-class luxury.

Across the country, the aggregate price for a home increased 16 per cent compared to last spring. That's $437,156 for those looking to set aside a down payment. Have dreams of tipping your fishing rod into a cool, calm lake? That'll cost you – waterfront properties are up almost 10 per cent from where they were last year to an average $813,385.

To be fair, a lot of these cottages aren't the mouse-infested hovels you spent your teenage years visiting with your pals. This waterfront property in Quebec is selling for an eye-watering $1.9-million and is an impressive 26,000 square feet.

"Just an hour and a half from Montreal, you will find at the end of this little path along the river, this cottage worthy of the most beautiful postcards," the owners write in the listing. "A real turnkey for your greatest pleasure. Everything is there to live all kinds of wonderful experiences that will remain among your most beautiful memories."

That's no doubt true, but at that price, bidding wars seem a bit far-fetched.

3 - Slow down there, real estate market

Economists at the Bank of Montreal are a little freaked out about the cost of real estate across the country and have urged the government to do something to dampen the sharp gains seen in many cities – particularly smaller ones that never expected to be so desirable to out-of-towners.

The bank's report proposes all kinds of changes that could freak out anyone looking to take on a pile of debt to finance their rural escape.

The easiest fix would be for the Bank of Canada to raise interest rates from record lows, making mortgages more expensive and forcing borrowers to consider how they'd pay for their properties in a world of higher rates. The report also suggests new taxes, taking the mystery away from bidding wars by making them more transparent, so bidders know what they are up against instead of throwing money blindly toward real estate agents with their fingers crossed.

"This could easily crowd out speculation and alter market psychology," the report stated.

4 - Cottage deals still exist, but be ready to travel

If you live in the Maritimes, opportunity abounds. Even then, those who "come from away" are snapping up many of the properties (sometimes without even seeing them). You know things are getting a little bonkers when British Columbians are ringing up New Brunswick real estate agents looking for a deal.

"Sight-unseen purchases in Shediac are becoming more prevalent," agent Heather FitzGerald says. "Most out-of-province buyers are coming from Ontario, Quebec, and B.C. Some are retirees returning home or fulfilling the dream of a vacation home in the Maritimes, while others are young professionals who have chosen a waterfront cottage as their primary residence. Working remotely has afforded them that opportunity."

For the record, Shediac, N.B. is a 10-hour drive from Montreal; you'll be in the car almost 19-hours if you're heading over from Windsor, and it'll be 55-hours on the road to enjoy your weekend away if you live in Vancouver.

Are we there yet?

5 - Get the name right, city slicker

You've found the right property, and you're ready to make the drive and mingle with the locals. It's important not to show off your big-city ignorance by referring to your secondary residence by the wrong name. A 2012 feature in the Globe and Mail went to great lengths to help Canadians understand the subtle differences in naming conventions across the country.

"The place that has the power to unite the country in a collective understanding of pleasure and beauty and carefree escape also has the strong ability to make us different from one another," John Allemang wrote. "It all begins with language. Where do you go in the summer, or where do you hope to be invited by friends who see you as an essential refinement in their authentic backwoods experience? The cottage, the lake, the chalet, the camp, the shack or – my aren't we fancy – the summer house?"

A McGill University linguistics professor conducted a study over six years and asked Canadians to pick a word to describe "a small house in the countryside, often by a lake, where people go on summer weekends."

In Newfoundland, you go to a cabin. Northwestern Ontarians preferred camp. The rest of Ontario, as well as most Maritimers, go with cottage. Out west, you're probably heading to the cabin, while those in Quebec prefer chalet.

If prices keep increasing, "money pit" may become the preferred term.