Cottage industry: Muskoka, “the old faithful”

In the July issue of Maclean’s, and every week here online, recent buyers divulge what they had to do to acquire their dream cottages: pool family money, send relatives to visit, take the first flight to Atlantic Canada after the bubble, or buy on sight, sometimes thousands of miles away.

Muskoka, Ontario

Average price of recreational properties (2021): $842,000

The market: Known to some as the “Hamptons of the North,” Muskoka is a favorite spot for affluent vacationers.including the Weston and Rogers families, for decades. (A new twice-weekly flight service from Toronto lets jet-setters avoid the Friday rush-hour crash.) But Muskoka exclusivity isn’t all in vogue: Even before the pandemic, the region’s inventory of rustic cabins, post-and-beam models, and glass-and-steel getaways were thin, making recent demand for cabins all the more frenzied. Case in point: Prices for landlocked properties have jumped 49% from 2020 to 2021, while an average waterfront location can fetch just over $1 million.

The buyers : Andrew Ratchford, a 39-year-old technology sales manager, and his wife, Emily, a 37-year-old retail buyer.

Andrew: I grew up in Oshawa, Ontario. The family next door spent their summers at their cottage on Lac des Baies and they sometimes invited me to come with them. I remember being so excited to get up there and enjoy the water. When I grew up I continued to visit the Lake of Bays Sailing Club. While in college, I got a summer job at the golf course on nearby Bigwin Island. I promised myself that one day I would have my own cabin on this lake.

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In 2019, Emily and I had three kids under the age of nine and a home in Mississauga. We were finally able to afford a cabin. We imagined a waterfront property with two or three bedrooms for less than a million dollars – on the lake of bays, of course. We saw 10 properties over the summer of 2020, but the uncertainty of the pandemic prevented us from making any offers. We entered 2021 with our deposit ready to go. The market was crazy, and it didn’t look like it would get any better.

Cottage industry Muskoka the old faithful

In March 2021, we saw a demolished property on Seabreeze Road along the east side of Lake of Bays listed at $950,000. We bid $1,050,000, but lost to a bid of $1,200,000. Our real estate agent, the same neighbor whose summer I spent at the cottage, convinced me to broaden our search. A week later we saw a spot on nearby Dickie Lake but lost that one as well. Sellers received 30 offers.

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By a twist of fate, our agent learned that a cottage was listed at $975,000, just 10 homes from the first location we saw. Emily visited while I was working, and she said it was “the only one”: four bedrooms and a bathroom, rustic wood walls, a fireplace, and a screened-in porch overlooking the lake. The listing agent held bids for a week, but we registered an offer of $1,255,000 as soon as we could, hoping to scare off our competition. It worked, we won.

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We took possession in June 2021. On the weekends we boated, had barbecues and sat by the campfire at night. It was exactly that I had imagined when I dreamed of buying on the lake of berries when I was a child. We even sporadically rented the property through word of mouth for $4,500 a week to help offset the cost of our mortgage. (Our family stayed in the bunkie.) We plan to do the same this year, but we’re upgrading the devices first.

Our experience has taught me that when the market is hot, you have to be ready to buy at all times. In Muskoka, there’s not much room for hesitation when trying to buy “that one.”

This article appears in print in the July 2022 issue of Maclean’s magazine. Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here or purchase the issue online here.

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