The benefits of owning a recreational property are obvious when you imagine spending the day on the water or ski hill, or even enjoying the extra income via weekly rentals. However, to avoid buyer’s remorse, it’s important to come face-to-face with a few practicalities before signing on the dotted-line.

Keep your wish list in check: Cam White, sales representative with Chestnut Park Real Estate in Port Carling, Ont. says that, as opposed to urban properties, the differences from one waterfront cottage to another can be significant. When potential buyers come in with a large list of ‘wants,’ this can derail the search and cause them to miss out on enjoying the lifestyle altogether.

“When we’re dealing with buyers we try to encourage them to narrow that list down. There will be some things on that list that are very important to them, but the rest of that stuff is peripheral, not nearly as important as they might think it is and they need to come to grips with that,” says White.

“If they get hung up on that list and cannot recalibrate they probably will never find that perfect cottage,” he says. “Sadly, we have witnessed many who we have worked with for years watch prices continually rise as life passes them by.”

Be honest with yourself: One of the biggest question buyers have to ask themselves is whether they have the time to enjoy their property, says White.

Depending on the price point, the next question for some may be whether they need a property that can be used year-round, or whether a seasonal cottage will meet their needs.

“In certain price ranges, sometimes a seasonal cottage, to me, is a better decision because you can get more for your money, because you’re not paying for a year-round building and the reality is, you’re probably only going to use it three seasons and it’s really easy to manage,” says White.

Extra costs: As White explains, like any real estate property, recreational properties carry a maintenance requirement – anything from upkeep on the interior and exterior of the building itself to heating in the winter and landscaping.

While homeowners may be familiar with these obligations and expenses, he says, for cottage buyers whose primary residence is a city condo, maintenance may not be something they have previously considered.

There are also additional expenses relating to purchasing, storing and maintaining all of the ‘extras’ that many owners bring to the cottage.

“You’re at the waterfront, so you’re going to have docks, boathouses, and you’re probably going to have a lot more toys at the cottage than you do at home,” says White.

Be aware of the rules: If your recreational property purchase is more of the condo or strata variety – located in a ski resort, for example – make sure you are aware of the bylaws of the property, such as any restrictions placed on short-term rentals, if you plan to go this route.

“If you’re looking at this from a recreational or a revenue or investment vehicle, who controls the revenue? So, are you part of a rental pool, are you restricted in your rentals?” says Mark Walker, a sales representative with Royal LePage in Kelowna, B.C.

“You might as well not go down the road too long until you get all the strata documents, if you know what you want — meaning, you want to rent it short-term, is it allowed by strata? What are the bylaws — do they allow pets?” he adds.

Enlist someone with local knowledge: As White says, there are a lot of variables at play with respect to features and pricing in markets mostly made up of recreational properties, and as a result, it’s crucial for buyers to work with a local agent, rather than someone unfamiliar with the market who is “winging it.”

Important screening questions to ask a potential sales representative include:

  • Do they work full-time realtor?
  • Do they live in the market in which they work?
  • Are they comfortable with technology? For example, using digital signatures, which will be needed if you are based out of town.
Helen is a freelance writer specializing in news and feature articles on a variety of business, legal and investment topics. Her work has appeared in publications such as the Globe and Mail, National Post Legal Post, Fund Strategy magazine, Canadian Lawyer magazine, Benefits Canada and the Hamilton Spectator’s Hamilton Business magazine. Prior to embarking on a freelance career, Helen was the Community Content Editor for, and she previously worked as Associate Editor of Canadian Lawyer magazine/Law Times newspaper. Follow her on Twitter @helenbnichols