*original article> National Post *
Cottage ownership is not all about enjoying precious summer weekends lounging beside clear blue lakes in the crisp unpolluted air. There are just as many weekends spent repairing rotting docks, painting decks or cleaning out the firepit.
For those who covet the recreational lifestyle, but cringe at the idea of maintaining a second property, there’s an ever-expanding supply of luxury highrise residences in cottage country that provide all the perks of lakeside summers minus the headaches of home ownership.
On Muskoka’s Fairy Lake at Huntsville, The Waterfront at Grandview combines convenience with quintessential Canadiana cottage charm. Property management takes care of the swim and boat docks, infinity pool, sandy beach and outdoor terraces, allowing owners to make the most of every summer minute. Resembling urban condos, The Waterfront at Grandview also offers concierge services, a fitness facility, electric car charging, heated storage and an events room for entertaining guests.
It’s far from the only condominium development popping up in Ontario’s popular Muskoka lakes region.
Edgewater, overlooking the famous locks in Port Carling, at the intersection of Lakes Muskoka, Joseph and Rosseau, offers luxury boathouse cottages with suites starting from $599,000 — although there are just two left. Condos have up to 1,560-square-feet of living space and include a private boat slip and patio. The largest units feature four bedrooms atop private boathouses and stone-clad gas fireplaces.
Cottage country’s new condo trend isn’t solely driven by time-strapped city dwellers. As baby boomers leave the workforce, they’re also looking to flee the big city and its suburbs. What used to be considered purely seasonal properties are now highly desirable, year-round permanent homes.
The trend has resulted in “robust demand for cottage, cabin and chalet-style retirement properties,” Phil Soper, president and CEO, Royal LePage, recently stated in a press release. “In Ontario and Quebec, this has resulted in exceptional demand and upward pressure on prices.”
In Muskoka, prices increased by more than 10 per cent in 2018, with average values reaching $1.65 million, according to Royal Le Page. And 2019 is forecast to be another year of “solid gains” for recreational regions.
It’s not just boomers looking for lakeside living. Cottage country has also seen demand from a new segment of the market — young prospective GTA homebuyers frustrated with skyrocketing Toronto home prices. Millennials are upending the traditional pattern of young buyers investing in a starter home and, instead, are setting their sights on a “starter cottage” while continuing to rent in the city.
According to a study by Toronto-Dominion Bank, millennials are twice as interested as the rest of the population in owning a recreational property.
While even five years ago, condos in cottage country would have been unheard of, developers have responded to the soaring demand with some of the area’s hottest — and tallest — new properties. For boomers and millennials alike, this has opened up some compelling new options for vacation property investments — that don’t involve slaving away on weekends.
The challenge, of course, is responsible development. And that’s what the Muskoka Lakes Association, which represents more than 15,000 cottagers in the area, wants.
“The Muskoka Lakes Association doesn’t believe that waterfront condominium development and proper lake stewardship can credibly co-exist,” Katie Edwards, general manager of the association, writes in an email. “There’s a finite amount of development, boat traffic and population that our lakes can tolerate from a carrying capacity and water quality perspective.
“This is why, for decades, shoreline residential lots have generally had 200-foot minimum frontage requirements in Muskoka. We will continue to advance this position for proposed residential waterfront condos to ensure our shorelines and protect our lakes for all the values they are so famous for.”
In Huntsville, Treetops at Hidden Valley promises an eco-friendly four-season experience. The property arranges special membership packages for golfers and skiers at nearby clubs, along with private beach access and 2,000 kilometres of groomed snowmobile trails nearby.
In keeping with the delicate natural environment, Treetops uses geothermal heating and cooling, which eliminates carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions, while reducing the amount of electricity consumed.
In addition to relatively worry-free living, the new cohort of cottage condos also allows for relatively worry-free rental income. CanadaStays, Canada’s largest vacation rental marketplace, reports a rapidly growing demand for vacation rental properties in Canada. Rental management is often taken care of for condo owners as part of their annual fees.
The Touchstone Resort on Lake Muskoka near Bracebridge, markets its new Crescendo properties from the low $400,000s. On top of the standard lakeside docks and outdoor decks, Crescendo ownership includes access to non-motorized watersports equipment, an on-site spa and fully managed property rental services. Groundskeeping, even snow removal, are all provided. These aren’t your standard glass towers. On offer are treetop penthouses and beach house villas situated on a private beach.
Other recreational destinations are also seeing the arrival of condos. In Prince Edward County, approximately a two-hour drive from Toronto, Twelve Trees waterfront condominiums offers 30 boutique condo residences and six townhomes starting from the mid-$400,000s. Townhomes boast private garages, full basements and large outdoor terraces for entertaining guests. All suites enjoy a shared gas BBQ area, communal vegetable garden and boat launch ramp for canoes and kayaks.
On Lake Simcoe, Orchard Point Harbour offers floorplans from 800 to more than 2,000 square feet. Nine-foot ceilings, crown molding, chef’s kitchens, Colonial-style doors and designer brushed-nickel hardware are clearly meant to entice buyers used to urban abodes. The property’s Lakeside Club features a fitness club, yoga studio and a lakeside infinity pool and hot tub.
Outdoor amenities and inside finishes may vary from property to property, but one thing seems certain: cottage country condo prices will only go up from here. If Ontario’s north has ever called you, now may be the time to answer.