Changing hands in Muskoka: The property boom is ushering in a new generation of cottagers

Minnie V. Muir

City dwellers are crawling out of the woodwork, prepared to pay a pandemic premium for their slice of waterfront paradise

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The two-bedroom waterfront Port Carling property had been the summer escape for a Courtice, Ont., couple for decades. They purchased the property in 1965. During their years at the cottage, they were fondly remembered as avid sailors who would bring their nieces and nephews up to the area to enjoy Muskoka.

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“They were just a lovely, lovely pair of people who made great neighbours,” said Sean Stokes, their cottage neighbour who knew the couple, now in their 80s, for 40 years. “That’s one of the great things that we’ve been blessed with is we have had great neighbours.”

Last week, the older cottage was listed for $925,000, closing one chapter for this waterfront property and opening another. The 55-year-old property has two bedrooms, a large living room overlooking the water, a couple of outer buildings for storing boats and roughly three acres of land, all within walking distance to Port Carling, the hub of Muskoka Lakes.

It managed to attract ten offers while it was on the market for about a week, said the realtor of the property, Michael Stuart Webb, with Re/Max Hallmark Chay Realty, Brokerage.

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It’s the type of property that brings city dwellers out of the woodwork, prepared to pay a pandemic premium for their slice of waterfront paradise. And the trend is changing the old guard of Muskoka seasonal residents. New money is moving in.

The winning offer settled at $1.49 million, putting the property at $565,000 over-asking price. The family with four children who purchased it have some history with Port Carling and are looking to build their own memories.

“[It’s] bit of a homecoming for them and they were looking for somewhere where they could enjoy some quality family time with their children,” Webb said, adding they plan to honour the integrity of the property. That was important to the sellers. Most other buyers would likely level the space to build up a new property altogether, he said.

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The inside of a Port Carling cottage, listed for $925,000 and sold for $1.49 million.
The inside of a Port Carling cottage, listed for $925,000 and sold for $1.49 million. Photo by Michael Stuart Webb, Re/Max Hallmark Chay Realty, Brokerage

This bidding war follows a trend in the recreational property market: Estate sales in cottage country are on the rise as original owners age out of them and the families sell off prime waterfront property. The high demand for cottage properties during the pandemic has driven up prices. Royal LePage’s 2021 recreational property report found that waterfront home prices in the Muskoka Lakes area  jumped about 28 per cent year-over-year since 2019, with the median price in 2020 at about $979,900.

For the wider cottage country, including Orillia, the Parry Sound area, Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, Muskoka Lakes, Huntsville, Lake of Bays and Haliburton, the Canadian Real Estate Assocation (CREA) reports the median price for waterfront property averaged $883,000 in June 2021, a 29.9 per cent gain since June 2020.

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Royal LePage analysts expect recreational housing prices in Ontario will continue to rise by about 17 per cent in 2021.

Richard Scully, a real estate sales representative at Harvey Kalles Real Estate Ltd., in Port Carling has been selling properties in the Muskoka Lakes region for 25 years. He told the Financial Post that cottages typically last under a week on the market  before selling, and they are only on the market that long to generate more interest. There are often multiple bids and sales are between 15 to 30 per cent over-asking.

Muskoka Lakes region properties are seeing multiple bids and sales between 15 to 30 per cent over-asking.
Muskoka Lakes region properties are seeing multiple bids and sales between 15 to 30 per cent over-asking. Photo by Getty Images/iStockphoto

While prices having been steadily climbing over the years he’s been selling properties, Scully said that interest has taken off during the pandemic.

“Things like pandemics and 9/11, it really fostered a lot of energy into the real estate market,” Scully said. After the Sept. 11 2001 attacks, he said there was a muted two weeks of market activity then the market blew up. He’s seeing the same trends with the pandemic.

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This time, people “didn’t want to be stuck in Toronto,” and they didn’t know how long the pandemic would last, Scully said. “I think that’s just what people want — a safe environment — so that’s what’s driving this.”

Webb also noted an ongoing mass exodus from city centres out to smaller, more rural areas: Barrie, Kawartha Lakes and Huntsville in Ontario. It’s not restricted to cottage country.

However, Webb is beginning to see housing-driven inequities for the long-time residents of these smaller towns.

“The reality of that situation is that someone in Toronto, for example, is selling their home for more than they would be purchasing a home in an outlying area,” Webb said. That creates a disadvantage for local buyers, he said, because they don’t have the same buying power.

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While cottage prices have soared during the pandemic, Stokes said he hasn’t seen too much change in the Port Carling he’s gotten to know over the years, “other than other than the size of the boats and the value of the cars.”

As the previous generation of cottagers gives way to newcomers, Stokes remains hopeful they will fit in with the Port Carling community.

“It’s always been a family-oriented place, which has been nice,” Stokes said. “Hopefully our new neighbours are in that boat and we’re looking forward to meeting them.”

Financial Post

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