"We are seeing more people who are using the equity in their homes in the city to finance their cottage. They're not getting a second mortgage on the cottage, they're getting a line of credit or a bigger mortgage on their city home." says Muskoka, Ont.,-based agent Heather Scott.
Low interest rates are also helping drive up sales in cottage country, says Scott's fellow agent, Jenn O'Brien. "This is kind of the peak since about 2007, when there was a little lull in the market with what was going on the States," says O'Brien, referring to the financial crisis that saw the economy in general — and real estate values in particular — go down.
"This year, it's been great, been busy. Sales have been up over last year, in terms of our spring market." That goes for recreational properties — whether you call them cottages, cabins or camps — across much of Canada, according to a recent report.
Re/Max says national recreational property sales and listings have rebounded from a slow start due to the brutal winter and very late spring in many areas across the country. Re/Max says nationally, the recreational property market is healthy and should continue to experience modest increases in sales and prices.
"We see momentum in recreational property sales, especially near urban centres where local residents have experienced several years of economic growth," Re/Max's Elton Ash says. Sales figures — and prices — can vary widely from region to region.
In B.C.'s North Okanagan, Re/Max says there were 223 sales of recreational properties in May this year, compared to 148 during the same month last year. Prices in the area start at about $650,000 and go up to just under $6 million, depending on location, size and amenities, Re/Max says.
In Alberta, Re/Max says the lower Canadian dollar (which has since started to rise) contributed to increased demand for property in the popular Canmore and Sylvan Lake areas.
Re/Max says buyers are choosing to spend their money at home instead of in the U.S., where property values have also rebounded since the recession. Prince Edward Island remains one of the more affordable areas for recreational property, with oceanfront cottages starting at about $180,000.
Re/Max says most properties for sale in P.E.I. right now are listed for less than $300,000. In Ontario, REMAX says the median price for properties in the Collingwood region increased by 6.8 per cent between May of 2013 and May 2014.
Haliburton was one of the few regions in Ontario where the cost of a cottage went down, with the median price for a recreational property dropping less than one per cent from $342,000 to $340,000. The Muskoka region remains among the priciest in Canada, with prices ranging from $400,000 to $7.35 million for high-end, waterfront homes.
Melanie Provost says she and her husband had been looking for the right cottage for three or four years before buying a waterfront property this month on Sunset Bay, a quiet arm of Lake Muskoka, listed at just under $1.3 million. She says she's noticed the uptick in sales and prices.
"I think in the last couple of years, it's definitely come back. Certainly in the last two years, we've noticed the rise of the markets." Provost's newly bought cottage has about 65 metres — or 215 feet — of waterfront, and about 0.8 hectares (just under two acres) of land in total.
It's on a shallow bay, includes an indoor/outdoor boat house and the cottage is fully winterized. "So in the winter, the kids will be skiing and stuff," Provost says. It was that kid-friendly lifestyle that attracted her to Muskoka. "At home we have an area that's safe to live," says Provost, who is from Oakville,Ont. "But at the same time they can't just go outside and play in the street. Whereas here they can just get outside whenever they want to. They have freedom here that they don't have at home. It's that freedom that we grew up with as children."
Provost says they are making good use of their investment. "We're here every weekend and predominantly throughout the summer with the kids. My husband will be driving back and forth into the city." While many associate Muskoka with million-dollar properties like Provost's, agent Jenn O'Brien says there are still options for those without a seven-figure budget. "There are some smaller surrounding lakes where the prices are a little bit lower and a little bit more affordable for everybody," says O'Brien. "It's not just the million-dollar properties — there are a lot of those properties that are moving this year, but definitely there are surrounding lakes that you can get onto for a much more affordable price."
Some advice from the experts for finding that hidden (read: less expensive) gem? Go for a riverfront instead of lakefront, rivers are generally not as expensive as lakes. Or look for a property that is close to but not directly on the water. Prices can drop precipitously for land-locked properties. Be willing to go farther afield. If you're willing to drive more than three hours from a major urban centre, there may still be inexpensive options. But if you want perhaps the cheapest option for a recreational property, you may want to try renting.