Now more than ever, we are all looking for new and fun ways to spend time with our families. And as we move into the spring and summer months, what better opportunity is there to begin looking for a cottage? Cottages are fantastic ways of having a mini-vacation with the ones you love, while still remaining COVID-safe and traveling with the members of your household. However, buying a cottage is a big commitment. Here are four things to consider when buying a cottage:

1. Is the cottage winterized? 

Even though we are slowly moving towards the warmer months, buying and maintaining a cottage is a year-round commitment. And if you and your family plan on using the cottage during the winter months, it’s important to consider whether or not the cottage has been ‘winterized’, and is ready for use year-round. One of the most important aspects to look for in a winterized cottage is whether it is WETT certified or not. A WETT (Wood Energy Technology Transfer) inspection carefully goes through all of the wood-burning appliances in the cottage, including fireplaces, fireplace inserts, wood stoves, pellet stoves and outside boilers. All of these appliances are beneficial in the winter months, especially if the cottage is older and there is no central heating installed. If you and your family don’t intend on using your cottage during the winter, ‘winterizing’ it will mean preparing it for the vacant winter months. The insurance premium that you pay on your cottage property may depend on how well it has been prepared and how it withstands the winter season. Ensuring your cottage is winterized may not only lower your premium, but could help to prevent other losses, such as theft. These steps include: 

  • Securing the property and its surrounding area (ex. bringing outdoor furniture inside, securing canoes or other watercraft and/or draining fluids from garden machinery) 
  • Protecting windows and screens with plywood shutters  
  • Draining your septic system & opening all indoor and outdoor faucets, shower fixtures and taps 
  • Ensuring all personal belongings are packed up and not left behind 
  • Unplug all electrical devices to allow the sump pump to protect against melting snow 

2. Fire safety and other considerations 

One of the most important factors to consider when buying a cottage is: are there fire safety options nearby to the property? Especially around the Huntsville or Muskoka areas, which are common cottage locations, it can difficult to find a property close to the local fire hall, let alone a fire hydrant. Although this factor cannot be helped, it is important to be prepared in the case of fire damage. Typically, insurers will ask if a fire hall is within a 8-10 km radius. Talk to your broker before buying a cottage so you understand the difference between being fire hall protected and unprotected. Just note that this may also affect your insurance as the further you are from fire safety, the higher the risk, which may result in a higher premium.

If you and your family are also planning on using the cottage during the winter, ensure the driveway or pathway leading up to the property is shoveled and clear. Some insurers will consider the road access distance to the fire hall, as well as whether the snow is plowed municipally or privately. In the case of fire damage, firefighters should be able to easily access the property, which may also lower your premium. Overall, it will be easier to locate properties within close proximity to fire halls, which we would highly recommend. We also suggest that you ask your broker beforehand about whether the fire hall has volunteer firefighters or paid fire fighters. This could also have an affect on your insurance and it is important not to make assumptions when it comes to fire protection.  

3. Have updates been installed professionally? 

This one is important, especially if you and your family are looking to purchase a pre-owned cottage. Although many of us like to save an extra buck by doing small jobs ourselves, it is important to know when to hire a professional. Most times, electrical and water work should be handled by a skilled tradesman. Ensure that these renovations have been properly completed, safely and to code. Depending on the situation, it isn’t always a red flag when a former owner has completed a renovation without professional help. 

4. Overall location 

Besides finding a location you and your family will enjoy, there are also safety considerations you should keep in mind when picking a location for your cottage. For example, if the property is located on an island, it will be more difficult to receive help in case of an emergency. If the property is located on the mainland, it is also important to consider its distance from medical centres, fire halls, grocery stores or other necessary locations.

Another factor to keep in mind when it comes to cottage location: is it located on a hill? If so, you will need to ensure that the walkways surrounding the property are stable. 

5. Water and boat safety

Does the cottage you’re interested in back on to a body of water? Do you have small children or pets? If so, water safety is a huge consideration when buying a cottage, specifically around the dock area. If you own or plan to purchase a boat, you should also plan for proper boat storage. Does it have a boathouse that can lift the boat out of water for long periods of disuse? If not, can your boat be safely stored in a marina nearby? These are all things to keep top of mind!

We hope that these tips help you and your family if you are considering buying a cottage. 

Related articles:
Where to find a cheap cottage in Ontario
Everything you should know about boat insurance
Why you need vacant home insurance


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