I always advise my buyer clients that purchasing a property isn’t easy. The reality is that it’s hard, damn hard. Imagine trying to hammer in a nail with a limp fettuccine noodle and multiply that by 100, and that’s how hard it can be.
So when my wife and I personally entered the buyer pool earlier this year to find a cottage for our family, we did so with a mix of excitement and anxiety as we knew full well just how crazy the market was (and is).
In addition, it felt strange to be on the other side of the table. Over the past 10 years I have helped countless people with their own real estate purchases, but I had never actually worked with a real estate agent on any of my own purchases. That was about to change.
Thankfully the experience ended up being pleasant, and we found a cottage that suited our needs at a (reasonably) fair price. That’s not to say it was easy, however, or that we were privy to any shortcuts being in the business. We were Regular Joe buyers just like everybody else.
Here are a few observations I made along the way, and hopefully they might be helpful to others looking to buy a cottage property.
Set Reasonable Expectations
This is something I always hammer home with my buyers once we get started, and it’s not always an easy conversation to have. Imagine an entry level budget buyer with this “wish list”… “Fully detached, parking, no main streets etc. etc. etc.” UGH.
Thus, it’s not uncommon for buyers to start out desiring a property that is much better than they can actually afford, and there can be some disappointment when reality sets in.
With this in mind, my wife and I set very realistic expectations. As much as we may have wanted to buy a mansion in Muskoka and pop bottles with John Tavares on his boathouse deck, we knew that just wasn’t in the cards this time around. Maybe next time. So we didn’t waste time chasing a pipe dream in an extremely fast moving market, and we honed in on the areas where we would have the most purchasing power. It helped make our search relatively brief.
Take Advantage Of Ridiculously Low Mortgage Rates
This may sound obvious, and it is, but it really is a case of not putting the cart in front of the horse. With mortgage rates hovering at ridiculously low rates and with a ton of equity in our home, we jumped in and took full advantage. We re-financed our home and lowered our monthly payment significantly, and also pulled out a down payment for the cottage. Easy peasy. I am more than happy to borrow as much money as a bank will lend me, and you should be too. Don’t be afraid of debt.
Hire An Experienced Agent That Is An Area Expert
My wife and I are both real estate agents and could have represented ourselves on the purchase (thereby earning a commission on our own transaction), but we never considered that for a moment. Neither one of us felt close to being knowledgeable enough about the nuances of cottage properties and all the different lakes, so it just felt too risky not to get help.
So we did what every buyer should do. We asked for referrals for the leading agents in the area, interviewed 3 of them and ultimately chose the agent we felt most comfortable with. In the end we bought the right place with the right terms at a price that felt fair to us, and we never would have done the expertise of our great agent.
Do Your Homework
The most successful buyers are without fail the ones that have done their homework before they start seeing houses. They know the specific areas they are interested in, the type of property they want and the amenities that they need (school district, TTC access etc). A search should focus on quality over quantity.
For my wife and I, after doing our homework we determined we wanted a four season cottage on a smaller lake in the Minden area (where my Father has a cottage). Once we established that it made things very efficient for us and our agent, and our search kicked into high gear.
Put In The Work
In an extreme seller’s market a property search is a 24 / 7 job. The old days of floating around some open houses for free cupcakes or simply waiting for the weekend to do a tour are long gone. If a property comes up that is a contender you need to get out to see it ASAP or it will sell before you can even get through.
For us, that involved a bunch of days where we woke up at 6 am and drove 6 six plus hours to sometimes see only one cottage. This was during the last lockdown as well, so a leisurely lunch and pint was off the table to break up the drive. It was grindy, and we almost didn’t see the eventual cottage we bought because I was kicking up a fuss about making the drive. As usual my wife kicked me in the ass and I did the right thing. What else is new??
Stay In the Game
In addition to being hard, the purchasing process can also be frustrating and exhausting. But the reward is worth the effort, and you gotta take your lumps and keep moving forward, like a great white shark. Thick skin is an absolute must. And as Wayne Gretzky famously said “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
When you lose out on a house you just have to move on to the next one. And there always will be a next one. Please don’t give up or take a break, because the market just keeps going. Stay in the game and eventually it will happen.
Sometimes You Catch A Break
This plays directly off the previous point. If you keep your head up and stay in the game, sometimes lady luck will smile on you. Sometimes, for whatever reason, a property underperforms and doesn’t go crazy. I wouldn’t advise buyers to expect that to happen, but it CAN happen, and by some miracle it happened to us.
The week before we made our purchase we bid on Cottage A. There were nine offers, it sold for almost $150k over asking and we weren’t in the ballpark. We weren’t even playing the same sport.
We dusted ourselves off, and a mere 7 days later we bid on Cottage B, which was generally quite comparable to Cottage A. We had our offer drawn up first thing in the morning at $100k over asking, anticipating the bids that would inevitably roll in. At 3 pm we nearly dropped the phone when our agent called us and told us we were the only offer!
I will admit I still don’t fully comprehend how this happened, and we keep waiting to find the dead body and old oil tanks in the crawl space. So far so good. In the end we bought the cottage under ask and they threw in the motor boat and all the outdoor furniture. We showed up when nobody else did and got a deal when they are few and far between.
Happy hunting, now get out there!