Buying A Cottage In Winter

Buying A Cottage In Winter

When is the best time of year to buy a cottage?  
Buying a cottage in the winter is not recommended. First, there are very few listings this time of year as Muskoka and other cottage country real estate markets slow in the winter. 

If an owner is not using their cottage for themselves, they are likely carting children to arenas, hitting the slopes or sunning themselves elsewhere during winter months.  Aside from that, there are many reasons why it is not best practice to buy waterfront property in the winter. 

Buying a Cottage in Winter - Pitfalls 

Seeing the shoreline and lake bottom when there is snow on the ground and ice on the lake is virtually impossible. I like my clients to know what the shoreline and lake quality is like. Is the bottom of lake hard packed sand, weedy, rocky? Or does it have a ‘Loon poop’ bottom (meaning soft, squishy mud)?  Confirming water depths and type of bottom is a major deciding factor in your waterfront cottage purchase.

Are the waters in and around the boathouse and docks bubbled allowing you to see the depth and type of bottom?  Drilling holes in the ice and relying on lake charts is not nearly as accurate a tell as seeing with our own eyes.  

State of the Property 

Being able to see the state of all decking and docking is important. It is difficult to inspect other than from underneath if covered with ice and snow.  If it is a dock, getting underneath may present a problem. We can find out when the decks and docks were built or replaced so that we know their age but this still won’t paint an entirely accurate picture. Also, inspecting the cribs and stringers on all docks can be difficult (but not impossible) for an inspector.

What are the lands like? 

Finding property lines and survey stakes around the perimeter of the property is tricky and a surveyor may need to be called in to expose these.  

The coniferous trees on the property will appear to be in good health during the winter but you won’t know if the deciduous trees are unhealthy or even dead. An arborist may need to be called. 

The Cottage and Structures

Roofing including gutters, valleys and caulking are all very difficult to inspect in the winter time. Concrete or stone steps and patios may be cracked or damaged and retaining walls could be rotted or leaning. 

Water lines, hot water tanks and hot tubs may be shut down for the winter and need to be activated to be inspected properly. The water intake line usually has a pyrotechnics line which, if not activated, will need to be tested. Testing an irrigation system in the deep freeze is impossible.  Also, air conditioning units will be covered with tarps and possibly piles of snow preventing them from view. 

Obviously if you are buying and closing a real estate deal in the winter the clauses inserted in the offer protecting you from deficiencies are going to be numerous, something any knowledgeable, reliable agent will suggest. It is also important that warranties and representations be made and getting your hands on recent summer photographs of the property is essential. Meeting and speaking with contractors, plumbers or the caretaker of the property can be helpful. 

Properties For Sale in Winter

One explanation for properties being listed in the wintertime is that the sellers may be in financial distress or have a change in family circumstances. Perhaps the sellers have purchased another property elsewhere, meaning, they are most likely motivated, and the property could be purchased at a reasonable price with a quick closing. If the property has already been on the market for a season or more and it is still listed for sale in the winter months there may be flexibility in the ask price, especially if history indicates several price reductions over the time it has been listed. This scenario however is not typical of today’s real estate market unless is it is an undesirable property. 

All this being said, just this month I helped a buyer client regarding purchasing a parcel of land (covered in snow). Having local knowledge and certain tools at my disposal I was able to advise on the quality of the land, lake, shoreline, access, and feasibility of building. Based on my knowledge and his needs, we determined that this waterfront property was not ideal, ultimately saving him from making a huge mistake. I’m happy to discuss this procedure in more detail one on one. 

We recommend hiring a local experienced Buyer’s Agent to work in your best interest!

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