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Borrow, Buy or Build?

Whether you’re considering renting, buying, or building a cottage in Muskoka, each option has its joy-inducing pros and headache-producing cons. To turn that piece of dockside sunshine into your future reality, chart a course toward Ontario’s four-season playground with our smart-cottaging guide and set sail for the perfect property fit.

Renting for a few years is a great and relatively pain-free way to figure out your ideal locale.

Representing over 150 Muskoka properties, Vacation Time Realty Ltd. (1-800-387-7640, www.vacationtimerealty.com) has been in business for 15 years. “A lot of people try out different lakes—70 per cent of our current renters have rented with us in the past,” says president Laura Gustafsson. Rental prices range from $600 per week for a two-bedroom bungalow with a shared waterfront to $8,000 per week for a seven-bedroom cottage with private waterfront.

PROS: Zero maintenance and no maintenance fees or taxes; not tied to a location.

CONS: Have to book well in advance; contractual obligations.

Tee-time at your backdoor on an award-winning, Doug Carrick-designed 18-hole championship golf course in Gravenhurst’s Muskoka Bay (1-866-321-2004, www.muskokabayclub.com) community is reason enough to buy for many a links lover. “With 16 models to choose from, 100 per cent of our customers choose the ‘bungaloft’ option, which adds a second storey with an open-loft concept to the original design,” says project manager Serge Mazzuca. Prices range from $379,000 for 1,248-sq.-ft. bungalows to $800,000-plus for 3,000-sq.-ft. bungalofts. Woodland Heights offers custom-built, off-water estate homes near Huntsville. Two-to-four-acre lots range from $158,000 to $340,000. When it comes time to build, choose from eight customizable home designs (from $411,250 to $593,750).

A recent District of Muskoka study found that second-home residents use their cottage between 53 and 120 days per year. Accordingly, freehold alternatives like time shares, “condotels” (purchased condominium suites in a hotel, available for rent when not occupied by the owner) and fractional real estate are popular. Walter Thompson, president of the developer behind Touchstone on Lake Muskoka (1-866-492-1888, www.touchstoneonlakemuskoka.com), likens the experience to purchasing a jet with multiple partners. “Rather than having it sit idle on the tarmac, owners incur the expense with three other people: they have access to it, enjoy the luxury of it, but only pay for that portion of the jet that they use,” he says. At Touchstone, quarter ownership (13 weeks) of a three-bedroom villa with gourmet kitchen, outdoor fireplace, shared infinity pool and winter skating rink costs $249,000 to $352,000, plus monthly maintenance fees and realty taxes.

PROS: The advantages of buying and fractional ownership are similar: you own a deeded interest, which you can sell, mortgage or transfer. With full ownership comes the freedom to choose when you visit. With fractional ownership you split maintenance, insurance and annual realty-tax costs.

CONS: When you buy a cottage outright you bear all tax, repair and insurance costs. With fractional ownership you are subject to use and date restrictions.

Shorline Construction Ltd. has built 50 area cottages in its 17 years. Prices range from $1 million for a 3,500-sq.-ft. four-bedroom home to $4 million for a nine-bedroom, eight-bathroom, 10,000-sq.-ft. dream house.

For landowners who prefer a minimalist getaway, there’s Mafco House (416-985-0597, www.mafcohouse.com). “Our mid-century design aesthetic caters to a newer generation of recreational-home dwellers looking to impact the landscape as little as possible,” says owner Dan Molenaar. Eleven models of “kit house” construction drawings (from one to four bedrooms) are available, with the advantage that the buyers can build it themselves, act as a general contractor or hire one to manage the project. Costs start at $90,000 for materials for an 815-sq.-ft. one-bedroom unit, with an additional $180,000 to $200,000 for labour.

PROS: The freedom to choose design styles and custom finishings; ability to overhaul an existing building or renovate select rooms.

CONS: Building a cottage requires deep pockets; material and labour costs that can exceed budget and time constraints; and must work within potentially restrictive municipal zoning laws. “On the big three lakes alone, there are four different municipalities, each with its own zoning rules,” cautions Royal LePage realtor Don Evans of Port Carling.

In the end, whether you buy, rent or build, you have to realize nothing is perfect—nothing except a summer’s day with a cold beverage in-hand and the sun at your back.WANT TO KNOW MORE?
Continue your investigation into Muskoka cottaging with these contacts.

Cottages on the Web
Find more than 600 cottages for rent and sale in Canada and around the world, 705-788-1801, www.cottagesontheweb.com

Water’s Edge Vacation Rentals
Full-service private cottage rentals, 705-788-2885

Lakes of Muskoka Royal LePage
Realtor with extensive cottage listings, 705-765-6855

Bigwin Island
Custom-designed cottages on Bigwin Island in the Lake of Bays, 705-365-3331 or 1-800-840-4036, www.bigwinisland.com

Chestnut Park
Find a cottage with this area realtor, 705-765-6878

The Muskokan Resort Club
Resort club development on Lake Joseph, 1-866-960-9016

Red Leaves Resort
Slated to open in 2008, this JW Marriot Resort Hotel on Lake Rosseau gives owners a share of the rental revenue for every day they aren’t there; 1-866-764-6388, www.redleavesmuskoka.com

Linwood Custom Homes
Known for maintaining a high standard of craftmanship in its custom homes, 705-436-7507

Mattamy Homes
Builder for the newest White Pines development in Bracebridge, 705-458-0867

Muskoka Timberframe Co. Inc.
Handcrafted timber-frame home construction, 705-646-8712

Viceroy Homes Ltd.
In the custom-build business for more than 50 years, 905-885-8600 or 1-800-265-0021—Viviane Kertész

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