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Buyer’s Market: Muskoka Real Estate Developments

We’ve all seen the images of bucolic cottage living—sitting on the dock with feet dangling in cool lake water, paddling in the cedar canoe or nursing an afternoon cocktail on the porch. But let’s not forget that the cottaging package can also mean having to repair a broken sump pump or wade chest deep into freezing water to fix “that damn dock.” Somehow, the calluses don’t fit with the image of “Malibu North,” a description of Muskoka coined by the New York Times to describe this Hollywood playground.

Now, those who have no interest in spending hard-earned weekends on property upkeep, or who want a lower-maintenance lifestyle for their golden years, can own a piece of Muskoka without the headaches. Several new real estate developments are offering hassle-free and flexible property-ownership arrangements. Here, we outline some of the newest options.

“A lot of people say they can’t afford a whole property, but that they can definitely afford a fifth of one,” according to Tim Green, director of sales and marketing for Lakeside at Rocky Crest (1-800-819-0343, www.lakesideatrockycrest.com), a new development which is offering fractional-ownership vacation property. For as low as $89,000—rock bottom for Lake Joseph—the price includes membership at Rocky Crest Golf Club (valued at $45,000). Stand-alone cottages, duplex cabins, four-plex villas, and 11- to 13-unit lodges on 18 acres make up the portfolio.

Buying at least a five-week interval ($120,000) at The Muskokan Resort Club (1-866-960-9016, www.muskokanclub.com), also on Lake Joseph, entitles each fractional owner to membership in The Registry Collection, a network of more than 3,700 affiliated worldwide resorts. Features like babysitting service, pre-arrival grocery service, a movie theatre, fitness facility and luxuriously furnished units help explain why the first phase is 80 per cent sold. Phase two is scheduled to be completed by summer 2007. Gloria Collinson, director of sales at The Muskokan and president of the Canadian Resort Development Association, thinks the fractional ownership trend will continue to grow. “You’ll see very high-end units built for people who can afford a $1 million cottage, but don’t want to have to take care of it,” she says.

Set on 32 acres, Traders Crossing on Lake of Bays (1-866-298-3333, www.traderscrossing.com) offers potential buyers a three-bedroom, three-and-a-half bath, 2,450-square-foot cottage to share (full ownership is also an option). Designed by J.F. Brennan, the luxury cottages also feature a four-season room with a lakefront view. Purchasing a five-week share in a cottage (occupancy is slated for summer 2007) costs $115,000. Ownership includes access to the dock and a clubhouse complete with lounge, gym and games room.MI HOTEL ES SU HOTEL
Condominium hotels originated in Miami Beach and, by popular demand, have spread across North America and the Caribbean as a flexible investment strategy. Now the concept has come to the Red Leaves Resort (1-866-764-6388, www.redleavesmuskoka.com) on Lake Rosseau. Slated to open in 2008, this JW Marriot Resort Hotel is the first of its kind in Canada. The 178-room resort allows owners to enjoy ample personal use. Owners also receive a share of the rental revenue for every day they aren’t there—a nifty way to offset the cost of ownership. It’s located on a massive 1,400-acre site and is costing a whopping $500 million to build. About 700 acres are dedicated to a nature reserve, appealing to the international allure of Canadian wilderness. Steve Taggart, VP sales and marketing, is delighted by the international interest he’s received—a reminder that Muskoka is not only a two-hour drive from Toronto but a two-hour flight from New York.

“In the last two years, we’ve had four buyers from England and another from Spain,” says Chuck MacDougall, VP of Woodland Heights (705-787-0001, www.woodlandheights.ca), a freehold, off-water ownership concept near Huntsville, overlooking Peninsula Lake and just 300 yards from Deerhurst Highlands PGA course. “You buy the land and we design the home of your dreams,” says MacDougall. Each lot costs $175,000 and includes brand new systems, like high-speed Internet—appealing to those who’d like to head up on Thursday night and work from their home office on Friday. MacDougall’s clients are boomers looking to retire near but not with their neighbours. They enjoy the proximity to hospitals, restaurants and the arts, while being out of the smoggy city.

Golfers will appreciate Muskoka Bay (416-781-5699, www.muskokabay.com), a master-planned golf community set to open this July at the southern tip of Lake Muskoka and adjacent to a Doug Carrick 18-hole course. “Golfers will feel like they’re in the Muskoka wilderness,” says Danny Roth, spokesman for the project. Selling for $379,000 to $800,000, the freehold detached homes range in size from 1,250 to 3,000 square feet, only steps from the much-anticipated $150 million Muskoka Wharf Redevelopment Project, ensuring wilderness is present, but kept in check.TERMS OF THE DEAL
Fractional: Ownership of a portion of one home, sharing the purchase price between a group of fellow owners.

Freehold: Ownership of the land and the building. Some developers allow more design input than others.

Condominium Hotel: Suites are purchased but available for rent when not occupied by owner. Total hotel rental revenue is distributed based on the value of suites.—Tim McKeague

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