This cottage on Lake Muskoka has it all: four bedrooms, four bathrooms and almost 3,000 sq. ft. of exquisitely designed living space. There are three docks, 3.5 acres of land, and permits in place to build a detached three bay two-storey garage.
But none of that would matter if it didn’t also have superb waterfront. And this one does: deep-water swimming, tucked discreetly away from boat traffic on one of the lake’s most open expanses of views with 289 feet of southwest facing waterfront.
And that, says Rick Scully, is the kind of thing smart buyers look for.
“When you’re buying in Muskoka, you need to look for the best piece of land you can find, and buy based on that,” he says. “The cottage matters, but bricks and mortar can always be altered. But the sun exposure, the view, the privacy, the water depth – those things can’t change.”
Rick has been a fixture in Muskoka real estate for decades. He and his colleagues at Richard Scully and Associates represented more than 40 cottage transactions in 2021 alone. So, he has developed a keen eye for what constitutes a desirable – and highly saleable – cottage.
A changing market
One of the biggest changes he’s seen in the past few years is the willingness of buyers to adapt their wants to the limited options available. “It used to be that clients would say ‘I’ll only look at properties with western exposure,’” he says. “Now, those wish lists have become shorter. If you wait for western exposure, you could be waiting for a very long time.”
That was particularly true when the pandemic was at its height. Unable to go anywhere else, people were snatching up cottages almost as soon as they came on the market. With offices closed, people realized that working from home would be a lot more pleasant if only they had a home on the lake.
On top of that, the roaring cottage rental market saw a huge uptick in the number of investment buyers – people who had no intention of staying in their cottage, and instead rented them out.
This year’s market slowdown is a welcome relief to that mania, Rick says. “We could use a little settling back in the market,” he says.
With travel restrictions lifted, potential owners and potential renters alike have other options. “People are saying ‘should we go to Muskoka this summer, or should we go to Europe?’ They have options, and so we’re seeing a return to people looking to buy a cottage as a pure cottage – a private retreat for themselves and their family to enjoy.”
At the same time, many of the people who made the cottage their base of operations for work have decided to make that move permanent. “The old idea of ‘retiring to the cottage’ has taken on new meaning,” Rick says. “Instead of working from their primary residence leading to retirement they are working from the cottage.”
This year has brought a moderation in prices, although we will probably never see a return to the pre-pandemic days. “People talk about how expensive Muskoka has become, but I’ve felt for a long time that Muskoka has actually been undervalued as a vacation destination,” Rick says.
He explains that travel media in the US and elsewhere have consistently ranked Muskoka as one of the top vacation destination regions in North America. But property prices here don’t even come close to reflecting that. “If this is the second or third best vacation spot, then shouldn’t prices be second or third highest?” he asks. “But you compare prices here to top American destinations – the Hamptons, Lake Tahoe, Jackson Hole – and we’re not even close.”
Which is to say that this year – and this summer in particular – may be a great time to invest in a cottage. Spring is historically the busiest time in the Muskoka real estate market. A second surge usually comes in fall – people who wanted to get one last summer out of the cottage are listing, and buyers are looking to make a move before snow and ice make it difficult to assess the property.
Ultimately, Rick says, for buyers and sellers alike it comes down to fundamentals of price, amenities and location.
“Markets go up and down – they always do. But a good property will always find a buyer.”