Real Estate

Cottage Industry: A rental property turned vacation home in Quebec's Baie-Saint-Paul

Surging prices, bidding wars, blind offers—the search for seasonal real estate has become a battlefield. Tales from 10 of Canada’s hottest vacation towns.

In the July issue of Maclean’s, and each week here online, recent buyers divulge what they had to do to acquire the cottages of their dreams: pool family money, send relatives for viewings, hop on the first flight to Atlantic Canada post-bubble, or buy sight unseen, sometimes from thousands of kilometres away.

Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec

Average recreational property price (2021): $289,000

The Market: There’s no better evidence of Baie-Saint-Paul’s tourist clout than the opening of Club Med’s first North American mountain resort 20 minutes south of the town last December. The tiny Charlevoix destination, situated along the St. Lawrence River, is an established favourite of European cyclists, hikers and gallery-hoppers. And now Canadians are also taking notice of its affordable vacation properties. Recently, newer luxury builds have started sidling up to the area’s existing inventory, creating fierce competition for the already limited number of empty lots. As a result, the going prices for local chalets have increased by 45 per cent.

The chalet's expansive living area is frequently bathed in sunlight thanks to towering 12-foot windows

The chalet’s expansive living area is frequently bathed in sunlight thanks to towering 12-foot windows

The Buyer: Fabio Mascarin, a 59-year-old executive

Fabio: Nine years ago, I took a ski trip through the Charlevoix region with three friends, and we rented this very chalet. It’s in Les Éboulements, which is 15 minutes up the mountain from Baie-Saint-Paul. When I first walked upstairs, I saw the panoramic view of the St. Lawrence River, which was the route my mother took into Canada when she emigrated from France by boat. I thought, Oh my god, I’m going to buy this place one day.

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I live in Gananoque, Ontario, and last May, I saw that this property had finally gone up for sale. I freaked out and called Eric, the realtor, right away. He told me they were just waiting on the mortgage to clear on an offer from an American buyer. The deal ended up falling through because of COVID, and I immediately requested a video walk-through. I later drove up to Quebec and did one showing. I bought it for a phenomenal price considering all the furniture and appliances were included. Properties like this would go for three times as much in Muskoka.

Mascarin's vacation property comes with panoramic views of the St. Lawrence River

Mascarin’s vacation property comes with panoramic views of the St. Lawrence River

The cost of vacation properties is a lot cheaper here—at least for the time being. This place doesn’t fit everyone’s definition of a cottage: it has a steep driveway, just like in Europe; cement floors with radiant heat at the entrance; a spa; and 12-foot windows. The roof is metal, so the snow melts when the sun hits it.

Prior to COVID, a lot of people from England, France and even Sweden came here in the summer to hike, bike and hit the cafés and art festivals. There’s a real sense of “I’m in Canada, but I’m not.” A lot of locals are investing money in their cottages now, and I think there are just three lots left at the base of the mountain. I would love to stay here more, but right now, I’m aiming for four weeks a year. The rest of the time, the chalet is available as a short-term rental. Visitors often say, “We didn’t even know this place existed.” I used to feel the same way. According to François, the property manager, we’re getting a lot of repeat renters.

This article appears in print in the July 2022 issue of Maclean’s magazine. Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here, or buy the issue online here

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