Real Estate

Cottage Industry: Kawartha Lakes, "the new Muskoka"

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.

Kawartha Lakes, Ontario

Average recreational property price (2021): $798,000

The Market: On a good traffic day, residents of the Greater Toronto Area can make it to tree-studded Kawartha Lakes in under two hours. Its proximity to urban centres and abundance of waterfront views have made the 3,000-square-kilometre region an especially good bet for young workers keen to clack away on their laptops dockside—and visit the city on summer weekends. From 2020 to 2021, average cottage prices for landlocked properties soared by 48 per cent, while waterfront properties have pulled in just under $900,000. According to realtors, these days, buyers are asking fewer questions about the fishing—and more about the Wi-Fi.

The Buyers: Scott Clayton, a 54-year-old tax consultant, and his wife, Angela, a 55-year-old retired nurse.

Angela: I live in Houston, Texas, but I’ve remained close with my college girlfriends, many of whom are still in Ontario. Every summer, my family used to rent a cottage in Muskoka near my former roommate. She was always saying, “There’s a place for sale near me, and you need to get it!” During lockdown, she fell ill, and she passed away in June of last year. I decided I couldn’t miss out on seeing my friends anymore.

In July of 2021, Canada removed the quarantine requirement for visiting vaccinated Canadians; I was in the Kawarthas looking at cottages within 24 hours. Scott is American and can’t work here, so we wanted to find a place close enough to the airport so he could come for short stays. It also had to be big enough to host a bunch of friends, so we needed a minimum of three bedrooms. I also wanted good swimming water; no weeds or muck. I quickly learned that any property I liked, everybody liked. 

MORE: Cottage Industry: Saint Andrews, “the historic holiday”

Our realtor told us that winning bids in the area tended to be unconditional offers, made in cash and well over asking—sometimes by hundreds of thousands of dollars. We found one place that had five bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms and trees all over its property. It was perfect. I flew back home to Houston, and the next day, we received a phone call that there had been eight offers. The winning one was $200,000 higher than ours. I thought, Is this going to happen every time? 

After that, I didn’t visit any more cottages in person; we bought ours sight unseen about a month later. The property needed a lot of work, but the bones were there. It had three bathrooms, three bedrooms, no weeds and a basement where people could stay up late making noise. It was the same thing again: six offers, all cash, no conditions. Our winning bid was 30 per cent over asking. Despite how many upgrades it needed, Scott and I made up our minds: we were going to get a cottage up here, even if we had to renovate. Our friends can come visit now, as can their kids. Buying here was like getting a piece of home back.

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