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Buying a house in the city or suburbs can be complicated enough, but buying a cottage or vacation property outside of town requires even more due diligence. The questions for a realtor when you buy a cottage are somewhat different from those when buying you house in the city.

For example, in town, you probably wouldn’t ask if the water coming out of the tap is drinkable. Nor would you wonder if the plumbing was hooked up to the sanitary sewer. But these are exactly the sorts of questions you should ask when buying a cottage, plus a few more.

 1.Always get an inspection.

Cottages are usually occasional residences and so may not be as properly built or maintained as they should be. This is why every purchase should be conditional on a satisfactory professional home inspection. If the cottage has a wood-burning stove or fireplace, then a certificate must be requested from a Wood Energy Technical Transfer specialist, to confirm that the system was installed and is operating correctly.

2.Is the water drinkable?

There are two areas of potential concern when it comes to water – the quantity and quality. Is there enough to satisfy family needs and is it good enough to pass the local health department requirements. A separate inspection may be needed by a well specialist. If nothing else it gives you an idea of what it would cost to replace the well if it fails.

Ask the sellers for these things:

    • Confirmation that the well, the pump and related equipment have performed adequately during the Seller’s occupancy;
    • A potability certificate from the local health authority, confirming the water is safe to drink;
    • Confirmation that there is an adequate rate of flow for normal household use;
    • Provision of a well driller’s certificate, if available; and
    • The location of the well.

3.How’s the septic system?

Septic systems present their own difficulties because it is usually difficult to tell during an inspection how long the system may last. The replacement cost can be up to $20,000, especially if there are stringent environmental regulations in effect in your area. The buyer should arrange for their own separate inspection of the system itself.

Buyers should ask for confirmation that:

  • The system was installed with all necessary permits;
  • The system has been adequately maintained;
  • The seller is not aware of any malfunctions;
  • The seller will provide copies of any inspection or approval reports in their possession;
  • The seller agrees to pump out the tank at their expense prior to closing; and
  • There are no work orders on file with the Ministry of the Environment or the local municipality.

4. Shoreline

In a regular house you often have a yard that faces on a street, and you know that you don’t really own the property from the sidewalk to the street.  But what about the shoreline?  Do you own the property all the way up to the waterline?  In some instances you do, and in a lot of cases there is a shoreline allowance that you do not own.  Many people are very surprised by the anwer to the is question.  Make sure you know where your property line ends when it comes to the shoreline.

The first 66 feet fronting onto the lake is typically owned by the local municipality and is referred to as the shore road allowance. Although you have access to the water, you can’t stop others from using it. Nor can you build anything on that 66-foot piece of land. Many cottagers have found out afterwards that either all or part of their cottage was built on land that they do not own.

You may be able to buy the land from the municipality, but it is a process. If you can get an up to date survey from the seller, this should answer your questions. Also inquire to make sure that any required permits were obtained to build a dock or boathouse, as there is no automatic right to do this. In all cases, make sure you have title insurance, which should assist with most of these types of issues.

5. Access to the cottage

If you do not have year round access by a city road, then you must ask how you get from the road to your property. If it is a private right of way over a neighbour’s land, you must understand the terms of this agreement to ensure it is year round access and it is clear who is responsible for maintaining the road.

If there is no registered right of way, it can be a nightmare, with owners fighting over who has the right of way and who owns it.

For all of these reasons, it is recommended that buyers work with a local real estate agent who should be familiar not only with each of these issues, but more importantly, will be able to recommend the professional inspectors and town officials who can satisfy a buyer’s concerns.

By being properly prepared before buying a cottage, you will avoid unwelcome surprises after closing.

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