Use a local Realtor
Would you hire a guide in England to take you on an African safari? Of course not, and while it’s unlikely you’ll find a crocodile-infested lake here, there are many real estate dangers an agent from the city just isn’t familiar with. Local agents understand septic systems and off-grid systems, water systems and dock systems. We have a lot of systems here in cottage country – use a local Realtor and cut your risk of unknowns.
Most properties in cottage country are accessible by private road and subject to agreements made by property owners in the past. Make sure you can access the property when and how you want to. Find out if there’s a road association, their rules and annual dues. The last thing you want is to have to abandon buying your dream home at the last minute because it can’t be accessed reliably.
They say the average human would die in three days without water. While lakes and rivers are plentiful here, filtration and sterilization are often required before you can drink the water. Wells are another source; they too must be free of contaminants – and approved with the proper permits. If you expect to have drinking water, make sure a test is included as a condition in your offer.
There are no sewers outside of our main towns, meaning all of your waste is going into a tank beside your home or cottage. It’s a good idea to include a septic inspection in your offer, to ensure the system is working properly and has the required permits.
A survey will show the exact boundaries of the property and often the location of every structure on it. It’s useful for ensuring all by-laws have been followed and to confirm that you’re buying what you think you’re buying. Most sellers will not agree to a new survey because it’s expensive and takes time; often a past survey will do the job. Your Realtor or lawyer can tell you, based on the characteristics of the specific property, if a survey is something you should insist on. Title insurance protects you to some extent, but it can’t do things like give you the water access you thought you owned but don’t.
Find out how the property is zoned before you make an offer. You’ll want to check what activities are permitted – not all properties are zoned for year-round occupation, for example – and if you’ll be allowed to do what you plan. Zoning covers home offices, keeping animals, building height, house size and dozens of other activities and attributes. Don’t buy a property before knowing that its zoning matches your intentions. You may also want to check the zoning of next door properties to ensure there won’t be surprises.
Return Visits & Final Check
It’s common for people to want to visit the property again before the deal closes, to take measurements or just to enjoy the anticipation. If you intend to do that, it needs to be in your offer. I usually advise that one of these visits be on the day of or before closing, so you can ensure everything is how it should be.
It’s usually more difficult to get a mortgage on a second home, for a variety of reasons, and mortgage qualification rules have become much tighter. Do not assume you can get money quickly. If you want the power of being a cash buyer, get pre-approved, and even then a financing clause is still a good idea in case the bank has issues with the property you want to purchase.
Many purchasers today factor in rental income when calculating what they can afford. If you plan to rent out your property, make sure the zoning and your insurance allow it. If you plan on making your property available for short term rentals, use one of several reputable, local agencies who will vet renters and ensure your property is kept in ship-shape.