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There are four different municipalities that have jurisdiction over the “Big Three” Muskoka Lakes – Joseph, Rosseau, and Muskoka – and many of the surrounding smaller lakes. Municipalities regulate the development and use of waterfront properties through their zoning by-laws.

Zoning by-laws have various rules and regulations that specify what a property can be used for and the types, dimensions, and locations of buildings that can be constructed on each property. For example, there are restrictions around how close a cottage can be to the lake, how large a cottage can be, whether or not a boathouse is permitted and how large it can be, and how many cottages or sleeping cabins are permitted on one lot. Zoning by-laws can be complex and certain properties have specific restrictions which limit development further.

Links to the zoning by-laws of each of the four municipalities are provided below, and links are also provided to each municipality’s zoning map, on which you can find a property and determine how it is zoned, so that you can refer to the correct section of the relevant zoning by-law.

Preparing your property for sale

If you have ever sold a home, your listing agent likely provided advice and tips on how to “stage” your home to ensure that it showed its best to prospective purchasers. Staging a home or cottage typically involves:

  • Removing personal photographs and other highly personal items to help buyers picture themselves living there (versus your family living there).
  • De-cluttering rooms and removing unnecessary or excessive pieces of furniture (this helps rooms look larger).
  • Removing as much garbage and debris as possible.
  • Touching up paint or trim or re-painting rooms in neutral tones.
  • In some cases, removing dated décor such as older area rugs, knick knacks, wall hangings, or window coverings (removing these items can help your cottage look a little more modern).
  • In some cases, moving your own furniture out and bringing more modern, trendy furniture into the home or cottage.
  • Turing on lights and uncovering windows for showings (to make spaces look brighter, more inviting, and larger).
  • Making all beds, clearing all counter tops, and ensuring a state of overall cleanliness for showings to make the cottage look as neat and tidy as possible.

When preparing to sell recreational property, while staging the interior of the cottage as outlined above is important, it is equally important to ensure that the land and waterfront at your property are also showing at their best. Sweep off all decks, pick up sticks from the yards, rake up the leaves, ensure there is no garbage or debris on the property, put outdoor furniture on decks and docks and around the bonfire pit, remove weeds and plant some flowers or shrubs in the gardens, and purchase some potted plants for the front entrance and decks.

Our team provides customized expert advice to our sellers, based on years of experience working with buyers in Muskoka, on how to best prepare your cottage and property for showings to ensure that everything is presented to the market in the best possible light.

Home Selling

Lighting Tips

Home Staging – Furniture Placement

Closing Costs

Although it is the buyer who must pay provincial land transfer tax, sellers incur their share of closing costs as well. A typical seller will be responsible for the following costs associated with the sale of their cottage:

  • Real estate commission
  • Legal fees and disbursements
  • Mortgage prepayment or discharge fee (if applicable)
  • Utility fees and property taxes up to the date of closing
  • HST on real estate fees and other services purchased

When is the best time to list my cottage for sale?

We are frequently asked when the best time is to list a cottage property for sale in Muskoka. Of course there are many factors that can influence sellers’ desired timelines for the sale of their cottages; after all, Muskoka cottages are not only an investment but are usually a treasured family gathering spot.

The cottage market in Muskoka is very weather dependent. None but the heartiest of buyers are willing to trek around Muskoka in less than enjoyable weather, and properties do not show their best until the ice has receded to reveal the sparkling lakes and the leaves have started to bud, which is not only visually appealing but also increases the privacy at most properties. Muskoka is known for its pristine lakes and beautiful land, so these elements of a property should be at their best to allow potential buyers to realize a property’s full value.

Except in rare cases, we do not recommend cottage properties be listed over the winter months, when very few to no buyers are in the area and properties are covered in snow and ice and are difficult to access. When a property sits on the market over the winter with little to no action, there is a risk of the listing going stale and missing the opportunity to capitalize on the excitement and intensity of the spring market.

Peak selling months range from May to August, with May and June typically having the highest numbers of sales, followed by July and August. If the early spring is chilly, May numbers will lag, but unit sales then usually spike in June to satisfy the pent up spring demand. If a seller is ready to sell after the winter, a spring list date is ideal, as there is usually a flurry of activity after the quiet winter.

If a seller wishes to use their cottage for at least part of the summer, waiting until later in the season to list is also a viable option. At this time there are still plenty of buyers who didn’t find the right place during the spring market, but potential purchasers are usually more agreeable to a late summer or fall closing date.
Early fall can be a good time to list as well if a seller and their family desires the use of their cottage for most of the season. If the fall weather is pleasant, September and October can be very strong selling months.

Our team makes recommendations for the ideal listing period based on each seller’s unique needs and wants while carefully considering the seasonality of the Muskoka market and how well a property will show to potential buyers at a given time of year.

Land Leases for Boathouses and Permits for Structures over Water

In most cases in Ontario, land that is located below the high water mark and is covered or seasonally covered by the waters of a lake, river, stream, or pond is public land, and falls under the Public Lands Act. The Act is administered by the MNR and sets out regulations for the sale or lease of these lands and work permits for construction that will take place on public lands and shore lands. Part of the purpose of the Act is to ensure that there is a fair return to the people of Ontario for the use and occupation of Crown Land.

In the case of a two-storey boathouse, land use occupational authority is required from the MNR, and property owners are usually required to lease or purchase the land under their boathouses. These boathouses are located on public land and as such, the property owners require permission to occupy that land. Usually, the property owner will enter into a lease agreement with the MNR that sets out the lease arrangements and fees payable. In some cases the MNR may sell the land to the property owner.

While docks and single-storey boathouses do not require occupational authority (and the associated land lease or purchase) that is required for two-storey boathouses, in most cases permits for construction of any structure over water must be attained from the MNR. These permits are in addition to permits required from the local municipal building department. As a result of a 2015 decision by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, authorization from the MNR in the form of a land use permit is required to construct or place a dock or single-storey boathouse that occupies (i.e. is on or above) more than 15 square metres (about 160 square feet) of shore lands. Land use permits are also required for the expansion or replacement of existing structures that are larger than 15 square meters. In cases where construction includes work on privately owned shore lands, permits are still required. As of April 2016, there are currently no fees for land use permits for docks and single storey boathouses.

Learn more about MNR permits for shoreline structures

2017 Market Update

Number of Sales (Annual) – Lakes Joseph, Rosseau, and Muskoka

2017-03-16
The total number of unit sales on the “Big Three” decreased slightly (by 3%) in 2017 compared to 2016. A similar dip in unit sales was observed in waterfront markets throughout the Muskoka region.


Number of Sales (Monthly) – Lakes Joseph, Rosseau, and Muskoka

2017-03-16 (1)
In the first half of 2017 there were 110 sales on the “Big Three” versus 108 in the first half of 2016. In the second half of 2017 there were 138 sales compared to 148 sales in the second half of 2016.


Active Month End Listings – Lakes Joseph, Rosseau, and Muskoka

2017-03-16 (4)
On average, there were 14% fewer properties available at the end of each month in 2017 compared to 2016, although some variation in this overall trend was experienced month to month.


Sales on Lakes Joseph, Rosseau, and Muskoka by Price Category
2017-03-16 (2)

2017 was a positive year for luxury sales. On Lakes Joe, Rosseau, and Muskoka, there were 30 unit sales over $4M in 2017 compared to just 16 sales in that range in 2016. For properties over $5M, unit sales were 14 and 9 respectively for 2017 and 2016.


Average Sale Price ($) on Lakes Joseph, Rosseau, and Muskoka
2017-03-16 (2)

The positive performance of the market on the “Big Three” leveraged prices higher in 2017 by 17% overall, based on the average selling price.


Annual Total Sales Volume (in Millions of Dollars) – Lakes Joseph, Rosseau, and Muskoka
2017-03-16 (2)

With unit sales similar to last year and a significant increase in the average sale price, the annual sales total rose by approximately 13% in 2017 compared to 2016.

*Data above includes waterfront single family cottages and vacant lots on mainland and islands on the three big lakes plus Mirror Lake, Little Lake Joe, and the Joseph and Indian Rivers.

While our team is generally aware of some cottages available for rent, the following websites specialize in cottage rentals and are worth checking out if you are interested in renting a cottage in Muskoka this summer.

Shore Road Allowances

In townships that were surveyed by the Crown in the late nineteenth century, the initial laying out of roads included the establishment of shore road allowances. These strips of land were 66 feet wide and were adjacent to navigable rivers and shores of lakes, intended to allow for commercial and public transport. Most of these shore road allowances were never developed into roads, however they still legally exist if they have not been closed by the municipality. A shore road allowance that remains in existence and has not been closed is referred to as an open shore road allowance. A shore road allowance owned by the property owner that will be transferred with the purchase and sale of the property is referred to as a closed shore road allowance.

Municipal zoning bylaws in Muskoka have in recent years required most cottages to be constructed a minimum of 66 feet from the water’s edge (known as the front yard), so cottages constructed after these bylaw requirements were put in place will usually not be located on an open shore road allowance. However, many cottages in Muskoka were built prior to the passing of zoning bylaws with the 66 foot front yard requirement, and as such, some cottages (or portions of them) were actually constructed on the shore road allowance, which is land not technically owned by the property owner.  Many docks and boathouses have also been constructed on open shore road allowances. (Whether or not a shore road allowance must be purchased by the land owner prior to constructing a dock or boathouse varies by municipality.)

It is crucial to obtain a survey when purchasing a property in order to determine the status of the shore road allowance, and to discuss the shore road allowance with both your real estate agent and your lawyer. In many cases, municipalities will consider selling the shore road allowance to a property owner if it is not already owned (closed). For the policy and procedures for purchasing open shore road allowances in each of the four municipalities that have jurisdiction over the “Big Three” Muskoka Lakes and the small lakes in their close vicinity, visit the links below.

 

Land Leases for Boathouses and Permits for Structures over Water

In most cases in Ontario, land that is located below the high water mark and is covered or seasonally covered by the waters of a lake, river, stream, or pond is public land, and falls under the Public Lands Act. The Act is administered by the MNR and sets out regulations for the sale or lease of these lands and work permits for construction that will take place on public lands and shore lands. Part of the purpose of the Act is to ensure that there is a fair return to the people of Ontario for the use and occupation of Crown Land.

In the case of a two-storey boathouse, land use occupational authority is required from the MNR, and property owners are usually required to lease or purchase the land under their boathouses. These boathouses are located on public land and as such, the property owners require permission to occupy that land. Usually, the property owner will enter into a lease agreement with the MNR that sets out the lease arrangements and fees payable. In some cases the MNR may sell the land to the property owner.

While docks and single-storey boathouses do not require occupational authority (and the associated land lease or purchase) that is required for two-storey boathouses, in most cases permits for construction of any structure over water must be attained from the MNR. These permits are in addition to permits required from the local municipal building department. As a result of a 2015 decision by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, authorization from the MNR in the form of a land use permit is required to construct or place a dock or single-storey boathouse that occupies (i.e. is on or above) more than 15 square metres (about 160 square feet) of shore lands. Land use permits are also required for the expansion or replacement of existing structures that are larger than 15 square meters. In cases where construction includes work on privately owned shore lands, permits are still required. As of April 2016, there are currently no fees for land use permits for docks and single storey boathouses.

Learn more about MNR permits for shoreline structures

Tree Cutting By-Laws

In many cases Muskoka property owners are not permitted to remove trees from their waterfront land unless the tree cutting activity meets the requirements of the tree-cutting bylaw of the township having jurisdiction. Municipal governments regulate tree cutting in Muskoka in order to protect trees and preserve vegetative buffers along shorelines which are important for water quality and habitat protection and are integral to the beauty of the Muskoka landscape.

Tree cutting bylaws can vary significantly in terms of which activities are exempt from the bylaw. For example, the Township of Muskoka Lakes and Township of Seguin tree cutting bylaws both provide that a property owner may trim and prune trees in accordance with good forestry practice to maintain tree health without a permit. However, the Township of Seguin permits trimming and pruning trees to create “viewing windows”, while the Township of Muskoka Lakes stipulates that the trimming and pruning must be done in such a way as to preserve the tree’s natural shape and so does not allow for the specific creation of “viewing windows” in order for the activity to be exempt from the bylaw.

Most tree cutting bylaws permit the removal of dead, diseased, or hazardous trees without a permit when the removal is in the interest of public safety. In addition, trees may be removed within a certain radius of a building if a building permit has been issued by the township. To view the tree cutting bylaws of the following municipalities, visit their websites below.

Shoreline Development

What a property owner can and can’t do in terms of development at their shoreline can be quite complicated, and the process for determining what is allowable just got a little bit more complex.

Rules for docks and boathouses in Muskoka not only vary between lakes, but also differ between various locations on a single lake. On the “Big Three” lakes – Joseph, Rosseau, and Muskoka – there are 4 different municipalities that have jurisdiction over different parts of the lakes, all of which have different by-laws and regulations that impact what a property owner can build at the waterfront. Even if a property meets the general by-law requirements, property-specific restrictions can affect development rights, such as environmental concerns.

For several years, permission for 2-storey boathouses has not only been required from the township in which the property is located, but occupational authority has also been required from the Ministry of Natural Resources. Until 2015, permission for docks and single storey boathouses was usually only required from the township. However, as a result of a 2015 decision by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, authorization from the MNR is also required in the form of a land use permit to construct a dock or single-storey boathouse that is larger than 15 square metres (about 160 square feet). An MNR permit is also necessary for the expansion or replacement of existing structures that are larger than 15 square meters. Please see the MNR website for more information.

We’ve compiled a brief summary of shoreline development in Muskoka for some examples of the ways in which regulations can vary between municipalities. We’ve used common zones on the Big Lakes in the Township of Muskoka Lakes and the Township of Seguin as examples. For additional information on shoreline development and links to the various municipal rules and regulations, visit our Waterfront Land Use Rules page.

 

Shore Road Allowances

In townships that were surveyed by the Crown in the late nineteenth century, the initial laying out of roads included the establishment of shore road allowances. These strips of land were 66 feet wide and were adjacent to navigable rivers and shores of lakes, intended to allow for commercial and public transport. Most of these shore road allowances were never developed into roads, however they still legally exist if they have not been closed by the municipality. A shore road allowance that remains in existence and has not been closed is referred to as an open shore road allowance. A shore road allowance owned by the property owner that will be transferred with the purchase and sale of the property is referred to as a closed shore road allowance.

Municipal zoning bylaws in Muskoka have in recent years required most cottages to be constructed a minimum of 66 feet from the water’s edge (known as the front yard), so cottages constructed after these bylaw requirements were put in place will usually not be located on an open shore road allowance. However, many cottages in Muskoka were built prior to the passing of zoning bylaws with the 66 foot front yard requirement, and as such, some cottages (or portions of them) were actually constructed on the shore road allowance, which is land not technically owned by the property owner. Many docks and boathouses have also been constructed on open shore road allowances. (Whether or not a shore road allowance must be purchased by the land owner prior to constructing a dock or boathouse varies by municipality.)

In many cases, municipalities will consider selling the shore road allowance to a property owner if it is not already owned (closed). For the policy and procedures for purchasing open shore road allowances in each of the four municipalities that have jurisdiction over the “Big Three” Muskoka Lakes and the small lakes in their close vicinity, visit the links below.

 

Land Transfer Tax Calculator

When you purchase land or an interest in land in Ontario, you must pay land transfer tax upon completion of the transaction. The tax is payable when the transfer of land is registered. Land transfer tax is usually based on the purchase price of the property. The rates for residential properties (containing one or two single family residences) are as follows:

  • 0.5% of the amount paid up to and including $55,000
  • 1% of the amount paid above $55,000 up to and including $250,000
  • 1.5% of the amount paid above $250,000 up to $400,000
  • 2% of the amount paid above $400,000
  • 2.5% of amounts exceeding $2,000,000, where the land contains one or two single family residences

Land transfer tax: $5

 

Title Insurance

When you purchase a property, it is important to acquire clear ownership of the property, also known as “good title”. Buyers can purchase title insurance to protect themselves from losses or damages arising from issues with the property’s title (i.e. legal ownership of the property).

Buyers should consult with their real estate lawyer, a title insurance company, or an insurance broker to discuss the many different types of policies and protection that are available.
The Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) published a brochure which explains title insurance in more detail.

The FSCO explains that title insurance usually covers the following:

  • Title defects that were unknown at the time of purchase that affect a property owner’s clear title to the property
  • Liens that are registered against the title to the property
  • Issues involving the encroachment of buildings or structures onto neighbouring properties
  • Title fraud
  • Errors in surveys and public records
  • Other title-related issues that can affect the ability to sell the property in the future

According to the FSCO, title insurance policies normally will NOT cover issues such as (but not limited to):

  • Known title defects
  • Environmental issues
  • Issues with potable water (e.g. wells)
  • Native land claims
  • Zoning bylaw violations that result from changes to the property and/or buildings made by the policy holder

 

Closing Costs

Just like when you purchase a home, there are several costs associated with the purchase of a cottage.

These costs include:

  • Cottage inspection (will likely also include an inspection of the septic system and a WETT (Wood Energy Transfer Technology) inspection of any wood burning fireplaces or woodstoves to ensure they are operating safely)
  • Legal fees
  • Land transfer tax (see above)
  • HST applies to any services purchased
  • HST also could apply to new cottage purchases and some vacant land
  • Title insurance (optional)
  • Property survey (if necessary)
  • Property tax and utility adjustments
    • If the seller has paid for the full year of property taxes, the buyer must reimburse the seller for that cost from the date of closing for the remainder of the year.
    • If there are propane tanks or oil tanks on the property, the seller will usually pay to have these filled prior to closing, with the buyer responsible for reimbursing the seller for the full tanks at closing.
    • Similar principles apply for any prepaid utility bills or hot water heater or propane tank rentals that the seller has paid for.

About Muskoka

Muskoka is renowned for its magnificent natural beauty and sparkling blue lakes. It has long been one of Ontario’s most popular cottage destinations and a cherished family gathering place for generations. Muskoka also provides that much needed escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city, yet offers world class amenities and a multitude of recreational activities.

The “Big Three” lakes – Joseph, Rosseau and Muskoka – are the jewels of the Muskoka region and offer over 100 miles of boating pleasure. The region also offer an abundance of smaller lakes, each offering their own wonderful, relaxing cottage experience.

Our team has an abundance of local Muskoka knowledge which we are always eager to share, so feel free to contact us to discuss Muskoka anytime!

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Royal LePage 2016 Canadian Recreational Housing Report

The Standard of Excellence

Since 1950, Johnston & Daniel has been representing the distinctive properties in Southern Ontario’s most affluent neighbourhoods. The brokerage was acquired by Royal LePage Real Estate Services Ltd. in 1994 in order to enhance its presence in the high-end residential markets of the GTA. J&D has a dominant position in premiere neighbourhoods throughout Toronto and the GTA and is one of the most respected and highly-sought names in these upscale markets.

Johnston & Daniel is a perfect fit for the Muskoka area with services tailored specifically to luxury real estate markets. As the luxury division of Royal LePage, J&D offers the service of a specialized boutique brokerage backed by the scale, synergy, and credentials of Canada’s largest and oldest real estate company. Johnston & Daniel Rushbrooke Realty operates as the luxury partner brokerage to Royal LePage Lakes of Muskoka, just as Johnston & Daniel’s other two offices do now with their Royal LePage counterparts in Toronto and Oakville.

Our clients benefit from an intuitive, caring boutique experience and our robust, collaborative network, a hallmark of Johnston & Daniel’s culture. J&D belongs to the largest global networks of the world’s most powerful independent luxury brokerages, including Luxury Real Estate® of Who’s Who In Luxury Real Estate, a collection of the finest real estate firms in more than 70 countries of which our Team has been a member for several years. It is the #1 portal for luxury properties on the world wide web with more listings over $1,000,000 than any near-peer and features a network of global partners, including Chinese (juwai.com), European, and South American affiliates, to ensure our listings are seen around the globe.

With a commitment to professionalism, integrity, and service excellence that is unrivalled in the real estate industry, Johnston & Daniel is “The Standard of Excellence” in real estate.

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