Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Owning Paradise: Muskoka is becoming surprisingly affordable again...thanks to an invention for the rich

Muskoka. This iconic cottage destination has been the place that allows imaginations to wander: lazy days reading on the dock, kids swimming to their hearts content, a barbecue while the sun sets over the lake after another perfect day.

For years, this dream was a reality within reach for most. Post-war Muskoka saw an explosion in new cottage construction. Transport to the area became easier and the burgeoning Canadian economy allowed those who worked hard no matter what their vocation to save a few extra dollars and buy a slice of paradise. Their cottage was a place for the kids in the summertime and a retreat after working in the sweltering city.

Fast-forward to today and that scenario is all but gone for the average family. As the reputation and popularity of Muskoka grew, so did the prices for even a small cottage, and as land became scarce on the major lakes families were forced to adjust, settling for a smaller lake, smaller cottage or more likely, abandoning the prospect of Muskoka and cottage ownership all together.

So how does the average family afford any cottage in Muskoka today? Surprisingly, the answer has come from an ownership model developed for the rich to efficiently share private jets and luxury yachts. Fractional ownership has reinvigorated the marketplace for those who previously saw themselves as excluded from Muskoka (especially the major lakes), significantly altering price-points and availability. But even as this alternative is letting more people into the marketplace, one problem remains: many recreational properties in the region are condos, or high density fractional-ownership resorts, not cottages.

For those that want the real Muskoka experience, “high density” just won’t do. Hear the word “Muskoka” and the mind’s eye does not conjure images of townhouse-style developments or a place bearing more than a passing resemblance to urban culture. It sees discrete cottages, green grass, and the water’s edge shimmering against a sandy shoreline.

That mind’s eye image comes to life at a few select Muskoka developments, but none more so than at Blue Water Acres, a fractional resort on Lake of Bays whose mandate is to provide an option for those disenfranchised cottage-seekers. The property is stunning, with over 50 acres of prime waterfront property boasting traditional Muskoka geography leading to a shore area custom designed by Mother Nature for fun in the water; however, what has people talking, and buying, is the price.

“We’ve consciously priced our units to attract those who figured Muskoka was off the table; that they would have to look somewhere else or settle for what they really didn’t want” says BWA’s developer and industry leader, Bill Van Gelder. “The response to this approach, offering the real cottage lifestyle on a major lake has been overwhelmingly positive.”

The fractional approach may differ slightly from owning a cottage outright, but according to Van Gelder, the differences are all positive.

“With fractional intervals you aren’t concerning yourself with maintenance issues, there are great amenities included and you can just show up and start having a good time. Even if you can afford to buy a cottage the old-way, there’s a lot of upkeep, like any home, which this type of ownership eliminates.”

That said it is clear the market for stand-alone cottages in Muskoka isn’t going away. Rather, it’s now the domain of a select few who can afford prices starting on major lakes that are equivalent to purchasing a luxury home, even for a “fixer-upper”.

“We’re literally allowing people to buy into a cottage for what prices were like in the 60’s and 70’s” says Van Gelder. “For that, you get five weeks per year in the location you want, in the style you want and we’ll even look after renting it out if you can’t make it. Hassle-free cottage living doesn’t begin to describe it.”

Necessity being the mother of invention, it seems once again Muskoka is open for business to everyone now that fractional ownership is here to stay.

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