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How to Buy Land in Ontario

How to Buy Land in Ontario

Ballantyne cottages are havens for Ontario recreation and relaxation, and we’re proud to be part of so many big dreams for our clients. The dream of a family cottage becomes concrete when you purchase the land to build it. Because we have the honour of walking this path with so many clients, we’ve learned a fair amount about the process and pitfalls of buying land in Ontario, and we’re ready to pass on our tips to you.

Special Considerations for Buying Property For Cottages

Buy in the Summer

Unless you know the lake exceptionally well, you should buy waterfront property in the summer when you can properly inspect the shoreline, the depth of the water, and the lake in general. Seasonal changes can be difficult to estimate without seeing them in person.

Use Your Own Local Agent

You should always use a real estate agent that lives and works in cottage country. There is a lot to consider when buying waterfront property. You need someone local who can guide you properly and knows what due diligence is necessary (e.g., zoning, building restrictions, water source, etc.). We highly recommend having your own agent instead of working with the listing agent because your agent will solely work in your best interest to ensure the land is right for you and the cottage you want to build.

Find Out About Restrictions on Your Lot

When looking for lots, make sure it is a building lot. Do not assume you can build on any land that is listed. Much of the shoreline is protected by Muskoka Conservancy (and other conservation authorities), and some lots may be environmentally protected. Environmentally protected land may restrict what can be built or if a dock can be put in the water, which can affect the size of the cottage you want to build, or whether you can boat from your property.

Determine Your Deal Breakers

There are several unique aspects of Ontario vacation property that you need to evaluate to identify the place to build your cottage. Determine your must-haves and deal breakers, and tell your real estate agent to narrow your search.

  • Do you want access to your cottage year-round?
  • Do you want road access only, or are you willing to boat out to your cottage on an island?
  • Are you willing to share a driveway?
  • How much shoreline are you after?
  • How much privacy do you want? 
  • Do you want to be able to boat from your dock?
    (Water depth will be important in that case)
  • How far are you willing to drive from home to get to your cottage?

A Note About Remote Access Ontario Vacation Property

You can spend less on a property with limited access. Island property that is boat access only is cheaper than property accessed by a road, but living on an island isn’t for everyone, although some people love the relaxation a remote area provides. Some areas also lose road access in the winter unless you want to snowmobile in or pay to have the road plowed privately. If you’ve got to enjoy the winter wonderland of your cottage, a more central location is a better fit.

How Much is an Acre of Land in Ontario?

Waterfront property in Muskoka can range from $400K to $8 million, depending on the lake and accessibility. Expect to pay in the millions if you want road access all year round on one of the big three lakes (Muskoka, Rosseau, Joseph). Remote wilderness real estate in Ontario is priced very differently. Smaller lakes, farther from big cities like Toronto, or seasonally inaccessible properties (e.g., an island or remote cabin) run considerably less.

How Much Do You Need for a Downpayment on Land in Ontario?

One crucial aspect of buying land in Ontario is that you cannot mortgage vacant land. You must purchase vacant land outright. Your budget may be the biggest determining factor in where you can buy waterfront property and how much. You may also choose to purchase land with an existing cottage and rebuild, which may skirt this financing requirement.

Why Should I Demolish and Rebuild a New Vacation Property?

There are plenty of great reasons to buy a great lot with an undesirable cottage rather than a vacant lot, and much of it has to do with the budget. Here are a few reasons many clients choose to demolish and rebuild their cottage lot.

  1. Demolition isn’t as lengthy or expensive as many expect. It only takes a day and averages around $12-15K.
  2. As we just discussed, you can finance this project.
  3. You may salvage aspects of the old cottage for design elements in your new cottage. Use an old beam for a fireplace mantle and tongue and groove wood for accent walls; these add character, respect the history of your space, give that cottage vibe, and save on materials all at the same time.
  4. There will be no lot of development charges. These can be anywhere from $10-40K.
  5. Your driveway is likely already built. If your property is remote, this can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars because you would otherwise need to create kilometres of the driveway. Even if your approach is not so extreme, the savings an existing driveway provides can be significant.
  6. Less site prep, which can also cost hundreds of thousands if you need to clear a lot of trees, blast out a lot of rock and then level everything out. You still might have to do some site prep and blasting if you are building a bigger cottage, but there will be much less to do.
  7. The utilities already go to the lot. Starting from scratch can also add up when bringing hydro from the municipal road to your building site.

Advice for Building Internationally

  • Many American or other foreign clients are drawn to Muskoka’s pristine and peaceful landscapes for their summer homes. Our mild and scenic summers are perfect backdrops for recreation and relaxation. If you’re considering making an international purchase for your Canadian summer home, we’re happy to share the nuggets we’ve gleaned while building cottages for our friends who make their permanent homes across our border. 

    Canada currently has a moratorium on foreign real-estate purchases (2023-2025.) This doesn’t mean your custom Canadian cottage is impossible, as there are exceptions in the law, and it is expected that vacant land and cottages will be exempt from the ban, but this may delay your plans. We’ll talk more about that when we connect.

    • Ease Your Border Crossing- Apply for Nexus clearance for expedited border crossing for low-risk and pre-vetted individuals to cut your crossing time down significantly.
    • Hire a Local Expert- Use local professionals (like us builders) to take advantage of their regional knowledge about the taxes, policies, and ordinances when building.
    • Let Your Financial Team Help- Alert your financial team about your intent to build a Canadian custom cottage. Their help with international taxes and financing will ensure your project starts off on the right path and doesn’t veer into unexpected red tape.

Ballantyne Builds is Here to Build the Best

Ballantyne Builds creates custom cottages in Ontario that become backdrops for adventures and memories for families far into the future. Our personal, transparent, and elite Ontario construction services have been honed over three generations. Let’s connect today to start the conversation about your cottage.