Keeping it real estate

Even astride a buoyant real estate market, you can still tailor your cabin’s aesthetic to maximize profitability. Here are the basic steps to help tempt those big bucks.

by Colin and Justin

There’s no doubt about it: 2020, and 2021 thus far, have witnessed unprecedented gains across Ontario’s real estate community. Whether domiciled in the city, suburbs or exurbs, chances are you’ve seen sizeable dollar uplift.

National values in March, as calculated by the Home Price Index, rose 20.3 per cent (compared to the same month last year) according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. And as demand continues to outstrip supply, gains such as these are set to continue.

To help clients make inroads into the urban real estate market, we’ve counselled many to invest in cottage country. A dalliance, as we see it, with the “buy, reno and flip” sensibility – to muster extra buying power – makes sound sense.

A couple for whom we’ve done significant work in Toronto’s Moore Park enclave, were short on funds to make their ultimate Rosedale dream come true. And so, some 18 months past, we advised them to invest in Cottage Country. Whilst their available purse didn’t stretch to Muskoka, it allowed them access to Haliburton (where topography is identical but price points leaner), where they bought and flipped a cottage, resulting in a near $435,000 profit. A tidy sum indeed, even post tax and associated project costs, and a figure that finally augmented – and ultimately helped deliver – the Rosedale aspirants dream.

So yes, undeniably, the cottage market is alive and well. Demand, in fact, has accelerated beyond the expectations of many.

Outdoor living spaces will build value to your cottage when it comes time to sell.

One realtor, Stefan Kontos of eXp Realty Brokerage Inc. in Haliburton, telegraphed the tale of a cottage in Severn with a guide price of $399,000 that attracted more than 70 offers, 180 showings and eventually sold for more than $375,000 over asking.

His advice to renovators focused on optimizing yield? “Showcase ‘functionality,’ no matter what you’re selling. Endeavour to create living spaces outdoors to build further value. In today’s market, cottages that mightn’t previously have achieved over asking are outperforming expectation.”

So does that, we enquire, mean everything sells?

“Let’s just say those in better condition, which represent the least work, always do better.”

His sagest counsel? “Ensure septics are in good working order and keep track of documentation to support this. Landscaping should be well planned and wiring and plumbing should be in sound condition. And showcase the very best version of your kitchen.”

Pausing, for a moment, he adds: “While it might not be necessary – or indeed cost efficient – to refit from scratch, small changes make all the difference and will help buyers ‘attach’ to your place before another. Consider replacing dated counters with slick quartz, repainting cabinet doors or simply switching out faucets and hardwares. First impressions, huh?”

The effusive realtor’s counsel is similar where bathrooms are concerned. “In-floor heating,” he suggests, “retiling, good lighting or even a smart new mirror can radically improve allure. These, after all, are the rooms people buy fully furnished, so make the best of what you have to temp top dollar.”

Yes indeed, opportunity lies in wait.

When preparing any home for market, whether on screen or off, we follow a simple template. We put ourselves in the shoes of any prospect sizing up our latest offering. We need them to fall in love from the moment they leave their vehicle and wander the well-maintained path to our perfectly painted front door.

When renovating for profit, we typically allocate 15 to 20 per cent of overall project costs to exterior grooming. Sympathetic groundwork “shows” well and needn’t cost the earth: a little sweat equity (vista pruning to improve lake views, seeding lawns to add verdant appeal or simply refinishing decks and terraces) goes a long way.

Is parking sufficient? Should we create a spot for vehicles to turn? Roofs should be clear of debris and drains and gutters should flow freely. It’s not rocket science: the more niggling points we can negate, the better.

Is our dock in good shape? Might power washing amplify its appeal? If there’s room for a sun lounger or two, so the floating platform reads as more than simply a place to tie up a boat, then all the better. Bearing in mind that summer is critical for cottagers, attendant bells and whistles should show at their absolute best.

Next up: siding. If that which you already have can be improved by cleaning or repainting, it’s definitely worth considering. The prospect of a job such as this, you see, isn’t viewed by potential buyers as simply a financial burden, it’s also considered a hassle. Remove this red flag, and you’ll sharpen your offering, making your cottage or cabin seem all the more appealing.

If considering full siding replacement, there are several contenders: from budget vinyl to pre-painted wood by companies such as Cape Cod, and from Vic West metal products to James Hardie cement fibre iterations, the choices are indeed various.

Alternatively, select specially milled timber (we’re devoted Western Red Cedar fans) from yards such as Haliburton Timber Mart or Muskoka Lumber, and paint, stain or varnish to suit your

cottage. Our favourite option? Classic board and batten, which is both cost effective and easy to install.

Internally, we suggest giving your home an informal health check to set buyers’ minds at rest. Sure, the likelihood is they’ll do their own reports, but a little clear thinking could make the

difference between multiple bids and solitary offers. Hire a plumber to check pipework, book an electrician to appraise the state of wiring and ensure gas lines are running clear and unblocked.

Decoratively, don’t feel pressured to begin from the top, though touching up paintwork will provide a freshened aesthetic on a budget, as will polishing floors and cleaning carpets. Ensure

access to windows remains clear, so potential buyers can wander your space whilst enjoying those tempting vistas at every turn.

Maximising yield, at sales time, comes down to setting atmosphere and showing the very best face your cottage or cabin can muster. Whilst it’s tempting to overspend (perpetually in search of optimized dollar yield), chances are your potential buyer will be satisfied with a well-cared for shell, into which he, she, or they can assemble life – and happy times – going forward.

Because that, surely, is what it’s all about.

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