As Canada enters its second summer cottage season during the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for rentals and sales has continued to surge across the country. You might even say prices for time up north are certainly… heading north, and staying there.
Phil Soper, president and CEO of Royal LePage Real Estate Services, says that while sales weren’t frenetic last spring, rentals were.
“It was one of the few things people could do in the pandemic. People who might have gone abroad or hopped across the country found that if they were going to have a family vacation, it was going to be close to home,” he says.
One of the unexpected trends that took place last year and is continuing into 2021 is the difficulty in finding property, leading Canadians to book well in advance, says Soper.
“The concept of deciding on a Wednesday that you want to go away for the weekend and finding a property … (is) almost impossible, unless you’re lucky enough to find a last-minute cancellation,” he says.
Soper thinks this summer will likely be another “close-to-home summer” as provincial and federal governments will caution Canadians on travelling back and forth.
COVID-19 restrictions and travel limitations continue to vary and change across the country as more Canadians get vaccinated.
In Ontario, the province recently released a new three-phase reopening plan. British Columbia is also set to roll out a four-step reopening plan, with more details on travelling within the province expected to come. Alberta also recently announced its Open For Summer plan.
Dr. Anna Banerji, associate professor at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine in Toronto, previously told Global News that Canadians still need to remain vigilant as COVID-19 remains prevalent.
“(If) you have one person in a unit or cabin, or (one) family in a unit or cabin, that’s a lot safer than having a whole bunch of different households in one cabin,” says Banerji.
If there is more than one household in a cabin, Banerji says the chance of getting COVID-19 is much higher.
The next question families would have to ask themselves is if their kids are vaccinated, she says, adding if kids have at least one dose, it drastically reduces the risk of a potential outbreak.
“If they’re not vaccinated and multiple households are staying in one cabin, then that obviously increases the risk of outbreaks.”
Ken Turner of Kawartha Cottage Vacations says they are being inundated with people wanting to rent cottages.
“We can’t give them any answers because the government’s put a stop to all short-term rentals. So, it’s very frustrating,” he says.
While the agency is taking reservations, it is not writing out any cottage rental agreements until it is given the green light by the Ontario government.
Last year was the best year the agency had as Canadians sought cottage vacations due to COVID-19 restrictions, but with the uncertainty of shutdowns and reopening plans this year, he says it’s been much more difficult.
On the safety of renting cottages, Turner says his owners have been conscious of following COVID-19 rules and regulations set out by the government.
He points to the Victoria Day long weekend as an example, where they had reservations in place, but ended up having to cancel due to the stay-at-home order.
“Our policy is that if they’re cancelled because of government restrictions, we move them to another rental within a year at pretty much any time, but usually it’s within the same time period that they rent,” says Turner.
Additionally, owners of cottages have also continued to advise visitors to do things like bring groceries from home rather than going into towns to purchase them.
Ahead of summer 2021, Turner says they are about 95 per cent reserved, and while there are new cottage owners adding listings to their sites, the inventory remains low right now.
When it comes to purchasing cottages, Soper says that during 2020 the purchasing market was down, but as the pandemic persisted, more Canadians found interest in buying property in cottage country.
“Light bulbs went on and they said, ‘I’m going to be working from home for some time, I can live anywhere,’” he says.
“We saw this huge increase in the number of people migrating from say, southern Ontario to Atlantic Canada, which is something that happens in small numbers every year but not to the extent we saw last year.”
According to Soper, the price appreciation of property in urban settings was the lowest during COVID-19, while the price appreciation for property in suburban, rural and smaller city settings soared.
“Suddenly you saw this huge flood of buyers from the cities looking at recreational property in a new way … as the place where they’re going to take all their vacations, as opposed to going abroad, or even as a permanent residence,” he says.
Even in the winter months, there was a huge rush of buying interest in cottage country as many people were experiencing an overwhelming fear of missing out.
When it comes to advice for Canadians searching to rent or buy cottages, Soper emphasizes avoiding getting caught up in the hysteria.
Soper says he doesn’t see cottage prices falling, due to baby boomers retiring and millennials looking to create a cottage lifestyle for their children.
“It’s highly unlikely that cottage prices will drop precipitously…. Over the next five to 10 years, you’re going to see prices climb but nothing like what we’ve seen over the past 12 months,” he says.
“Advice to buyers: Take a chill pill. There will be another cottage that comes along, this is not the last opportunity.”
Turner adds while restrictions remain uncertain amid the pandemic, he hopes that COVID-19 has opened the public up to the greatness of Canadian cottage country.
He says tourism has been good for small towns, villages and cottage country overall, and looking forward, he hopes people will still plan to visit.
“A lot of people take their money and go to Italy, Spain…. And during this COVID-19 time period, a lot of that money has been spent in cottage country,” he says.
“Hopefully cottage country will become more prevalent in people’s minds regarding vacations.”