House Hunting in Canada: A Lakeside Super-Cottage in the Muskoka District

House Hunting in Canada: A Lakeside Super-Cottage in the Muskoka District


This 7.1-acre property, with more than 1,000 feet of frontage on Manitouwabing Lake, sits 15 miles east of Parry Sound and near the Muskoka district, a lake-dotted vacation haven about two and a half hours north of Toronto, Ontario.

The wooded property is anchored by a five-bedroom cedar-shingle cottage built in 2007, and includes a detached two-car garage and a private dock.

The 10,185-square-foot house is reached down a long driveway bracketed by pine, oak and maple trees to a clearing and a porte-cochere with exposed trusses. Massive barn-style doors flanked by tall glass panes open to a broad foyer and a sitting area facing a floor-to-ceiling double-sided fireplace of cultured stone. The walls, ceilings and exposed trusses throughout are clad in pine; the floors in much of the house are hemlock.

“We call it a traditional Muskoka cottage,” said Jess Kaye, an agent with Cayman Marshall International Realty, which has the listing. (Cottage can mean anything from a chalet to a bungalow.)

Beyond the fireplace, a two-story great room is accentuated by huge windows and glass doors overlooking the lake. “You walk in and get the full drama of the house,” said Brian Gluckstein, the interior designer. Down-filled sofas and comfy chairs “add a very informal, relaxed look,” and the powder-room mirror has an antler surround. The house is being sold furnished.

The kitchen and dining room share a wood-beam ceiling. Dividing the spaces is a square center island with a granite countertop, stained dark wood cabinets, a microwave drawer and a wine refrigerator. A wood-topped dining table with upholstered seating for 10 is illuminated by a handcrafted iron chandelier.

Left of the great room, barn doors slide open to a media room with built-ins on one end and a wall of windows on the other. A granite-tiled hallway from the kitchen leads to a mud room and a second front entrance. To the rear, glass doors open to the “Muskoka room,” a broad screened-in porch with living and dining areas, a granite floor, hanging lights and heaters.

The first-floor main suite has an office, a walk-in closet and a bathroom with wood vanities on opposite walls, leading to a free-standing tub in a glassy alcove with lake views. The bedroom has a propane fireplace, built-in cupboards and glass doors to a private terrace overlooking the dock and lake.

An open half-turn staircase ascends to a mezzanine overlooking the foyer and great room. Three en suite bedrooms on this level have wood-beam accents, vaulted ceilings and lake views.

On the lower level, a carpeted guest suite opens to a granite path with steps down to a hot tub. A changing room next to the gym has a shower and a sauna.

The backyard has four levels, each “with a different use and perspective,” Mr. Gluckstein said, from a terrace with rough-hewed granite slabs down to an L-shaped dock accommodating a 28-foot boat. Chairs and a fire pit are close to the water, with a few more steps down to a small private beach. “You don’t have a neighbor anywhere except across the lake,” Ms. Kaye said.

The house is a two-minute drive or boat ride across Manitouwabing Lake to the Ridge at Manitou Golf Club. Bed-and-breakfasts, cottage resorts and summer camps are also nearby. Water sports and hiking dominate in summer; cross-country skiing is favored in winter. The town of Parry Sound has quaint shops and seafood bistros. With numerous towns and some 1,600 lakes, the Muskoka district is rich with restaurants, art galleries, heritage museums and craft breweries. Toronto Pearson International Airport is 140 miles south.

The bucolic Muskoka district, part of Ontario’s “cottage country,” has long been a summer destination for Toronto residents, as well as foreigners. Starting in the late 1800s, owners of Pennsylvania steel mills began building summer homes on Lake Muskoka, populating the area with 20-bedroom cottages and creating a playground for American industrialists.

“This area has been the crème de la crème, the gem since cottages became popular,” said Cameron White, a sales representative with Chestnut Park Real Estate, an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate.

Todd Adair, founder and president of Cayman Marshall International Realty, called 2020 “the best year ever” for the housing market there, with homes under 5 million Canadian dollars ($4.13 million) “selling very fast while they are exclusive — before we even go to the market.”

This year “will be as good or better,” Mr. Adair predicted, so long as inventory, which diminished during the recent feeding frenzy, bounces back and foreigners return to the market post-pandemic.

Despite rumblings about a plateau, Mr. White said he recently completed a deal on a house on Lake Muskoka that had 15 offers. In the past, he said, prices increased “perhaps 1 or 2 percent a year.” After Covid-19 hit last winter, the Canadian government banned traveling to view real estate, which delayed the 2020 spring season. The pent-up demand exploded in the fall, pushing prices up by 30 percent from September through November.

Since the market picked up again this February, earlier than usual, “it’s been crazy,” Mr. White said. “The housing market is the strongest I have ever seen.”

Lakefront properties are “very few and far between,” Mr. Adair said. Muskoka’s three main lakes — Lake Muskoka, Lake Joseph and Lake Rosseau — are the most coveted spots for a second home.

In April, the median price for a residential waterfront property was 890,000 Canadian ($736,000), a record and a 70.5 percent increase over April 2020, according to data from the Lakelands Association of Realtors, a local realtor board covering much of Ontario’s cottage country.

Residential nonwaterfront property sales also jumped, though not quite as dramatically. Transactions more than doubled from April 2020, and the median price reached 580,000 Canadian ($480,000), up 46 percent year over year. “We are seeing a bump, but not to the same degree on recreational homes or riverfront that don’t have the same access to water,” said Ross Halloran, a broker and senior vice president of sales at Halloran & Associates, an affiliate of Sotheby’s International Realty Canada.

As the pandemic set in, buyers sought turnkey or recently built homes, Mr. Halloran said. As inventory depleted, they shifted to cottages to renovate or tear down, or island homes only accessible by boat. With lumber prices more than doubling and builders booked into 2022 and 2023, those investing in vacant land are land banking, holding it for future use.

“Because of Covid, people want to buy or build four-season cottages,” Mr. Halloran said. “Last year, it was three-season.”

New home construction is also “booming,” Mr. Adair said: “Spec homes are constantly being built.” And rentals are soaring, with cottages fetching 20,000 to 50,000 Canadian dollars ($16,500 to $41,000) a week.

Covid-19 may have accelerated the move to cottage country, Mr. Halloran said, but major infrastructure grants made it possible. In the past year, 5G internet connectivity and new cell towers “eliminated the final objection to moving north full time,” he said. “If they have a year-round cottage or a three-season and winterize it, they are ready to go.”

Added Mr. Adair, “People made lifestyle changes, and I don’t think they are temporary. You don’t invest $10 million to sell once you have your vaccine.”

Most Muskoka buyers come from Toronto, though the region “has become a world-class destination,” Mr. White said, noting that buyers also come from Europe and Israel.

Others are expatriates with family still in Canada, or those from Asian, including investors “looking to monetize property and rent it out” or have an “event venue,” Mr. Halloran said.

Americans represent about 10 percent of buyers in Muskoka, said Mr. Halloran, and they “are starting to come back” to Canada in the wake of Covid-19 travel restrictions, said Mr. Adair.

There are no restrictions on foreign buyers. The Muskoka district, except for the cities of Orillia and Barrie, is not affected by Ontario’s 15 percent Nonresident Speculation Tax.

Many buyers pay cash, but mortgages are available for Americans putting at least 25 percent down, Mr. Adair said.

Buyers pay a land transfer tax based on 2.5 percent of the property’s value. Variable costs run another 1 percent. Lawyer fees in Muskoka are about 5,000 Canadian ($4,100), Mr. Adair said.

English, French; Canadian dollar (1 CDN = $0.83)

Property taxes on this house were 14,667 Canadian dollars ($12,100) in 2017, the most recent year available.

Todd Adair, Cayman Marshall International Realty, 705-787-1611;

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