What a Cottage Retirement Really Looks Like

You’ve always wanted to spend your golden years at the lake, but is cabin living really what it seems?

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Brian and Anne Carr had long planned to retire at their cottage on Three Mile Lake in the Muskoka region of Ontario. But after a cottage renovation and putting their city house on the market, Anne began to have doubts.

“We always had plenty of fun with our cottage neighbours in the summer but how many of them will be around in the winter?” she says. “It could get very lonely and during a heavy winter storm we could be snowed in for days.”

For those retirees who think ditching city life and retiring to a rural vacation property seems perfectly idyllic, be warned: Living in the country year-round isn’t the same as a few summer weeks at the cabin.

Everyday life would be so different from Brian’s busy years in law enforcement and Anne’s hectic schedule in the foodservice industry. Meanwhile, a renovation to the cottage was costly. “It was a lot more expensive than we thought it would be and our taxes increased,” says Anne.

For those retirees who think ditching city life and retiring to a rural vacation property seems perfectly idyllic, be warned: Living in the country year-round isn’t the same as a few summer weeks at the cabin.

“Cottage living can be a fulfilling and rewarding way to spend retirement at a slower pace,” says Christine Van Cauwenberghe, Vice-President of Tax and Estate Planning for Investors Group. “But Canadians should make this type of life transition with their eyes open and a strong understanding of the financial and lifestyle factors involved.”

Want to know whether cottage living is right for you? Here are a few things you can do before you decide to move.

Think about the practical

First, assess the practical issues that can impact your daily life. “How accessible is your property? If it’s remote in the summer, it could be completely inaccessible in the winter – and that’s especially important for those who may need access to specialized medical care,” says Van Cauwenberghe.

Routine visits to the doctor or dentist can be an issue if these services are far away. “If your cottage is two hours from medical assistance, that may not be a good thing.”

Meanwhile, expect to run into additional costs while maintaining a rural property. Snow removal and higher property taxes after renovations can be an issue. Sometimes, it’s costlier to get contractors, equipment and materials out to remote areas. Reliable businesses in smaller towns book up well in advance, so your damaged deck may have to wait.

Find ways to be social

Cottage country can be a lot quieter in the off season. Old friends can come visit, but you may need to house them for the weekend. Consider getting involved in your local community by joining clubs and attending social events.

Or do what the Carrs did: They found an apartment near their daughter’s house, who lived a few hours away. “We can spend time there whenever we want – to see the grandkids or to avoid winter loneliness and bad weather,” says Anne. “We have a terrific cottage in a beautiful area and the option of a more urban lifestyle whenever we want.”

Practice in advance

One surefire way to see if retiring to the cottage is for you is to spend a longer stretch at your second home in advance of a move. Or, if you’re thinking of purchasing a rural retirement property, rent before you buy at various times of the year to assess the weather, costs and local services.

Like with most things related to retirement, a little planning can go a long way.

“You could just up and move to your cottage and worry about the consequences later,” says Van Cauwenberghe. “Or you could take a more prudent course and sample a full-time cottage lifestyle before making your final decision.”

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