Living

Cottage rental 101

Hints to help you find the perfect place to spend your summer vacation

Ah, the lure of the cottage: the haunting call of the loons, the laughter of children at play in cool, clear waters. This could be heaven – if you play your cards right, that is. Get it wrong, and your blissful escape could go the way of a National Lampoon movie. Read on for helpful hints designed to make your cottage-renting fantasy a reality.

According to Zac Gribble, founder of cottagesincanada.com, it’s possible to find the cottage of your dreams if you first map out what that halcyon escape looks like. Think through everything, from door-to-door travel time to the number of beds you’ll need to the nightlife you’re looking for, he says. “Rank your wish list according to most and least important, a method that will help you refine your search for a cottage tailored to your specific needs.”

Sample checklist:
• How much time in the car with the kids is too much? (A question critical to narrowing your geographic search.)
• How many people can be accommodated? (Don’t forget to include any overnight guests you may want to invite along.)
• Is cellphone reception essential?
• Are pets welcome, or will you have to board Fido?
• Is road access imperative, or is a boat-in cottage OK?
• Is it important to have a TV and DVD player?
• Are bed linens included, and, if so, what material are they made of, and are they cleaned after every rental? (An important question if you have family members with allergies.)
• How far is the closest hospital?
• How close are amenities such as groceries, gas and restaurants?
• Is it a non-smoking cabin?

That depends. The $1,500 you spent for one week in a modest two-bedroom cottage in ritzy Muskoka would rent you a veritable mansion in rural Saskatchewan. But in most cottage areas nationwide, $1,000-$1,200 per week is a good starting point for a basic (read no hot tubs or air conditioning) waterfront house large enough for a family of four within 2.5 hours of most cities.

• Ask the owner to delineate when high season begins and ends. Booking the week before or after peak season can translate into serious savings. If budgets are tight, you might also want to consider the shoulder seasons, says Gribble. “Autumn in northern Ontario is beautiful. And winter-storm watching has created a booming business in Tofino, B.C.”
• Keep in mind that the farther you get from major urban centres, the lower the cost. In fact, driving an extra hour can score you deals as low as $800 for a seven-night stay, so rent the kids a few flicks and a portable DVD player and hit the highway.
• A big part of the cottage experience is derived from recreation on, in and around the water. That’s why you’ll want to pay particular attention to the conditions of the lake or ocean surrounding your prospective cottage. A few things to look into before you book:
• What kind of lake is it? Muck between the toes may earn a definitive “no way” from some, but for frog catchers and duck feeders, marshy waters are a dream come true. Similarly, while a sandy, shallow shoreline is safer for little kids, your teens may prefer jumping off rocks carved from Canadian Shield.
• How big is the lake? Smaller lakes and ocean inlets tend to be warmer than bigger expanses of water, but they’re also less dramatic to look at.
• How busy is the lake or waterfront? While the presence of speedboats, windsurfers and kayaks is a boon to some, it’s a big deterrent if you’re a loon lover.
• How well is the cottage equipped for water sports? Are canoes, kayaks, boats and life jackets provided?

Seeing is believing, so if at all possible, arrange to meet the owner at the rental before you sign on the dotted line. If a visit is out of the question, ask if the cottage has a CAA or Canada Select rating, two of the most common industry-wide quality-control measures. If it doesn’t, you may want to ask for references from past cottagers (if renting directly from the owner) or ask to see testimonials (if renting from an agency).