The Cottage Next Door Con’t

RenovationsBy Pamela Steel

Some days everyone just needs to get away from it all. That’s when the cottage, the ultimate family retreat, comes in.

But when you already live in Cottage Country, getting away from it all means getting away from the place people are fighting traffic to get to in the summer.

Who leaves Muskoka in the summer?

Not the growing number of people who live here and have chosen to cottage here as well.

One family in Port Sydney, a village roughly halfway between Huntsville and Bracebridge, bought a cottage right next door to their home on the Muskoka River. On weekends they would be “at the cottage,” and unavailable for visits or by phone. Despite the proximity to their home, it was a three-minute walk for one door to the other, the family turned it into a retreat.

The Musselman family travel a little further to get to their home-away-from-home.

Last spring they purchased a cottage 6.7 kilometres away from their Port Sydney home. The cottage is in the neighbouring community of Utterson on Mainhood Lake.

It’s a busy life for the family of four, and time was a big factor in deciding to cottage close by.

“We didn’t want to go too far away,” says Kathy Musselman. “We didn’t want to have to travel for hours. Our family, our parents are in Huntsville and we wanted it to be close for them to come to. We wanted to make sure they didn’t have a long drive.”

It’s also convenient for their friends to visit for dinner, a dip or a hot tub.

Kathy is a Huntsville girl, and husband Scott is from St. Catharines, but his family cottage was always on Penn Lake and he made the permanent move to Muskoka 18 years ago.

For him, a Muskoka cottage was the only way to go.

Sue Steven’s story is a lot like Scott’s. She grew up in the Beach area of Toronto, but her family cottaged on the Muskoka River, directly across from the home she now shares with husband Rory and their two children.

But most weekends and during holidays, if you want to find them, they’re at the family cottage on Mary Lake, just down the road.

It may only be a 10-minute drive, but it’s a world away. It’s a haven where lazy days are spent at the dock and a sunset swim is part of the package.

Not that the Muskoka River isn’t right out the back door of their home. But when you’re living the good life, why leave?

The downside of owning two properties however is twice the maintenance. The Stevens are currently renovating both their home and the family cottage and the Musselmans did a major cottage reno this winter and spring at the same time as redoing their home kitchen.

“It has been very hectic,” says Kathy. “Overwhelming at times.”

But she says, they wanted to just get it done – all at once.

The Stevens home is a century-old work-in-progress that has been under some sort of renovation since they bought it about seven years ago.

The cottage, owned by Sue’s parents, is large and there’s always something to be done. Since Rory is a contractor, he’s the go-to-guy for the new roof, new deck and assorted projects that come up on a regular basis.

As any home or cottage owner knows, there’s more than work to renovation, there’s money.

The Musselmans plan to rent the cottage out for part of the summer to offset the costs. Again, being close by is handy.

“We knew when we bought the cottage that we were going to rent it part of the time,” says Kathy. “This way I can help onsite. If something happened with the renters, we’re only 6.7 kilometres away. It’s 10 minutes. No stop lights.”

They rent the property out through an agent at Water’s Edge Cottage Rentals, which handles cottages throughout Muskoka, Haliburton and Georgian Bay.

Laurie Lima, a representative of Water’s Edge said the Musselmans aren’t their first client to live near their cottage.

“We do have a few that have their places next door or that live nearby. I think (being close) makes it easier for them,” she says.

She has spoken to cottage owners who like the area where they live and think a cottage property close at hand is a good investment. They rent the property out to help pay for renovations and upgrades.

Others, she says, may not live on the water, but buy a waterfront property near their home with plans to retire there.

In the end, it’s about kicking back.

“Do you know what? When we drive down the hill to the lot, it’s just heaven, it’s so beautiful,” says Kathy. “Your shoulders go down … and we’re here – we’re at the cottage.”

Just minutes from leaving home. Then she turns to the kids and says, “The drive’s over; next time you can ride your bike.”

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