Cottage country and the need to work from home

As recent as two years ago, traveling to the cottage was an event reserved for the weekends and summer months. Now, thanks to the rise in remote working, more and more Canadians are taking their full-time nine-to-five jobs to cottage country.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of Canadians have migrated permanently to rural vacation markets, regions that have traditionally served as vacation and cottage hotspots. This heightened demand has sent recreational property prices higher and inventory lower, with multiple buyers competing for cottages that offer the ability to work from home in Canada’s picturesque countryside. For many, working remotely from the cottage is a decision not just driven by real estate prices, but also a change of pace.

“It’s a complete lifestyle change,” says Pauline Aunger, broker of record and REALTOR® at Royal LePage Advantage Real Estate in Smiths Falls, Ontario, and Past Chair of the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA).

“Instead of living in a condominium in a downtown, urban setting, or even something in a subdivision, you’re all of a sudden out where, when you wake up in the morning, you see loons and you see water. It really is truly a lifestyle, and it’s a community,” she added.

So, how has the rise in remote working changed Canada’s recreational markets?

Out-of-town and new remote workers
are pushing prices up

With remote working becoming more commonplace, home buyers are setting their sights on cottage country markets, a pattern fueling competition in some smaller communities.

Recreational markets such as Kenora and Lake of the Woods, for example, have seen exceptional price growth in the last year, where home values have climbed 339.72% and 116.73% yearly, according to data compiled by RE/MAX Canada. For the remainder of 2022, 76% of RE/MAX brokers and agents are expecting prices to climb another 20%.

RE/MAX Canada has reported young couples, families, retirees, and out-of-town buyers have been a primary driving force in the marketplace, a trend Aunger has also noticed in her local market. Relocating from urban regions to cottage markets, while it was already happening prior to the pandemic, took off with the arrival of remote working as purchasers like younger couples living in cities moved to more affordable cottage areas.

“The big picture is we’ve had the lowest inventory in the last two years, but we’re not making any more waterfront, so what we have is what we have,” said Aunger.

“There’s greater demand for it. We still have young families wanting entry-level cottages, and now you have retirees who have lived in the city, sold their homes, and they’re all heading to cottage country because it’s a lifestyle,” she added.

WiFi and cell phone reception
are more important than ever

Once you’re outside of a major urban area, internet connections and cell phone reception have a tendency to be spotty, so work-from-home buyers are focused on finding a home that easily connects them to the office.

Before widespread remote working, Aunger says WiFi connection wasn’t much of a priority for purchasers beyond checking email occasionally and some light streaming. Now, reliable and fast connection to cellular and internet services is of higher importance, especially if more than one person is working from home at a time. Telecommunications companies have been improving and expanding their coverage, which Aunger thinks will help to motivate people to move to cottage country.

“For a long time, even now, there were areas in all kinds of recreational properties that you couldn’t work from home. You’d have very poor internet [access]. You’d have very poor cell [coverage],” she said. “As all of those improve, it gives the ability for people buying them to work anywhere, and that’s really what people want to do now.”

Similar to non-recreational markets, cottages with a dedicated workspace are highly sought after by buyers. Purchasers tend to want a proper office space that isn’t part of the living room or kitchen, making these types of homes more desirable.

“Never until the last three years has anybody been looking for home offices,” said Aunger. “Now, everybody is asking, ‘Where’s the home office?’ Even if you’re only working evenings at home one day a week, everyone wants to have a designated office.”

Office reopenings create questions
for cottage dwellers

As pandemic restrictions recede, offices are now naturally open for full-time or flexible working hours. For buyers who might have relocated hours away from the pre-pandemic office, this leaves some unanswered questions about what will happen next.

If required to go back to the office, Aunger explains some buyers will be able to manage their commute just fine if they’re an hour or so away. For others who set up shop farther afield, this could lead to commuting challenges.

“It’s going to be very interesting because if you have to work now in your office two days a week or three days a week [and] if you bought too far away, it will be a challenge,” said Aunger.

If you’re planning on buying a home in one of Canada’s many cottage country markets, consult the advice of your local REALTOR® for the most up-to-date insights and trends.