So you want to buy a cabin? Our journey to buy our cabin / cottage started about 24 years ago and we bought in 2001. Here is a summary of some of the steps we took, and things we looked for, before we bought our cabin. Firstly, it took us 3 to 4 years to realize what kind of cabin or cottage we wanted. We lived in North Vancouver at that time, and we knew from our own research that prices were starting to climb, and only would continue. Unfortunately, the baby boomers, a group we are included in, is continuing to drive that trend. Fortunately, there are still some properties available. But they are in more remote locations, unless you are willing to compromise.
So you still want to buy a cabin? Here are the 5 top tips for buying a cabin based on our own buy cabin experience:
1) Location – Decide on your ideal location with some room for compromise
As usual, location plays a huge part. But that includes distance from your primary residence, as well as type of location you are looking for. Do you want to travel by car, or have to boat in, or even fly there? How long will it take realistically to get there, and how does that affect your time away and frequency you can use it. Do you want waterfront or is a cabin in the woods sufficient. If so, how near to water do you want to be? What other amenities do you want close by? Would you prefer being near an ocean or a lake?
2) Know what you really want and don’t want
For us, we didn’t know what we wanted. So we did 4 summers of test runs. We rented a cabin or cottage in a different location each time. The first was a waterfront ocean property in Power River. Next was a lakefront cabin on an Island (St. Mary’s Lake on Salt Spring Island). Third was an off the grid cabin on Okanagan Lake and fourth was a cottage on Heffley Lake in the interior BC. These were all within 4-5 hours of travel time from North Vancouver. That seemed to be the maximum recommended travel time to allow the family to still have useable time on a weekend.
With each of these ‘test runs’ we got to see what we liked more, whether it was being on a quiet lake, or on a larger lake, on the ocean or even on an island. There were a lot of questions to get answered:
Did we like the ferry travel or just taking the car? How long did it take us to get there and how did the family survive the trip, including pets? Were there extra costs, e.g. ferry?
Did we want full conveniences or was off the grid okay? Did we prefer lake swimming or ocean swimming? Was fishing a requirement? How clean was the water? Was a little ‘green’ okay? How big of a lake and how close would the nearest neighbors be? How big was the lot itself?
Was it a newer building or how much maintenance would there be? Was there a fire hazard or was the lot groomed? Were there any start up costs, cleanup, clearing or repairs? How much ongoing work would there be, e.g. access to firewood, water, sewer, garbage removal, road repair, etc.? What kind of services were included?
What was the access, by boat or by road? Would we share the access? Were there any right of ways?
Of course, you also need to ask yourself how big of a cabin or cottage do you need for your family and what other purposes might it have? Do you want to rent it out when not in use? Will you need to work remotely while there?
And of course, how much can you afford? Would a timeshare property work for you? Or a cabin not right on the water? Maybe a lot alone would work with you adding a trailer? Are you willing to sacrifice in other areas to buy the property you want?
Lastly, how comfortable are you with a remote location and with the potential wildlife. I carry bear spray with me at all times when outdoors. Is that something you could see yourself doing?
Lots to consider! Hopefully you will have already thought about some of these things and made a list of your own requirements and nice to haves. That will speed things up for you.
3) Is going off the grid an option? Be truthful with yourself
How big a deal for you is going off the grid? Fortunately having grown up on a farm, I was fine with the off the grid experience, and in fact wanted our kids to experience that for themselves. The experience of being off the grid was new and exciting for us as a family early on. I liked to call it a form of glamping since we still had the luxury of real beds and a roof over our head. But yet the rest felt like a camping trip. I have added a separate page on this site about our cabin set up (see link further down).
Being off the grid does limit your ability to work remotely. However, we found that the down time and the ability to unplug has helped our family get into relax mode much more quickly. Especially when the kids were younger, the video games eventually would run out of batteries and out came the board games. More outdoor time spent swimming or fishing was an easy switch, once the temptation to watch TV and use electronics was no longer there.
Going off the grid has meant we had to get up to speed with some technical aspects of propane stoves, fridges, solar panels and batteries, etc. We have tried to simplify these aspects as much as possible over the years, so that there is less maintenance to it all. There is no point installing an expensive solar system if you are still working full time and can’t get there more than a few weeks or weekends each year. Also, since technology keeps improving, it isn’t long before you can get better and cheaper equipment to the do the same job.
You might want to read my Country Living article called Off The Grid Cabin. This might give you some insights into what it’s all about.
Getting back to basics grounds us for what is really important. As we have gotten older, we have tried to simplify our lives as much as possible. Now that we are both retired, we are looking at potential improvements since we know we will be out there more. We have hired people to work on the bigger renos or maintenance projects. As well, we have been able to add more basic comforts, such as an indoor shower. Recently, we even purchased a new more expensive mattress to duplicate the one in town, so we are completely comfortable in either location. We have also invested some effort and had trees removed that blocked a lot of sun on our deck. This improved our solar set up quite a bit.
Selecting an off the grid property may help you get what you want at a lower price. Often the lack of paved road access is a barrier for some folks. Also, prices tend to go up faster where there is better transportation. By purchasing a property that is a bit more remote, before the transportation is improved, you will likely get a better price and you may have less competition.
4) Research what’s out there and what is coming up for sale
Start watching the market weekly. I think I was logging and watching new listings each week for about a year, and monthly before that for a couple years. This helped to see what is going on in the market and where prices are changing faster. Once we started narrowing down what we wanted and we were still convinced we wanted a recreational property, I started looking more frequently. A lot of properties were just too expensive, or were too much like a house. Or in many cases the lake was too green or it was just too far away.
You need to make an effort to watch the market each week, otherwise you will miss that one great listing. When it comes up, you go for it!
5) BE READY to purchase
In our case we had been approved for a Line of Credit ahead of time. In many cases, you can’t get a mortgage on a recreational property, especially if it doesn’t have services or if its land only. So you need to either buy with cash or a line of credit.
When that right property comes up you need to be able to move fast. There is no time for being wishy washy. In our case, I saw the new listing on Vancouver Island and called the realtor right away. He said that a previous offer had just fallen through due to financing. We went over to see it that weekend and made the offer the same day. Luckily with a little negotiation it was accepted. Those previous buyers tried to come back with another offer but it was too late.
I hope these 5 tips will give you some insight into the process to buy your dream cabin or cottage, and how you can prepare yourselves to act quickly when the right one comes up.
By now you may have seen my post with more recent photos of our cabin: Our Cabin in the Woods.
As mentioned, I have also added details about our cabin setup here: Country Living Off The Grid.
Even now, over 20 years later, because we took the time to test out the different locations and figure out what we really wanted, we can still feel confident that we chose the right cabin for our family 🙂
I hope you enjoyed this post, “So you want to buy a cabin?” I would love to hear your comments or answer any questions you might have.