Editor’s note: Robert Bruss is temporarily away. The following column from Bruss’ “Best of” collection first appeared Sunday, July 2, 2006.
Just in time for the peak summer season for buying and selling vacation cottages, Douglas Hunter wrote the ultra-complete “The Cottage Ownership Guide.” When I first spotted this well-designed book in a major bookstore, I thought perhaps it was about architectural styles of small homes. Wrong. Instead, it explains virtually every aspect of buying, owning and selling summer waterfront cottages.
Never having owned a summer home, but having enjoyed many visits to cottages owned by friends and relatives, until studying this book I didn’t realize all the possible pitfalls buyers can encounter unless they understand the major considerations of buying a summer home. Equally important, sellers of vacation cottages can learn from this book what smart buyers will demand before purchase.
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Although the book primarily takes the viewpoint of prospective cottage buyers, heavy emphasis is placed on the income-tax aspects for both buyers and sellers. The book begins with buyer “needs” and “wants” lists, including driving-distance considerations, and even possible plans for permanent, year-round living during retirement.
If the book has a flaw it is that author Douglas Hunter is Canadian and he constantly over-emphasizes the Canadian taxation and ownership laws. While it is interesting to learn the differences between U.S. and Canadian laws, by the end of the book the U.S. reader becomes thoroughly convinced owning a Canadian vacation cottage offers few benefits and many drawbacks for U.S. citizens.
However, most of the book applies to buyers and sellers of virtually all vacation cottages. Approximately half of the book is devoted to locating a suitable area for acquiring a vacation cottage. After the search narrows down to a specific area and a specific cottage, Hunter explains details of what to look for because buying such a property is much different than purchasing an urban house or condominium.
The author warns cottage buyers to be aware the listing agent primarily represents the seller and, unless buyers hire their own buyer’s agent, they are unrepresented. He also notes the potential problems with buying direct from a seller who might not be aware of all the defect disclosure requirements.
Heavy emphasis is placed on the buyer obtaining a current survey of the property to be certain there are no encroachments or other undisclosed problems. Then the investigation moves on to having a professional inspection of the cottage, with special attention to the water supply and septic system. The author even explains the pros and cons of buying a “tear-down” cottage and the frequent difficulty of building new to comply with today’s local zoning and construction requirements.
Unique methods of financing the purchase of a vacation cottage are explained, but without great detail. Hunter suggests contacting local mortgage lenders who are familiar with the area and are often anxious to originate local mortgages. He even explains the tax consequences of deducting mortgage interest on a second home.
Unexpected in this book are the very complete discussions of sharing cottage ownership with friends or relatives, possible pitfalls to anticipate and resolve, and even the pros and cons of renting the cottage to tenants when it is not being used by the owner. The book also contains unanticipated discussions about using a cottage as a year-round retirement home, and the possible drawbacks of passing a vacation cottage on to adult children.
Chapter topics include “Getting Started”; “Choosing Your Lake or River”; “The Property Search Process”; “Taking a Test Drive”; “The Property Survey”; “Inspecting the Cottage”; “Buying a Lot or Tear-Down”; “Financing the Cottage Purchase”; “Sharing a Cottage”; “Renting Out Your Cottage”; “Selling Your Cottage”; “Relocating to Vacation Country”; and “Handing Down the Cottage.”
This one-of-a-kind book reveals virtually everything a vacation-cottage buyer needs to know before making a purchase offer. It is a well-designed book, which is easy reading. Yet it is very complete in its coverage of the unique considerations vacation-cottage buyers need to know. On my scale of one to 10, this outstanding book rates a solid 10.
“The Cottage Ownership Guide,” by Douglas Hunter (Cottage Life Books, Buffalo, N.Y.), 2006, $35.00; 248 pages; available in stock or by special order at local bookstores, public libraries and www.Amazon.com.
(For more information on Bob Bruss publications, visit his
Real Estate Center).