By J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Ray Ferris has been a realtor in Norfolk County for 25 years, but last month he experienced a rarity – he sold a cottage in January.
“Generally in January, we don’t experience any sales. It’s too cold, the cottages are winterized, the plumbing isn’t on, making home inspections difficult,” said Ferris, broker of record at Erie’s Edge Real Estate.
But this year, realtors have made “a couple of sales, or maybe more, in both Long Point and Turkey Point.”
Driven by sustained demand from urbanites fleeing the city, prices of Lake Erie cottages are shooting up as supply dwindles, continuing a trend from early in the pandemic.
“Our inventory is the lowest I’ve ever experienced in my 25 years as a realtor in Long Point,” Ferris said. “Last year, we had the highest level of sales in Long Point in my life.”
Ferris said buyers’ priorities have changed during the pandemic.
“I think they’re realizing life is short, and you’ve got to enjoy some of the finer things in life when you can,” he said.
“But more so, the real big trend that we’re seeing is people who are located in the city, without a big backyard or worse yet, in a small condo, just want to get out of the city and have some space of their own.”
The first question he gets from prospective buyers is whether they can get reliable internet by the beach.
“They’re asking me that because they want to live and work at the cottage,” Ferris said. “One thing that we learned for sure last year, during the pandemic, is people are able to work from home.”
Lakeside rental properties are also being reserved earlier than usual this year. Private cottage owners tell Ferris they are “booked solid already all summer.”
“With regards to rentals, people are still uncertain as to whether or not they’re going to be able to travel this summer,” he said, explaining that urbanites are instead planning closer trips within Ontario.
Some cottagers have taken their properties off the market, opting to stay home themselves.
Ferris mentioned one client, a Toronto banker, who used to rent out his cottage but now lives there year round, drawn by the beach, walking trails through nearby provincial parks, and opportunities to take his family ice fishing.
“So because he’s using it more often, his cottage is no longer available for rent,” Ferris said.
There has not yet been the same booking frenzy at bed and breakfasts in Haldimand-Norfolk.
Bernadine Lutes, owner of Carrousel Bed and Breakfast in Cayuga, says she has guests pencilled in for the May long weekend and a September wedding, but otherwise her calendar is empty.
“Normally I am busy from May to October. Every weekend is booked,” she said.
But last summer – once she was allowed to open in June _ she only had a few bookings, including a couple on a cycling trip and visitors from Kingston and Ottawa who board horses in Haldimand County.
“It was basically people from Ontario,” Lutes said. “I really am hoping that this summer will be a little more open. I just don’t think we’ll have big crowds.”
Business suffered from the dearth of cross-border tourism and a lack of racing events at nearby Jukasa Speedway and Cayuga International Dragway Park. Her best customers were long-term tenants working at the Stelco steelworks and Esso refinery in Nanticoke.
Lutes said her fellow proprietors – those who didn’t skip last season altogether – also saw sluggish occupancy.
“A lot of my group didn’t want to open at all. They were scared,” said Lutes, who chairs the Ontario South Coast Bed and Breakfast Association.
On paper, the association has 17 members, but with some retiring and others still mulling their options, Lutes isn’t sure how many will try their luck this summer.
“I’m wondering that myself – how many are going to open?” she said.
“I think if things open up a bit, since people are getting vaccinated, they may be willing to start taking (bookings). But I don’t think we’re going to be that busy.”