Five years ago, Sarah Sklash, co-owner of the June Motel, visited Prince Edward County for the first time to attend a wine festival. On the car ride home, she knew it was the place for her and immediately began property shopping from the back seat.
Sklash remembers thinking at the time, “I don’t think I can ever afford a house in Toronto but I can possibly own something out here.” After three summers of working with a real estate agent, she finally found the diamond in the ruff — a now-unheard-of under $200,000 waterfront cottage. “Prince Edward County was a very different market back then,” she explains.
Sarah Sklash (left) and April Brown (right). Photo: Lauren Miller
Sklash splits her time between her cottage and the city, and many Millennials are following suit. Priced out of Toronto, they’re keeping their rentals and stepping on the first rung of the property ladder with recreational homes. The 2017 RE/MAX Recreational Property Report surveyed Canadians and discovered that almost two-thirds (65 percent) of Millennials (18 to 34 years old) expressed interest in purchasing a cottage, cabin or ski chalet in the next 10 years.
Sklash and her now-fiancé renovated the dated cottage on a budget, ripping out the shag carpets and refreshing the wood panelling with a coat of white paint. The ability to see the potential would come in handy when Sklash partnered with her best friend, April Brown, and got the keys to the June — at the time, a run-down motel by a different name that they lovingly restored into a stylish haven for wine lovers.
The RE/MAX report revealed that Millennials are finding unique ways to finance recreational properties, with nearly half (44 percent) saying they would purchase a property with a family member, while 39 percent would rent it out using a vacation rental site. The June Motel’s other half, April, recently purchased the Boho Bungalow — a cottage across the lake from Sklash — that Airbnb guests enjoy throughout the summer.
Rachel Kwan and her husband Jayar La Fontaine started their homebuying journey in 2016.
“Almost immediately, our first instinct was to buy out of Toronto,” Kwan explains. “We realized that we could get onto the property ladder with a house outside of Toronto, somewhere around the $350,000 to $400,000 range. We couldn’t even find a studio condo in Toronto for that price.”
They had both been working in agency jobs for a few years, but coming from graduate programs, hadn’t been earning long enough to accumulate the savings to justify Toronto’s hefty price tag.
For a year, they put aside the money for their fixed expenses like rent (still affordable, as they had been there for five years), then saved 40 percent of their combined incomes on financing the future country home — putting down 20 percent to avoid paying extra penalties on the mortgage.
The dream was realized last year in a four-bedroom, two-bathroom chalet-style property in Grey County.
“We love the home and we love the location. From the front window we can see all the way across the valley. You cannot get that in Toronto. Period.”
Kwan enjoys the duality of city and country life and considers both places to be home. “In Grey County, the mental load is lower and it’s absolutely gorgeous out here. Being in the city, I enjoy the diversity and convenience. I can go to a show tonight, a gallery, dine at my favorite restaurant. You have access to so much.”
Sklash shared similar sentiments: “When I bought the cottage, I was working in downtown Toronto and escaping to the waterfront retreat on the weekends. Now that my business is in the County, I enjoy the option to escape to the city — eat great Thai food, enjoy my condo.”
Boho Bungalow. Photo: Lauren Miller
Sklash plans to continue splitting her time between her downtown condo and the cottage. Eventually, Rachel and Jayar hope to drop the rental and transition their life to Grey County full-time.
“I run an online shop as part of my business, Jayar needs access to video conferencing. It was imperative that any property we bought was well serviced by telecommunications, which can become a challenge when you start looking in the country,” Kwan says.
Their Grey County real estate agent Eric Robertson noticed a significant migration of people from the city, in large part thanks to technological advances. “People can come up here and resume their normal lives. That has opened a lot of doors for prospective homeowners,” he says.
Grey County has long been a draw for the weekend crowd coming from the city to experience the great outdoors. The Bruce Trail, skiing, some of the best rock climbing you can find in Ontario, and cycling are just a few of the area’s many attractions. “People are visiting for recreational purposes, then seeing homes for sale that are $350,000. They think, hey, we can afford this,” Robertson explains.
Robertson has seen a drastic increase in the number of Millennials coming through his doors looking to get their start building home equity.
“Around 60 percent of my clients are retirees purchasing affordable homes with the equity of their home’s sale. Then there are the first-time homebuyers who are renting in the city, or even living with their parents, and purchasing here.”
Robertson explains the unique buildings are an especially large draw for Millennials — old school houses, churches, century homes, chalets and farms. Old storefronts are also becoming popular to the Millennial crowd who are turning their hobbies into businesses.
“People here are really open to younger folks coming in with an entrepreneurial perspective and contributing to the rebuild of the local economy,” Kwan explains, noting the community as one of the major draws for her. “So long as you make an effort, you will experience camaraderie — the feeling that everyone is in it together — supporting one another and supporting our businesses.”