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Livin' the good life

July 26, 2010 - 10 comments
I'm sitting on the side deck of our comfortable, modern two-bedroom, Muskoka-style cottage ready to attack a mystery novel, sipping a glass of chardonnay. My only worry on this day is whether I've applied a suitable amount of sun block. While April 13 may seem a little early to be soaking up cottage-country rays, the warmth of the afternoon sun is trapped on the porch, making a liar of the thermometer and tricking me into thinking that we've skipped spring and jumped straight into summer.

And as I look around, it's all mine - sort of. We get to enjoy spring, the other three seasons and a bonus summer week with the five-week fractional-ownership package we purchased a few years back at the Bayview Wildwood Resort's Cottages at Port Stanton development.

Started in 2003, the Cottages at Port Stanton bills itself as the closest fractional ownership project to Toronto - a 90-minute drive. With "unbeatable views" of Sparrow Lake and the surrounding rugged Canadian Shield countryside, we have been able to appreciate "the joys of lakeside living" pretty much as advertised since April 2004.

Is fractional ownership for you? Before we bought into Port Stanton, my wife and I, now both in our 50s, hadn't really given the idea much thought. I suppose fractional ownership seemed like something intended for other people - with lots of money.

Up until about six years ago our vacation experience was split between "car camping" at various provincial parks and booking inexpensive hotel accommodation. Then, the need to escape the day-to-day grind of work and, additionally, take a break from caring for aging parents began to get to us and so we decided to spoil ourselves with a three-day/two-night package at a family resort north of Orillia known as the Wild Echo Bay Lodge.

Looking across Sparrow Lake on a snowy Friday night, we detected some building activity and decided to check into it. We were thinking at the time it was a timeshare and we expected the stereotypical hard sell associated with those places - but instead got the soft sell. And we were sold. The Cottages at Port Stanton rose on the site where Wild Echo Bay Lodge used to be.

We soon learned the difference between timeshares and fractional ownership. These units were the latter.

It turns out, the idea of sharing resources to purchase a vacation property has been around for years. As far as formalizing such arrangements in a commercial form, timesharing preceded fractional ownership. The first timeshares were apparently offered at a ski resort based in the French Alps in the sixties.

The fractional-property industry in North American didn't really get going until the early 1990s, beginning at ski resorts in Colorado and other Rocky Mountains states.

So what's the difference?

A timeshare is a right to the use of a property. Timeshares can be resold to another party as time, not as traditional real estate. On the other hand, fractional ownership (generally defined as a percentage share of an asset) can be resold, as fractional ownership conveys title of land.

As far as usage of the property, there are different schemes - fixed periods, floating dates and blends of both. A fractional share gives the owners certain privileges, such as a number of days or weeks when they can use the property.

For me, fractional ownership works just great. Here's how:

• Disciplined me to take holidays

According to a Decima Harris research poll done last year, nearly one-quarter of employed Canadians report not taking all of their vacation days. This translates into 34-million unused days in Canada overall, representing about $6.03-billion in labour donated to employers. I am not inclined to work for free.

• Gets me away from the phone

We jump when the phone rings, which is probably a good thing.

• A break with no maintenance

Unlike traditional cottage owners, we've got no chores to do when we get there.

• A place for everything

Everything in our luxury, furnished cottage is always where it is supposed to be - not something that can be said about my permanent residence.

• The price is right

It seems cheaper than other types of vacationing. I leave it to financial gurus to prove me wrong but our maintenance fees for a week run in the $500 range for a two-bedroom. We originally paid about $44,000 for 50 years' use of the property.

• Love that natural living. We can get closer to nature than our regular suburban existence.

I haven't found any negatives yet and as I sip my wine and contemplate the good life, I don't think I will find any.

Fractionals: a growth industry

Not so long ago, if you wanted a weekend or summer getaway, you bought a cottage and with it the costs of upkeep, or rented at a resort - hoping you could get a decent slot in the season you wanted. The idea of buying "part" of a cottage - one where someone else shouldered the responsibility of maintenance - was unheard of.

Today, however, fractional ownership is a rapidly growing industry, says Sue Nickason, a marketing consultant working with three such communities, including the new Cottages at Windermere House.

Fractional-ownership developments are springing up throughout Muskoka as well as other "cottage country" regions, like Haliburton, the Kawarthas, the lake region north of Kingston, and Georgian Bay. Nickason says the priorities for most are lakes, golf and ski opportunities. Most also like to be within three hours of their home base, although she sees buyers coming from as far away as Alberta and even England.

Other fractional ownership sites include:

• The Black Pebble, a new property on Lake of Bays near Huntsville in Muskoka;

• Blue Water Acres, on Lake of Bays, 20 minutes from Huntsville;

• Chandler Point, one of the first shared ownership providers, has three properties on Lake Kashagawigamog in the Haliburton Highlands: the original Chandler Point, Williams Landing and Marcus Beach; it also operates Tory's Landing on Sparrow Lake in South Muskoka;

• The Cottages at Pine Cove on the banks of the French River, near Noelville;

• The Cottages at Port Stanton on Sparrow Lake;

• The Cottages of Stoneridge Cove, on Bobs Lake, near Westport in the Land o' Lakes north of Kingston;

• Diamond's Edge, recently developed property adjacent to Diamond In The Ruff golf course on Nutt Lake, at Utterson between Bracebridge and Huntsville;

• Frontenac Shores, on Mississagagon Lake in the Land 'o Lakes, north of Kingston;

• Go North Properties at Kearney, 15 minutes north of Huntsville in a wooded area with a private waterfront;

• Inaski Shores, on Shadow Lake in the Kawartha Lakes region;

• Lakeside at Rocky Crest on the northern shore of Lake Joseph, next to the Rocky Crest Golf Club;

• The Landscapes - Lake of Bays, in Muskoka;

• The Muskokan Resort Club, on Lake Joseph in Muskoka, just west of Port Carling;

• Seasons of Muskoka, on Little Whitefish Lake, near Parry Sound;

•  The Ridges on Calabogie Lake, a new development in the Ottawa Valley and surrounded by the hills of the Madawaska Highlands;

• Touchstone on Lake Muskoka, between Bracebridge and Port Carling;

• Wolfe Springs, on Wolfe Lake, in the Rideau Lakes Region adjacent to the Evergreen Golf Course;

• Woodland Echoes Resort, on Ahmic Lake at Magnetawan, between Huntsville and Parry Sound;

• Whitewater Village, on a 38-acre peninsula surrounded on three sides by the Ottawa River, near Renfrew in the Ottawa Valley;

Properties outside Ontario include:

• Bearpaw Mountain, scenic mountainside resort property near Victoria B.C.;

• Pacific Shores Resort & Spa, on Nanoose Bay on Vancouver Island, north of Nanaimo;

• Parkside Resort and Spa in Victoria, B.C.;

- compiled by Ellen Ashton-Haiste


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