52-year-old Chatham, Ont., resident Shari Blackburn has always had a connection with the out- doors. She spent her childhood swimming on Lake Erie, and as a single mom, she passed her love of nature to her son, Tim. She’d take him kayaking and hiking, but it was after she began renting a friend’s cottage in Bracebridge, Ont., that they both developed a fondness for Muskoka. “It was so beautiful and peaceful,” says Shari. “I dreamt of buying a cottage there by the time I was 50.”
Whenever she made the five-hour drive up from Chatham, Shari would check out local listings. While the aver- age Muskoka cottage sells for approximately $1,000,000, her budget was $350,000. Shari works as an HR man- ager at Barry Callebaut, a chocolate manufacturer, but she still had a mort- gage on her home and was helping with Tim’s university tuition. “All I really wanted was something I could call my own, with a roof that didn’t leak,” says Shari, with a laugh.
After turning 50 in 2018, she’d given up on her dream. Priced out of Muskoka, Shari considered expanding her search to cottages in the Kawarthas or closer to home, “but none of them came close to matching the Muskoka landscape,” says Shari, “so I decided to get a condo within my budget.”
In September 2019, she viewed a two-storey one-bedroom loft-style 862-sq. ft. condo at Muskoka Bay Resort, just outside of Gravenhurst, Ont. The place was adjacent to hiking trails and was only a 15-minute walk from the wharf in downtown Gravenhurst. Better yet, it was listed for $344,900. The following month, she pulled approx- imately $100,000 in equity from her house to buy the condo for $330,000. Condo owners are required to sign up for a resort membership that costs about $3,000 annually, but includes access to a gym, steam room, and several pools. Shari pays $208 in monthly fees to the resort, which covers exterior mainte- nance. “When you arrive there and that work is all done for you, it’s amazing.”
The silver lining:
To help residents offset costs, the resort offers a rental program. In exchange for 40 per cent of the earnings and a small cleaning fee, the resort lists Shari’s condo when she isn’t using it. All she has to do is schedule dates for when she’ll be at the condo. In October alone, she made approximately $2,000 in profits. Nowadays, Shari is up at least once a month, and Tim, now 30, joins her occasionally. “Maybe I’ll sell the condo or maybe I’ll retire here, who knows,” says Shari. “For now, I’m just looking forward to the next getaway.” – Ali Amad
“This article was originally published in the May 2021 issue of Cottage Life.”