Dream in Condo

The search: 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 approxi- mately
$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.

The compromise: 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.”