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Dust off your toolbox, buy a hot tub -- it's cottage season

Investing in a cottage for rental purposes is a massive undertaking -- some might argue that finding the right property, as big a chore as that can be, is the easy part. But preparing the property and maintaining it between renters can be a full-time job.

Think about it: If you rent your cottage out in week-long increments for the entire summer, that means driving to the cottage every weekend to inspect, clean, change linens, garden, mow lawns, chop wood, conduct minor repairs and facilitate the changeover between renters. For winterized properties, add shovelling, salting and ploughing the drive, not to mention ensuring that guests arrive at a warm building, stocked with plenty of dry firewood.

"There's always something to do," says Paula Lambert of Paramount Vacation Property Management in Dwight, Ont. Her company specializes in luxury cottages -- places that sleep 10 to 20 people and fetch up to $7,000 a week -- and takes the onus off the property owner by doing everything from booking and orientating news guests to cleaning, restocking supplies, overseeing maintenance and inspecting for damages between renters.

Are you up for the task, or should you get help?
"We're on call 24/7," says Lambert. "Hiring a full-service company is effortless ... The owner basically gets a cheque every quarter."

For the complete package, she charges 30 to 35 percent of the rental income, which is about the going rate.

"You either hire a property manager, or you come up and do it yourself," she says.

Some relish in puttering and maintaining their property, but unless you live within a reasonable distance, you're handy and attuned to cottage maintenance needs (wells, septic tanks, generators), it's going to be a burden. Another option is hiring a local handyman or neighbour who is willing to upkeep the place for less than a full-service company.

"A lot people just use locals," Ted Wiggins of Century 21 United Realty in Peterborough, Ont., says of those who just rent occasionally, rather than every week from June to September. "There's always someone willing to cut grass, etc."

Keep in mind that if you're embarking on a less formal arrangement, it's still important to outline your expectations clearly.

Another option is hiring help as a one-off to get a cottage in shape for renting or on an annual basis to oversee all the closing or opening chores associated with cottage life.

"If you don't keep on top of things, they can really start falling apart," says Will Morton of Muskoka Cottage Maintenance in Gravenhurst, Ont. His services, which cost $475 for two staff per day on a one-off basis, include power washing, painting, landscaping, minor construction, spring clean-up, junk removal, window washing, eaves trough cleaning, chainsaw work, brush removal, gardening and lawn cutting, as well as weekly or bi-weekly grounds maintenance services. When it comes to property management, he has a roster of seasonal staff that perform outdoor work and he liaises with a cleaning company for inside jobs.

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-- Posted: April 16, 2008
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