Introduction by Chad Butnari
When we decided to start this newsletter, we had a variety of ideas for content. Those ideas are now gaining traction and clarity as they come to fruition and we get a few months under our belt. At the same time we were pondering this, my mother was in the process of finishing a cottage she decided to build after receiving an inheritance. After many conversations with her and seeing the challenges she experienced along the way (both practical and emotional), I thought it would be nice for others to hear her story as well. I asked her if she would be comfortable writing an article for our newsletter by sharing her experience. She accepted the challenge.
I initially thought this article would help others learn the process and some of the technical aspects of building a cottage. But, after reading what she put together, I think it is much more valuable.
The article focuses on the emotional journey of losing her mother, to building a cottage in commemoration. Although the financial and technical aspect is important, it can also be an emotional process especially if it is tied to prior experiences and family history like her story is. She was also good enough to “plug” some of the services I helped her with. After all, that’s what mothers are for, right? Without further adieu, here is what she had to say about her experience. I hope you enjoy.
My Dream of Building a Cottage
By Janis Butnari
Having many fond memories and strong family roots of cottaging in the small village of Bayfield Ontario, I had always dreamed of one day building a cottage of my own. My dad, along with his two brothers, purchased a small cottage, with lake access in 1967. We had so many laughs, adventures and just plain fun here when I was growing up, that who wouldn’t want the same thing for their own family? Being part of a family that owned one-third of a cottage had challenges of its own, but that story is for another time.
When I was 25 years old, living at home, and supply teaching, the opportunity to buy some property close to the family cottage presented itself. A large parcel of land comprising of several lots went up for sale. Although not an ideal location, as the back of it was on a major highway, I decided that I could purchase, for $10,000, part of a future dream. My cousin and brother did the same.
Life progressed, I suppose, on a predictable and chosen path. I, along with my husband, bought a small house in my hometown, and shortly thereafter, entered into some of the best years of our lives. Raising three children and working full time, lead to a busy and fulfilling life!
When I was finally financially ready to entertain the idea of building that dream cottage, the lure of a bigger four-bedroom house to accommodate three kids won out for practical reasons. As my husband so correctly pointed out, it made more sense to invest in something where we would be spending 90% of our time. So, with the new mortgage, my dream had to be tucked away for many more years.
Skip ahead 23 years, to a bittersweet time in my life. I lost my mom at 91 years of age. We were so close, and although she had a great long life, it was and still is hard without her. That’s the bitter part. The sweet part is that I was fortunate enough to inherit some money. I used to tell my mom to spend her money, but as they say, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. She had been thrifty her whole life and would just say, “I’ve done everything I wanted to do”. I used to joke with her that if she didn’t spend it, I would have no problem doing so, and would perhaps build a cottage one day with my inheritance. I can still see that smile on her face when she’d reply “maybe” or “that would be nice”. The reason why I am telling you all of this is because this open dialogue was monumental in the emotional thought process leading up to the eventual scary decision to take the big leap and purchase my modest cottage. I like to think she is looking down and is happy for me and approves of the way I chose to spend “her” money. My dad was never what you would call well off but being an accountant, he always planned wisely for their future and in the latter years, Assante’s estate planning made the whole process of transferring assets, as easy as it can be under the circumstances. Suffice it to say, my mom did not outlive her money.
Now it was time to do my homework. Could I afford it? How much could I spend? What size of a place could I get that would fit the budget? Was I up to all of the potential stress and headaches that could go along with this process? After all, I am 65 years old now. Do I want to just coast on easy street both mentally and financially or do I want to fulfill that dream that took hold such a long time ago? If I was going to do it, the time was now, not 3, 5 or 10 years from now when I might be too old to enjoy it, or I should ask myself, why not get as many years out of it as I could. I had many sleepless nights (because I’m pretty conservative), and a couple of lengthy discussions with my Assante Financial Advisor. We looked at my current expenses, along with all of the possible new expenses. As a side note, I will stop here to include one piece of obvious advice. It is always a good idea to keep records or have some kind of flow chart with expenses and credits. I learned that because all of this was not at my fingertips, it made the whole process more tedious and time-consuming than it needed to be. In the end, after reviewing all of the associated expenses and analyzing it from all angles, I decided it would be a possibility if all the cards lined up after the research was done.
It was time to start looking on the internet, at various plans. Where do you even start? Well, reality set in pretty quickly. The vision I had in my head, didn’t quite match with what was “affordable”. I guess, as my kids so eloquently pointed out, I was probably a little out of touch with housing costs nowadays. One thing I knew for sure, I had to have a firm grip on what the bottom line would be because I wouldn’t be comfortable with the whole thing if there was a possibility of going way over budget. After all, I’m on a fixed pension.
While researching, I came upon a chart that compared “stick builds” to “modular builds”. To do a stick build (from scratch), I would need a builder. How would I find one that was reputable, trustworthy and could help with the whole daunting process? There would be so many decisions to make as far as designs, interior choices and so on and I didn’t live in the area I wanted to build in. I like watching HGTV but I’m no designer or architect! I saw some stick build packages like the beautiful Beaver Home designs but quickly learned that you might as well multiply the listed price by three, to get an accurate idea of the final cost. It was disheartening to learn that they don’t include foundations, flooring, cupboards, furnaces, plumbing, electricity and so on. So, a tip I learned, don’t be fooled when you see these package prices. I took all of that into account (knowing there could be cost overruns) then started looking at some modular homes meaning they were built on-site, shipped, and put on a foundation. This idea, with a single source of responsibility, sounded less daunting, but I still needed to look at all options. After a few days and many inquiries and phone calls, one option was getting blurred with the other. My head was swimming! I finally decided to buy a big piece of bristol board, and divide it into columns. They included a picture of the cottage, number of bedrooms and baths, square footage (and price per square foot), contact number and person, place of origin (some were out in B.C. or in the US; the glory of the world wide web at your fingertips lol). Having it all laid out on a chart made it easy to compare. In the end, I decided to go with a modular build with a reputable company. I was given final costs down to the exact cent, and I could pick out, at one place, everything from cupboards, countertops, flooring, shingles, sliding doors, to the exact light fixtures and faucets. To me, the whole process was simplified.
Now that the actual structure itself had been chosen, I had to look at expenses involved in servicing my lot. I had to consider tree removal, septic system costs, building permits, and costs associated with hooking up to hydro, gas and water lines, including fees for electricians, plumbers, and gas technicians because modular builds are only responsible for the house itself. I secured estimates from two major local excavating companies and subsequently, based on this information, decided who I would go with. Their availability, along with that of the other tradespeople, I learned, is also an important factor to keep in mind, especially in smaller rural towns.
Estimates for services required plus cottage cost equaled a go ahead, right? Well not quite yet because like I said earlier, the ongoing expenses like insurance, property taxes, gas, and electricity had to be gone over one last time.
Well, I’m here to tell you, no more sleepless nights, my decision was made. Things lined up both emotionally and financially. Only positive thoughts going forward now. Did I make the right choices? Only time will tell. The process isn’t quite finished yet, but so far so good. One thing I know for sure is that I won’t be able to say, one day in the future, “I wonder if I had decided to build……….”
I have to say I am quite proud of myself for all of the decisions I made during the lengthy process I went through to finally decide to build my “dream” cottage. Now, I am hoping that the next couple of generations (my kids and grandkids) can start to make some of their own happy family memories. I would like to pass it along, just as my parents did. My Assante advisor tells me some things should be put into place so that this special place does not become a burden to my children. But that too is for another time. Right now, I just want to enjoy for a while, the fruits of my labour. I do though, have to end by saying “thanks mom and dad,” for making it possible to pass on a gift that will continue to keep giving for many years to come.
Assante Capital Management Ltd. Is a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund and is registered with the investment industry Regulatory Organization of Canada.
This material is provided for general information and is subject to change without notice. Every effort has been made to compile this material from reliable sources however no warranty can be made as to its accuracy or completeness. Before acting on any of the above, please make sure to see a professional advisor for individual financial advice based on your personal circumstances.