Category Archives: muskoka living

Mike Holmes: Don’t kick back in your backyard until it’s got the all-clear

Smart backyard planning and landscaping can help you protect your home, as well as cut cooling costs.

We’re heading full force into summer, and for many of us, the idea of a great summer starts with a great backyard. But more than just a place to have some drinks, enjoy time with the kids and friends, it’s important that your backyard works for you — by that I mean it helps protect your home and save you money.

What’s the first thing we should look at when checking out a backyard? Grading — that’s the slope of the property surrounding the house that helps direct water away from the foundation, not toward it. This helps protect against basement leaks. For every foot away from the foundation wall, the ground should drop at least half an inch. So over a six-foot span, you should have at least a three-inch drop.

If you ever want to test it, you can do a hose test. Get the garden hose and point it horizontally to your foundation wall, about five inches away from it. Turn the hose on and as the water runs, check the direction of the water flow. It’s a quick way to make sure water is moving away from your home.

That’s also why I don’t like plants and shrubs right up against the foundation wall. Every time you water them, you would be driving water directly to your foundation. Any tiny cracks will allow water to penetrate through, and if your basement is finished this could require an expensive fix.

When they get bigger, shrubs against your foundation wall and exterior can also trap moisture against your home’s exterior, which could lead to mould, termites or other insects. You’re better off moving those garden beds and shrubs away from the house.

What about trees? I love them, and they can help block the summer’s heat and sunlight from entering your home if planted in the right spots. But again, don’t plant them too close to your home.

The extra foliage will direct water and precipitation to your home’s exterior and roof. This can increase the chance of a leak; it will wear down your exterior siding faster, and when the leaves drop in the fall they could end up in your gutters, potentially clogging them.

Ideally, you also want to keep trees away from any sanitary lines, too.

A tree’s roots can grow to be two to three times wider than its canopy, and the roots can wreak havoc on your plumbing and weeping tile, especially if your home still has clay pipes. If there’s a tiny crack in the plumbing underground, the leaking water will attract tree roots to it, because roots seek out water, and then they can grow into the pipe itself, causing a blockage and potentially a sewer backup in the basement.


It’s one thing to protect your home, but it’s also important to make it work efficiently. One way is by helping block out heat so you don’t have to crank up the air conditioning as often (which saves you money). There are a couple of backyard projects that can help do that.

As I mentioned, you can strategically plant trees around your home to block out the heat, but you can also install awnings on your windows. Awnings are an old-school solution that can reduce heat gain by about 55 to 77 per cent. In some areas, awnings can save homeowners as much as 25 per cent on their energy bills.

You could also hire a pro to build a pergola on the sunny side of your house.

Pergolas are those wooden exterior structures, usually in the backyard against the house, that have vertical posts supporting large crossbeams and joists. (If the pergola is free-standing it usually has four support posts. If it’s built off the side of a house it will have two.) Pergolas are great because they can help block out the heat and cut cooling costs, and they look good, too.

Your backyard should be your sanctuary; the place where you can kick back and relax. But to do it right you have to plan it right, because what you do on the outside of your home will always have an impact indoors.

Source National Post Mike Holmes, Special to National Post | June 12, 2015 

Watch Mike Holmes on Holmes Makes It Right on HGTV. For more information visit

Need a mortgage on a cottage? Here’s what lenders look for

Ottawa — The Canadian Press

Whether you call it a cottage, a cabin or a camp, when the temperature begins to rise, the dreams of sitting on the dock at a place of your own start this time of year.

But if you don’t have the cash on hand to buy one outright, you’ll have to borrow the money.

And while the basic process of applying for and qualifying for a mortgage are the same, lenders will look at many more variables when assessing a property before lending money to buy a cottage.

Barry Gollom, vice-president of mortgages and lending at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, says while your strength as a borrower is important, banks will also take a close look at the property being acquired when determining how much they are willing to lend.

“Lenders will look at the location, proximity to a major market, sometimes is it on a big lake, is it on a small lake, access to the property, year-around is best, paved roads is a plus,” Gollom said.

“Lenders will want to ensure that there’s a safe and consistent water source as this can sometimes materially impact the marketability and value of the cottage.”

Mortgage broker Frank Napolitano says most lenders want a cottage to be a four-season property if they are going to loan you money, but he says some will finance three-season cabins.

“It is difficult to get financing if you can only access the cottage by water,” says Napolitano, managing partner at Mortgage Brokers Ottawa.

“The property has to be marketable.”

If you aren’t putting down at least 20 per cent, you’ll need mortgage default insurance just like an ordinary home purchase.

However, CMHC changed its rules last year so that it would no longer insure mortgages on second homes. That means you’ll have to go with a private mortgage insurance company which can provide the necessary coverage if your lender requires it due to the size of your down payment.

Insurers may also have limits on the amount they will cover for a vacation property, depending on its characteristics.

Depending on your situation, you could also consider refinancing your home or using a home equity line of credit if you have paid off enough of it to use it to borrow the cash you need.

Gollom says it is not uncommon for buyers to use a combination of financing through their home and the vacation property to make the purchase.

However, if you only made a small down payment on your home when you bought it and haven’t owned it for very long, you may not have the room you need to finance your new purchase.

Joe Walsh, a mortgage broker with Bedrock Financial Group in Toronto, says no matter how you choose to finance your purchase, for the lender it is about whether you can repay the debt.

“You need to have a lot of room in your income to be able to service the additional, what $200,000, $300,000?” he said.

Gollom said it’s important to make sure the decision to buy a cottage fits within your overall financial plan.

“It is a decision that really does require very thoughtful planning,” he said. “It is so important to understand the broader implications of the purchase of a vacation property as it relates to your other goals.”

Muskoka now ‘Hamptons of the north’ for luxury cottage living

Wealthy buyers are looking to snap up luxury real estate such as Tokata, a home located on a nine-acre peninsula in Parry Sound, Ont. The property is listed for $4,750,000.

High-end Muskoka waterfront purchases were up 66 per cent in 2014 over 2013, much of it fuelled by the weak dollar and growing international interest.

Toronto Star

By: Business Reporter, Published on Fri May 15 2015

MUSKOKA—Tokata is one of those idyllic enclaves of waterfront real estate — spacious, gracious, packed with modern amenities and perched on a private peninsula jutting into quiet Silver Lake.

You can watch the sun rise from its stunning granite-and-wood Muskoka room facing the east deck, and the sun set from the elegant Great Room overlooking the west deck.

If you can pass the extensive background check, the phone interview and the three-page questionnaire setting out house rules, all this and more can be yours — for $12,000 per week.

Personal chef and yoga on the dock are optional.

In the quest to make Muskoka a manageable experience, Sotheby’s realtor Ross Halloran created a “Take your dream home for a test drive” rental program, now headed into its second summer.

It aims to help the growing number of wealthy buyers looking for luxury waterfront real estate navigate their way around cottage country’s Big Three of Lake Joseph, Lake Rosseau and Lake Muskoka, plus dozens of others.

“We’re seeing a renewed interest in Muskoka,” says Halloran, echoing a recent Christie’s International Real Estate global luxury white paper. It noted a 66 per cent increase in high-end Muskoka waterfront purchases in 2014 over 2013, much it fuelled by the weak dollar and growing international interest from the wealthy of the world.

“People view Muskoka as the Hamptons of the north and it’s definitely a destination that’s now known internationally. This is a region in transition,” adds Halloran.

View from the private boat launch at Tokata.


View from the private boat launch at Tokata.

Muskoka sales — and prices — started rebounding dramatically last spring and really took off in the fall, with sales for properties over $2 million hitting record levels by the end of 2014, says Christie’s Canada CEO Chris Kapches.

Some of the grand “old Muskoka” landmarks, built by American industrialists back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, have been coming on the market for the first time in decades as families age out, grow too big to share all that history or simply realize the costs — which can be $20,000- to $70,000-plus in taxes alone — are unbearable for a two-week summer get away.

“We went through a few years after the last recession where buyers’ and sellers’ expectations were not in sync — buyers were just not prepared to pay what sellers were asking — so we had some properties that were on the market for three seasons with price reductions year in and year out,” says Kapches.

The Lakelands Association of Realtors, which represents Muskoka, Haliburton and Orillia, says this January through April has been the best start to overall waterfront sales since 2010, with total transactions up 44.8 per cent over the same four months in 2014.

Muskoka-area realtor Storey Badger thinks this year could set a new record: As of May 12, 27 waterfront properties have been sold on Muskoka’s Big Three lakes, including a $7.5 million Lake Joseph property this week. That’s up from 17 waterfront sales, year over year.

Halloran, like other realtors who focus on the Muskoka market, are suddenly seeing renewed demand from GTA buyers, long-time cottagers looking to move up, ex-pats living overseas but longing to give their families quintessential Canadian summers and international buyers looking for a serene and safe place, ideally with a sunset view, to park a few millions.

Halloran started the luxury rental program because he realized it was difficult for even the most savvy of investors to navigate Muskoka’s dozens of lakes, given that the Big Three of Rosseau, Joseph and Muskoka are daunting all in themselves.

Some are good for fishing, others for golf and socializing, so the program, which now features some 30 luxury waterfront properties throughout Muskoka lets vacationers and, more importantly potential buyers, try out a lake for a while.

Not all the properties, like Tokata are up for sale.

There are many where the owners are simply looking to fill some empty time and recoup a few of the costs of having a pricey house in the woods where they only have maybe two weeks a year to just sit and relax on the dock.


Lap of luxury: Four luxury Muskoka properties on the market

You can grab a game of tennis at the courts at this Lake Joseph home has six bedrooms. (Chestnut Park Real Estate)


You can grab a game of tennis at the courts at this Lake Joseph home has six bedrooms. (Chestnut Park Real Estate)

List price: $14.7 million

Where: Lake Joseph

Lot size: 8.5 acres, 744 feet of water frontage

Size: 7,600 sq. ft., six bedrooms

This “personal waterfront resort for the buyer seeking seclusion and privacy” is gently nestled in granite galore. It features tennis courts and a two-slip boathouse with its own guest suite and super-sized entertaining deck right at the water.

This Bass Island home sits on a private island.


This Bass Island home sits on a private island.

List price: $11.8 million

Where: Bass Island, Lake Muskoka

Lot size: 11 acre private island

Size: 8,500 sq. ft., six bedrooms, four bathrooms

Just finished last year by its European owners, this “elegantly designed architectural masterpiece” offers panoramic sunsets and a lake-water plunge pool — inside — so you can avoid the black flies after your hot tub or Finnish dry sauna.

Enough room for all your friends: This home has 18(!) bedrooms. (Chestnut Park Real Estate)


Enough room for all your friends: This home has 18(!) bedrooms. (Chestnut Park Real Estate)

List price: $5.3 million

Where: Beaumaris area of Lake Muskoka

Lot size: 4+ acres on private Marco Island

Size: 7,000 sq. ft., 18 bedrooms including boat house and guest residence

This rare offering is as “old Muskoka” as it gets, right down to its guest residence, six-slip, four-bedroom boat house and wicker furniture. It was once owned by Donald Hunter, son of the co-founder of Canadian communications giant Maclean-Hunter Ltd.

Modern meets traditional at this 4,000-square-foot home. (Cody Storm Cooper for the Toronto Star)


Modern meets traditional at this 4,000-square-foot home. (Cody Storm Cooper for the Toronto Star)

List price: $4.75 million

Where: Silver Lake

Lot size: 9-acre gated peninsula, 2,990 feet of water frontage

Size: 5600+, four-plus bedroom home with tennis courts

This 10-year-old, four-plus bedroom property, called Tokata, is design perfection, offering a modern spin on age-old Muskoka traditions like the screened-in Muskoka room and Great Room with fireplace. A 4,000 square foot, wrap-around deck offers sunrise and sunset views.

Mike Holmes: My checklist for properly opening the cottage for the season

Mike Holmes, Special to National Post | May 15, 2015 | Last Updated: May 15 2:05 PM ET

If you’re planning to open up the cottage this weekend, chances are it’s the first time you’ve seen it in months — and there will be a few problems awaiting your arrival.

Animal alert

Start by doing an exterior check. Look for signs of critters, such as torn window screens and holes in the soffits, roof and siding. I’ve seen critters pull away siding and chew through the substrate. They can also enter through the chimney, small openings around windows and doors, or rip through roof venting.

Carefully check if there are any animals inside before anyone goes charging through the cottage — it could be dangerous. Even if just field mice got in, there could be mouse poop, which is dangerous to your health.

If it seems all clear, proceed with caution. There’s still a chance there could be some unwanted guests inside. Check the kitchen — including cupboards and drawers — for mouse droppings.

If there are definite signs of critter intrusion, it’s best to call a professional pest control company. They can do a full check of your cottage and safely get rid of any pest problems.

Clearing the air

Next, let the place breathe. Any enclosure needs air circulation — dust accumulates, there might be mould and mildew. Let your nose be your guide — a musty smell tells you there’s trapped moisture, and it must be addressed.

Just because it’s a cottage it doesn’t mean you lower your health standards, especially not when it comes to the air you and your family breathes. If anyone has breathing issues, consider getting an indoor air quality test. Open all windows and doors, and if your cottage has a forced-air system, change the air filter.

Also inspect windows and bathrooms for signs of mould. If the area’s less than 10 square feet you can probably clean it yourself, using the proper safety gear, guidelines and products — but no bleach. If it’s bigger, you might want to call a professional abatement company.

Mechanics inspection

Inside the cottage, check the mechanics — that’s your heating system (and cooling, if you have it), plumbing and electrical. Make sure everything is safe.

Turn on the power by flipping the main and then go room by room to make sure everything is working well. Look for chewed-up electrical cords, lights that flicker, fixtures that spark, or a burning smell.

Turn on the water and check for any leaks. And test out the heating system, whether your cottage has electric baseboard heaters, forced air, or radiators or boilers.

Foundation and fire fundamentals

Once you’re done checking the mechanics, head to the basement, if you have one. Look for cracks in the foundation and any water penetration. Any crack that can fit a dime should be checked by a pro, such as a foundation specialist or structural engineer.

And don’t forget the basics, such as replacing the batteries in your smoke alarms and CO detectors, and making sure fire extinguishers are fully charged.

Outdoors overview

Start by inspecting the deck. Make sure the railings, steps or stairs are safe and secure. And see if any of the support footings have heaved — extreme freeze-and-thaw cycles can cause the ground to shift significantly.

While you’re cleaning your eavestroughs and downspouts, check for damage. Inspect the exterior siding and caulking around windows and doors. If any of it has shrunk, cracked or separated from the framing, air will leak. That means one weekend project will have to entail re-caulking.

Septic safety

Last but not least, your septic tank. Get it emptied every five to seven years, depending on usage. Not sure it needs to be emptied? Call a professional company to inspect it and get on their regular service schedule.

Cottage country is about fun and relaxation. Take care of the basics, make sure it’s safe and you’ll make it right.

Watch Mike Holmes on Holmes Makes It Right on HGTV. For more information visit