The Insider’s Guide to Finding A Cottage Rental for the Summer

Are you thinking of renting an Ontario cottage for your vacation this summer? If so, you probably dream of fun and games on the water, lazing on the dock with that book you’ve been dying to read, balmy evenings spent barbecuing and watching a knockout sunset, and roasting marshmallows on the campfire. Then, waking to the sound of loons calling before another day in paradise. 

2021 is the year of early bookings, with rental agencies reporting high demand in every Ontario cottage country region.  People are scrambling for the last few cottages available and already feel they have missed out. But there is hope.

While you may have already spent many hours vainly searching the big listing sites, eagerly following up on dates that look available only to find your hopes dashed again, don’t give up. You just have to do some savvy searching and planning ahead

These practical tips will help to make sure your dream becomes a reality even when it looks as though you may have missed out. All you need to do is your homework and have a great time this summer.

Get On Rental Agency Wait Lists

Cottage rental agencies have been around for a long time and have many loyal and repeat guests. What you may not realise is that most of them don’t advertise their cottages on Airbnb, VRBO or Trip Advisor. When they list new properties on their websites they will send an email out to their waiting list to give them a first opportunity to book.

If you contact a handful of agencies that cover the areas you want to visit, and get on their lists, you’ll get that opportunity too.

While the likes of Airbnb and VRBO will charge a hefty service fee that usually amounts to around 12 – 15% of the rental rate, most agencies have a single booking fee that varies betweeen $75 +HST (that’s us) and $150 + HST. That can be a significant saving.

You also benefit from being able to talk to the person who viewed and onboarded the cottage and they can give you an honest description of the place and help you decide if it’s the right one for you.

Still Looking For Your Dream Cottage?

We’ll send you information on new listings and cancellations. Make sure you act quickly as they will book up fast.

Be Prepared to Compromise

Have a family conference and decide:

  • which area you want to visit
  • how far you are willing to travel
  • how much you want to pay
  • how remote you want to be
  • what facilities you must have, and which are not as important

You probably have a long list of things that combine to create the perfect family vacation. Some of them will be must-haves – the things you could not imagine being without. Maybe clean waterfront for swimming, a flat area for play, unlimited wifi or a washing machine. These have to be the things that would absolutely keep you at home if you could not have them.

Then there are the nice-to-have items – say a dishwasher, a screened sunroom, a games room and/or an extra washroom. These might be on your original must-have list but you may be prepared to drop them in order to get a great cottage that fits most requirements.

Finally, list what you could call the “in your dreams” features. Maybe a hot tub, pool table, king beds or a close-by marina where you can rent a boat. These can be sacrificed quite easily and won’t impact your enjoyment if you don’t have them.

If you are travelling with others, make sure you find out the must-haves for everyone.

Be Selective About The Waterfront

If you want to swim on vacation, then weed-free waterfront should be on your must-have list. Likewise if you have small children and want a wade-in shoreline, don’t compromise on this. After all this is what a cottage country vacation is all about and if you spend the whole week regretting a booking made in haste, the memories won’t be so great.

Having said that, you may be able to snag a cottage in a less popular area or waterway – maybe a river or no-motor lake. It’s surprising what you can get by being less choosy about the region or type of water.

Read the Listing Thoroughly

When you get notice of some availability you’ll need to act on it straightaway. In the summer of 2020 agencies were reporting sending cottage availability information to a waitlist and getting a booking within 10 minutes.

There’s no time to ask questions when you hear of an opening as everyone else on that list gets the same info at the same time. It’s first come-first served.

Knowing exactly what you want will help you read efficiently through a listing. Create a checklist you can run through and tick off the must-haves. If you get those covered, then move onto the next section of nice-to-haves.

Try not to get carried away with the in-your-dreams list. If a cottage has a hot tub but is unsuitable for your group in every other way, it’s not one to spend your money on.

Check the Cancellation Policy

Most agencies will give you some leeway if you book and then realise it really is not for you, as long as you recognise this quickly. However, since they are charged by credit card fees at the time you book, expect to forfeit the booking fee, unless you change your mind on the same day before the reservation has been processed.

Many management companies have relaxed their cancellation policies during the pandemic and will allow you to cancel and get a refund (less the booking fee) if you change your mind within a period of time before the vacation starts. Others will require you to rebook for another time so make sure you read and understand their policies before reserving.

So don’t despair….there is definitely hope for those who haven’t booked yet. You just have to do a bit of work – make some friends at the great cottage rental agencies across Ontario, and they will work to find you a spot for your summer vacation.