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Lost opportunity
Oct 03, 2008

In just over a month, the prospect of owning a cottage lot on provincially-owned or Crown land has lost its lustre for a significant number of people who took part in a draw for 375 lots along 13 Manitoba lakes and rivers.

In mid-June, the province announced 2,340 people had filed applications for the cottage lots available through a special draw. By this week, among those who were successful, only 207, or 55 per cent, had claimed their lots.

According to Manitoba Conservation, which was in charge of the draw, the majority of the lots available in the June 30 draw were in existing subdivisions developed over the last few years.

It seems the province had been unable to sell these lots prior to their identification as appropriate for the draw. What made them desirable now as opposed to the past is still a matter of speculation. What is evident is that lots that had little market value in the past still have little market value today. Many of the people who took part in the draw and found themselves with the right to purchase these properties, upon investigation, obviously came to the same conclusion.

It was just a couple of years ago that Premier Gary Doer announced the intention of the government to free up provincial land for 1,000 cottage lots. It was a no-brainer. Many Manitobans were clamoring for their own slice of cottage country. 

What led the premier to make the announcement was the fact that Manitobans had cast their gaze about and saw that much of the private land up for sale along the province’s waterways had been taken. The lack of cottage property for sale drove up the price of available lots that did exist to exorbitant levels. Along the shores of Lake Winnipeg, in some of the province’s most popular summer-time destinations, $1,000 per foot of frontage for land along the lakeshore was common. Forget about Lake of the Woods, Falcon Lake or the Whiteshell. Even Lac du Bonnet prices were hitting the cabana roof.

Sure, there were lots available at a modest price in some of the areas just an hour or two from Winnipeg, but they were invariably well back from anything resembling a body of water.

What the provincial government’s announcement did was whet the cottage lot appetite of Manitobans. Now they would have their chance to own lake or river front property at a more modest price, and that is why 2,287 applications at $100 a pop were filed for a mere 375 lots. (Those who didn’t claim their lots lost their $100 deposit to take part in the draw.)

“We are pleased to be following through on our promise to create more opportunities for Manitobans to enjoy our spectacular natural areas,” said Conservation Minister Stan Struthers when announcing the first draw for lots. “This initiative will increase opportunities for Manitobans and their families and contribute positively to our tourism industry, particularly in the summertime when our province comes alive with people enjoying the outdoors.”

It was a great idea which should have earned the gratitude of cottage hungry Manitobans. But, it was an idea that somehow got sidetracked while in the lot selection process.

Gerald Hawranik, the Tory MLA for Lac du Bonnet, expressed no surprise that there were 168 lots unclaimed —  the lots hadn’t sold before and they were in low-demand areas. He pointed to seven lots in Graunsdin Point on Lac du Bonnet Lake which had been on the market for several years without any takers, but they found their way into the draw.

The lots in the draw were scattered about the province, some in very remote regions with little access, which probably had plenty to do with why some lots went unclaimed. There is even a possibility that more lots will be unclaimed when people are expected to slap down from $1,200 to $17,500 in a month’s time to actually purchase the lots. Some people will take a visit to the lots they have drawn and decide they’re a tad too distant or simply unsuited to their needs.

During the next two to three weeks, provincial officials will be reviewing the draw. It is then they should get the message that Manitobans had expected a little more from their government than an effort to off-load onto them unsaleable surplus lots.

One provincial official said that some  lots were unsold in the past because of a lack of marketing. Well, they’ve received quite a bit of exposure as a result of the draw and they’re still unmarketable. To have 45 per cent of lots refused is an indication that there was probably something wrong in the first place and no amount of marketing will change the situation. Real estate agents know that a dud of a lot is still a dud of a lot no matter what time and effort is put into marketing it.

There is a promise that the remaining lots up for draw in the fall will be new lots in new subdivisions. But, it is still up to the government to make sure that these lots have at least some market appeal or the number of unclaimed lots will only increase.

The lesson to be learned from the first draw is what every REALTOR® knows — location, location, location is the key to a successful property sale.