By Connie Adair

No one would dream of buying a car without taking it for a test drive, yet people buy multi-million-dollar cottages without knowing if the property will suit their lifestyle or if they’ll like the location.

It doesn’t make sense, so real estate agent Ross Halloran of Sotheby’s International Realty Canada (SIRC) decided to do something about it. He developed Test Drive Your Dream Home, a program that offers qualified potential buyers a low-risk way to get a feel for a luxury property and location before they lay out big bucks to buy.

Test Drive Your Dream Home, launched in May 2015, is market driven. Muskoka (“where real estate values are formidable”) has seen an influx of buyers who are interested in, but not necessarily familiar with, the area, Halloran says.

These newcomers to Muskoka don’t have the same knowledge about the area as legacy owners and some haven’t even tried the cottage lifestyle before. The traditional way is for buyers to see properties on and then call an agent to view the property. Or they will call a local agent with their needs and wants, and then view multiple properties in one day. These buyers would then make a decision after a quick walk through, says Halloran.  The usual 30-minute tour of a property hardly gives buyers enough time to kick the tires, let alone look under the hood.

The Test Drive Your Dream Home program gives buyers a chance to rent for a long weekend, a week, a month or even an entire season. If they want to make an offer and it’s accepted, a portion of the rental fee is credited back.

Ross Halloran
Ross Halloran

Potential buyers love the program, says Halloran, adding that in the first year, it has resulted in eight transactions worth more than $14 million.

If the property they are renting doesn’t suit their needs, Halloran and other Sotheby’s agents will find another suitable property. It’s a great way to develop buyer leads, he says.

Being able to experience the cottage, the location and area amenities can be the tipping point for those who are unsure about a property, he says. Having clients stay in the area for a longer period of time also gives agents time to show properties at a more leisurely pace.

The program also benefits owners, whether they are selling or not, to generate income from the property when they’re not using it.

Test Drive Your Dream Home has partnered with Muskoka District Rentals, which oversees the rental aspect of the arrangement, offering a hassle-free way for owners to rent their properties.

If the property is for sale and a renter decides to buy, or if they want to look for something else in the area, they are referred to a Sotheby’s agent (usually Halloran since he developed the program).

Halloran was licensed in 2012 and was recruited to join the Sotheby’s team in Port Carling, Muskoka in August 2014. “It’s been a great fit for both parties as I am currently the No. 1 top-producing agent for Sotheby’s in Muskoka/Central Lakes Ontario Region… and the Test Drive Your Dream Home program has been a huge factor in this success.”

Cottages in the current rental inventory range from $5,000 to $15,000 per week, an income generating aspect that may also appeal to buyers. Owners can enrol in a luxury rental program to safely generate income, he says.

A significant trend is buyers from the GTA migrating north. Another trend is Asian investors, who are interested in the cost mitigation of rentals. These investors look at the revenues generated by a property and it factors into their buying decision.

One investor made more than $30,000 in rental income in the first year. “He actually made a profit. These buyers are different, happy to enjoy it when it’s not rented out but willing to step aside and go another time if a renter is available. It’s a new trend,” says Halloran. “They don’t have the same attachment to a property as a legacy owner.”

More long-time families are also renting, finding it socially acceptable and smart ownership to offset the costs.

The program co-operates with all agents, says Halloran.


  1. I’m having some difficulty in separating “the program” that is being heralded as a new program within the subject article, from that which has historically been known and implemented as the basic concept of: rent-to-own. Said practice has historically been utilized to try and generate sales in the more challenging situations or markets, by getting prospective buyer’s into homes in advance of actually purchasing and closing on them. As an extra inducement these potential buyer’s were offered a portion of the annual (monthly) rent back as a rebate later that, perhaps, could be used towards their down payment. The prospective buyer’s in the original rent-to-own initiative would still need to qualify for financing at the end of their lease, and consequently would not necessarily be locked-in to complete a purchase.

    Let’s say, for sake of argument, that between the two rent-to-own initiatives being discussed there is a difference in that: prospective buyer’s in the original rent-to-own initiative were supposed to be already sold on the idea of owning the property, whereas the prospective buyer’s who are being wooed by the initiative promoted in the subject article, are not claiming to be yet sold on the property. Such a distinction would run contrary to establishing a positive benefit to “the program” being featured, over the original concept, and consequently isn’t noteworthy beyond the fact it isn’t noteworthy. The subject program may be geared towards shorter lease periods, however the subject properties seem to have a prime season for occupancy — consequently a shorter tenancy in such a property needs to be considered in the context of the significance of a “prime season”, verses a property where such a “prime season” isn’t applicable.

    Another way to evaluate any notion of meaningful differences between the original rent-to-own and “the program” being described within the subject article, is to address potential problems that can be inherent to such initiatives, and consider if one or the other would likely be exempt:

    1/ a rent-to-own conditional sale, effectively removes the property from the market for a prescribed period. Consequently, a hot buyer may be missed and a sale lost because they’re not aware of the property or don’t want to wait to see if it will become available. This could even be more problematic dependent on the level of difficulty to secure a legitimate committed buyer — in other words, the prospective buyer’s are rare, but at the same time such a buyer prospect could appear at any point in time. As a matter of fact the subject article concedes that the market area in question: “has seen an influx of buyers”. Educating potential buyer’s about an area, is just what REALTOR’s do for any out-of-town buyer’s.

    2/ the original rent-to-own initiatives had some difficulty in passing the scrutiny of the banks mortgage lenders. A portion of the rent could not be perceived as equity money, if that portion of the rent being rebated was above market rental value. Even if such rebated money isn’t being used against financing, should that portion being rebated be above market rental value it wouldn’t represent legitimate value.

    3/ will the Registrant/ REALTOR still counsel their seller objectively? This question is influenced by any money that may be available in the form of commission (in the short term) as a result of a lease or rental arrangement — in lieu of a typical Offer to Purchase that does not involve any rental element. With monthly rents stated in the range of $20K to $60K any commission paid to the listing Registrant/ REALTOR out of said funds could be seen as a surer bet than a more conventional sale that might not happen, and consequently could give rise to a potential and very real: conflict of interests, for the REALTOR.

    I find the suggestion that:
    “These buyers would then make a decision after a quick walk through, says Halloran. The usual 30-minute tour of a property hardly gives buyers enough time to kick the tires, let alone look under the hood.” is disingenuous, because: nothing should prevent a longer viewing when a prospective buyer is interested, a second viewing should be easily doable regarding such properties that are not under pressure, and a home inspection is usually done as part of an Offer to Purchase.

    Due to the absence of any reference to average or median selling prices and average market time, I can’t begin to evaluate the probability of a sale in the market area that is alleged to be the impetus for “the program” that: “… Halloran since he developed the program).” is being credited for having put into action. Consequently, I don’t see how a reader could uniquely evaluate to what extent the subject initiative was: market driven, as opposed to: marketing driven, for the purpose of obtaining listings.

    My concern with articles and subjects such as this one, goes to the question of industry accountability and ongoing public perception. The question of whether or how much the Registrant/ REALTOR’s who are involved with listings that rent instead of sell might get paid anyway, should be made known and should be known here. The question of whether an initiative is market driven or marketing driven should also laid more bare, for the reader and real estate consumer to be able to form an opinion.

    One way to start to fade the bulls-eye on the back of organized real estate, is through increased industry accountability. Without increased accountability organized real estate will retain much of the status-quo and with it much of the negative attention that has been dogging the industry.

  2. Jim Adair,

    As a follow up to my previous response to this article, I observed the following on REM’s website, as I hadn’t endeavoured to read this previously:

    “First and foremost, we need the quality, informational content you think our readers need to know. We’ll partner with you to help shape this content and ensure it meets our strict editorial guidelines. We’ll need to know where it is on the site, whether it’s for our “Advice for Agents”, “Pro files”, or “Products & Tech” category.”

    As I understand the above it is a reference to what would be sponsored content, and the fact of a submission being such is declared at the outset in the headline — which is clearly done, at times. For the reasons stated in my previous letter regarding this article, that is pending REM’s publication, I find the subject article of a nature whereby it is perplexing to entertain how the the article would not be “sponsored” content. Furthermore, I would still be challenged to try and understand how such an article would reconcile against REM’s “strict editorial guidelines” — even if it had been declared as and acknowledged to be: “sponsored” content!

    In the interests of transparency and the readership having a fair understanding of REM’s “strict editorial quidelines, that obviously must be intended to ensure that consumer’s hear the correct story about any real estate matters, the importance of reader and submitter feedback can’t be overstated!

  3. This is quite the human interest real estate story, or is it just an advertorial?

    Regarding the following quote:

    “These buyers would then make a decision after a quick walk through, says Halloran. The usual 30-minute tour of a property hardly gives buyers enough time to kick the tires, let alone look under the hood.”

    Since this is REM magazine there should be a bit of a standard involved, when an article isn’t qualified as being an unabashed advertorial. The above mentioned quote is hyperbole for a number of reasons: the larger the property the more time an experienced Registrant should allow for a viewing, good viewings should be able to take longer and when a property isn’t under pressure there should be an opportunity for a second viewing. As the homes in question will even entertain a tenancy they clearly wouldn’t be under as urgent a pressure from buyer’s as in less ostentatious surroundings.

    Some more information such as average selling price and average market time should be included in a piece such as this one — if in fact it was actually something that even flirted with the concept of journalism. This would give the reader possibly some idea as to the reasonable likelihood of a sale.

    Regarding the following quotes:

    “The Test Drive Your Dream Home program gives buyers a chance to rent for a long weekend, a week, a month or even an entire season. If they want to make an offer and it’s accepted, a portion of the rental fee is credited back.” And:

    ” if the property is for sale and a renter decides to buy, or if they want to look for something else in the area, they are referred to a Sotheby’s agent (usually Halloran since he developed the program).”

    “The program” being described within the subject article goes a long way back and it has always been known as: rent-to-own. It was historically utilized to try and generate sales with properties that were more difficult to sell. The suggestion that someone who was first licensed in the current Millennium “developed the program” by virtue of having painted a fresh name on the bow of this old boat, is gaullingly unworthy of REM magazine.

    The old boat known as: rent-to-own, was tied to the wharf some years ago and left to rust, in large part because the banks did not tend to accept that any monies that were credited back to such buyer’s constituted legitimate equity because the rents were usually exaggerated and above true market.
    In a cash sale this could be a moot point perhaps, but if the rents were still exaggerated then the buyer isn’t getting anything back, all the same.

    The other point not covered in the subject article is: what does the listing agent receive, if anything, from the rental payments — if a sale doesn’t result or if it does? The rental range is $20K to $60k per month! Rental agencies have been known to take one month out of a years lease. Consequently, there could be some fairly decent commission on the rental side for the Rental Agency and or REALTOR/ Registrant to benefit directly from, in the shorter term, should the buyer not complete a sale!

    In my opinion, the situation described in this article raises the potential for a conflict of interests — unless, the REALTOR/ Registrant receives nothing by way of payment directly from the rentals. An extended tenancy or a shorter tenancy during the high season could kill a potential sale by way of a hot buyer, not being willing to wait! The urgency of the seller to sell, would need to be very carefully weighed against the probability of the timing of an Offer to Purchase being as strong or stronger a likelihood, than an offer to: rent-to-own!

  4. The existence of companies like this heralds an age where companies are becoming more aware of the realities of the needs of their clients. My husband and I have been looking for something just like this. Along a similar line of thought, my niece recommended we look into It’s a free listing service, which has let us test out if response from potential buyer is sufficient to support our dreams of relocating. It’s super simple, I would highly suggest that everyone test out market response this way first!

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