Prospective vacation-home buyers at Heritage Harbor Ottawa Resort can stay in one of several cottages available in the community’s vacation rental program.
Prospective vacation-home buyers at Heritage Harbor Ottawa Resort can stay in one of several cottages available in the community’s vacation rental program.

Most people try on clothes before buying them, test-drive a new car before signing on the dotted line, and sample paint colors before painting a full room. Along those same lines, an Illinois-based builder is allowing customers to try out homes before making a purchase.

At Heritage Harbor Ottawa Resort, a marina resort community in Ottawa, Ill., potential home buyers can spend the night in a rental cottage in the community to experience what it would be like to live there, says Tammy Barry, director of sales and marketing. The community's vacation rental program allows current homeowners to make their homes available for short-term rentals through an on-site management program.

“Purchasing a new home is a significant investment, so it’s understandable that most buyers want to do everything they can to be comfortable with the home they’ve selected and feel great about their decision before they close,” says Barry.

According to Barry, the appeal of “test driving” the community with a stay in one of several one- and two-bedroom rental cottages at Heritage Harbor Ottawa is two-fold. First, it allows buyers to get the lay of the land in the community as well as the surrounding area. This includes discovering where the closest grocery store is, exploring local restaurants, shopping and recreational amenities, and experiencing the atmosphere of the community itself. Available vacation rentals at Heritage Harbor include one- and two-bedroom cottages that can sleep from 4 to 11 people. Rates range from $139 to $229 per night.

“Particularly with a vacation or second home, you want to make sure the personality and energy of the location matches how you want to spend your free time,” says Barry. “By spending a weekend – or more – with us, potential homeowners can stroll around the community and the harbor at different times of day to get a feel for the activity level, visit our on-site restaurant to check out the vibe there, and even have the chance to meet future neighbors and talk to them about their experience in the community.”

Secondly, staying in a rental cottage in the community allows prospective residents to experience what it might be like physically living in one of the homes. “While we offer many different housing types, as well as the opportunity to work with us to build a fully custom home, staying in a rental property here gives interested buyers a feel for our floor plans and the type of finishes we typically include,” says Barry. “They can see how the style of these homes works with their own personal aesthetic and get some ideas for specific features they want most in their own home.”

While staying at Heritage Harbor as rental guests, prospective buyers will be able to sample on-site and area amenities. Depending on the time of year, they can enjoy the community’s full-service marina and access to the Illinois River for watersports and fishing, on-site kayak and paddle board rentals, two swimming pools, outdoor fire pits and grilling areas, and on-site restaurant The Red Dog Grill. During the winter months, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and snow shoeing offer opportunities to enjoy the area’s natural setting.

Heritage Harbor Ottawa currently offers a variety of homes at a range of price points, including vacation cottages and carriage homes priced from $159,900; townhomes priced from $259,900; and immediate-delivery single-family homes priced from $320,000. Custom single-family home sites are available priced from $90,000.