Buying lakefront property is different than a traditional home purchase. It is important for buyers to understand these differences before purchasing a lake home. Moreover, you want to hire a realtor who understands the complexities of buying a lake home.
Here are 10 considerations for your lake home:
#1 Align the Lake Home with Your Lifestyle
What recreational opportunities are available? Is the lake a no-wake lake where only canoes, paddle boards, and pontoons are allowed? You want to make sure the lake property aligns with your hobbies and what you are passionate about. Some lakes are better for kayaking, boating, fishing, water skiing, and swimming than others.
Is the lake stocked with fish? What types of fish are plentiful? If you enjoy fishing, make sure you are going to have a pleasant experience. Also, make sure you have accurate expectations about the fishing guidelines and rules.
#2 Anticipate How Seasonality Impacts Your Lake Lifestyle
Are you purchasing the lake home as a vacation home, as a place to retire someday, or as a full-time residence? Each of these purposes leads to very different needs. Vacationers, who only visit during the ideal seasons, don't need to be as concerned with seasonality. If you will be a full-time resident, you will want to know what the tough seasons bring and how the area is maintained. A dirt lake access road versus a paved lake access road leads to very different driving conditions throughout Wisconsin winters!
How does seasonality impact your lake lifestyle? How can you entertain yourself in spring, summer, fall, and winter? Different lakes have different lifestyles and cultures. Some lakes have ski shows and venues that coordinate party barges and lake parties. Make sure the activities, sports, and events align with your interests and preferences!
What do you need to do to maintain a lake home during the winter when you are not there? Can the property be winterized and simply be a summer getaway? If you are buying a full-time residence, make sure you have the proper insulation and heating to remain comfortable. Also, make sure there is proper protection to prevent the pipes from freezing! If you are going to winterize the cabin, understand what the means and what you have to do. Make sure you know the type of maintenance you are signing up for!
What should you expect for the average season? Have accurate expectations about the typical season’s temperature and weather as well as the anomalies. Anticipate what Mother Nature may throw at you and have the appropriate insurance! Some areas are at greater risk for severe weather throughout the summer. Ask residents about their experiences.
How busy is the lake during each season? The seasonality will directly influence the lake activity. You want accurate expectations of what to expect. Also, you want a contact on the lake at all times of the year. You want someone to call after severe weather strikes to see if your lake home has been affected and if your property has been damaged.
#3 Evaluate the State of the Home & Lot
What is the current condition of the home and its yard? What is the condition of the shoreline? It is far easier to change the home than it is the yard! The weather and moisture in the air will influence the water level. Increases and decreases in the water level can degrade your property. You want to know how the water level is maintained and who is responsible for monitoring and controlling the water level.
What is the view like? Are they still building on lots nearby? You want to make sure you love the view now as well as 5 years from now. If they are still building on lots nearby, a new home may eventually block the view of the sunset or infringe on your privacy.
How much privacy do you want? How large of a yard do you want? Some lake properties are packed closely together, while others have larger spacious lots. Imagine summer evenings sitting on the porch or sitting around the fire pit. Then, imagine your neighbors doing the same thing next door. Lots that are closer to the water have less privacy, while lots farther from the water have more privacy and are often more expensive!
#4 Evaluate the Lake Access
How do you access the lake? Is the lot flat? Lake access is a priority for many. Not only consider if you have access but also how you get to the lake. Some lake properties are flat, while others are built high above the water and require a series of stairs to access the lake. Flat lots are great for recreational yard activities and games, while steep lots provide a great view from above and reduce the risk of flooding. Flat lots are also ideal if you plan on retiring on the lake.
How many other people have access to the lake? Is the lake a private or public lake? Consider how many private residences are on the lake. The number of properties directly influences the activity and environment of the lake. Also, consider if the lake is a private lake solely for property owners or if it is a public lake open to anyone.
#5 Evaluate the State of the Lake
What is the water clarity? Is the bottom of lake sandy, muddy, or rocky? What is the shoreline like? Don’t fall in love with a property to only find out you hate the lake. You can always add-on to the property or rebuild the house, but you cannot change the location or the lake. If you are buying a lake home for the family and anticipate the kids swimming, you don’t want the kids whining about the mucky bottom or the weeds.
What is the current state of the lake? Is the lake healthy and well maintained? Lakes maintenance is required to keep the fish population healthy and plentiful, to keep the weeds at bay, to keep the shorelines clean, and to keep the water level in check.
Is there any wildlife on the lake such as ducks or geese that could become a nuisance? Are there any invasive species concerns? If there are nuisances, you want to know what you can do about it versus what you have to tolerate. Invasive species can permanently alter the ecosystem of a lake, so you want to know the risks and what is being done about the issue.
#6 Determine Your Ideal Home Orientation
What is the home's orientation to the sun? Do you want to watch the sunset from your porch or do you want to wake up to the sunrise? Does the lake home get morning or afternoon sun? Is there any shade or protection from the sun? The home’s orientation will influence many aspects of your day to day lake living.
What direction does the wind blow and how will winds blowing off the lake affect your lifestyle and heating costs? The wind direction not only influences your heating costs in winter but also your daily routines of having coffee on the patio or sipping wine while watching the sunset.
#7 Check if There is a Lake Association
Is there a lake association? What are the lake association dues? Are there any upcoming assessments that will require an additional investment? What are the lake rules? Make sure you know what you are signing up for. Ask about the lake association, dues, and rules. You will want to learn about the guidelines and the maintenance you are signing up for. Some lakes have rules dictating the maximum height of the grass. Some months you might be too busy to make it to the lake to care for the property, so you will have to hire someone else to cut the grass.
Are there quiet hours? Are there speed restrictions? Quiet hours increase consideration, but also can limit the fun and party on the lake! You want to know the rules so that you, your family, and guests are good neighbors to everyone else on the lake.
#8 Know the Legal, Conservation, and Zoning Restrictions
Are there zoning restrictions or conservation regulations? Lakes are considered wetlands and fall under the Wetlands protection act and open lakes to additional regulation. A local conservation board will likely have influence over anything within 100 feet of the lake. Whitewater Lake falls under Walworth County Land Use and Resource Management (LURM) Shoreland Zoning.
What are the local and state ordinances? The local and state departments regulate what you can build or clear on your property. Do you love the lake home as it is? Or do you anticipate additions to the property? If so, make sure you familiarize yourself with the zoning, state, and county restrictions. Find out what you can do with the property – Can you add a gazebo? Can you add onto to the home? Can you build a second garage or a boathouse? Can you upgrade the pier?
#9 Scope Out the Nearby Conveniences
What medical care, restaurants, or stores are in the area? Medical care is essential for anticipated injuries, accidents, and insect bites. You will also want to know how far you have to drive to a restaurant versus the grocery store.
Nearby conveniences are even more important for full-time residents. You want to know what to expect from the community and how you can get involved. Also, it is important to consider the route to these nearby conveniences? Can you get to the store during bad weather?
#10 Know the Difference Between Septic vs. Sewer & Determine What Utilities Are Available
Does the home have a septic system or public sewer? Some lakes have access to a public sewer, while other lake homes simply have a septic system. A septic system can be very costly to replace and requires maintenance. Typically, you need to hire a company to empty your septic tank every 1 or 2 years. This number can vary depending on the size of your tank, the average number of occupants, and the amount of use. Depending on the regulations, you may also have to get your septic tank inspected.
Are electricity, cable, and internet services readily available? Look into the providers and the associated costs. Ask the neighbors about the reliability and quality of these services. Unlike suburban or city life, these services may not always be readily available. Bringing these services to remote areas can be costly.
Whether you are buying or selling a lake home, you want to work with someone you trust and who understands the complexities of buying lakefront property. You want someone that can help you anticipate the challenges and considerations you would never have thought of yourself!