Cartoon with check mark

How to find and buy a lake house

There is nothing more glamorous then owning a lake house. Whether a weekender or permanent resident, we often are driven by fond childhood memories of vacationing at a lake house or on a boat. Just the mention of owning a lake property will induce conversation with friends or total strangers. While there is nothing more rewarding than finding your perfect lake property, the following choices will help you avoid a watery nightmare and enjoy paradise on a lake.


Cartoon with check mark

  • decide distance from home or family
  • consider the weather for more summer fun
  • find an agent who actually lives lakeside
  • understand lakeside versus lake access
  • get to know the lake

Cartoon with x mark

  • buy the boat before the home
  • drive and seek For Sale signs
  • think the land always comes with the home
  • forget the marina, shoreline and dock


Do decide distance from home or family

The first choice in finding a lake house is how far you’ll want to be from your primary home, family and/or friends. The consensus is that two to three hours is acceptable to many. Buyers that have purchased six to eights hours away admit that they don’t use it as much or family and friends don’t want to make the drive to visit for a weekend. Watch your drive time. There is nothing worse then spending a relaxing weekend at your lake house and getting caught in hours of stressful traffic on your way back home.

Do consider the weather for more summer fun

Are you buying a lake house for summer fun/ boating or is winter sports/ snowmobiling important to you? Weather patterns may influence these seasons. Many buyers are thankful to discuss this, as it will add months of enjoyment to your choice.

Do find an agent who actually lives lakeside

An absolute must is to use an agent who lives on a lake fulltime. Many who represent lake properties have never lived lakeside or even driven a boat. Information about the lake from these people may be inaccurate. Finding a professional agent who knows the bow and stern of lake house living will ensure a smooth transaction, proper information and the best lake property for you.

Do understand lakeside versus lake access

During your home tours, you will often see that the value of your dollar gets more when the home is off lake. Being part of the lake community, the property offers the privilege of lake access. Basically, to use the lake, you’ll have to drop your boat in, use community docks if applicable, or drive to a community beach. Though the price of these properties makes them appealing, there is no comparison to walking out your back door to your boat, dock or lake! You will boat, swim or fish much more when living lakeside.

Do get to know the lake

In every home buying process, I always suggest the buyer uses professional inspectors, mortgage companies and real estate attorneys. Unfortunately, the burden of knowing the lake is on the buyer. Where available, an agent that is a true lake specialist will be invaluable in understanding: Is the lake healthy? Does your shoreline need work? What length and motor of boats are allowed on the lake? Who controls the lake? Who stocks the lake? How busy is the lake? Can you swim in the lake? Where is your dog allowed? What is the lake like at night? How active are bugs and snakes in the area? Who can use your lake house?


Do not buy the boat before the home

Home buyers should choose a lake that fits their lifestyle. Often lakes have boat and motor size restrictions that could affect your choices. I have seen one foot of length making all the difference in a buyer living on a lake that fits their parameters or being stuck with a boat they can’t use. Lake categories often are: non-motorized, trolling motor only, 10 horse power max, 18 foot speed boat, 24 foot pontoon, cabin cruiser, house boat or larger.

Finding your perfect lake house first will enable you to choose the boat(s) that meet the requirements of the lake.

Do not drive and seek For Sale signs

We have all done it. Driving around on a sunny afternoon and dreaming. Excitement gets the best of us, and we call on a home that has a For Sale sign out. Before we know it, we are signing on the dotted line without knowing who just serviced us. Worst idea in the world! I have seen consumers- purchase a property for $30,000 more than its value, buy a home during the day where a billboard obnoxiously lights up the night, and buy a lake home on a canal that is too shallow to be accessed by boat.

We spend time seeking out the best butchers, bakers and candlestick makers but we’ll use anyone to make the largest transaction in our lives. Do your homework. Choose a fulltime, professional, lake specialist.

Do not think the land always comes with the home

The average homeowner has come to understand that they buy the home and lot/ land on which it stands. Not always true with waterfront property! Lake houses may reside on property that is owned by other entities like the Department of Natural Resources, the local city, the lake association or even a private person. Sometimes the shoreline and all the access that goes with it is owned by these entities. I have seen this failed to be disclosed to the buyer. This type of leasehold ownership may dictate how or what you can do with your lake house. Once again, using a lake specialist may identify these potential issues and help you make more informed decisions.

Do not forget the marina, shoreline and dock

You are not just buying a home here you are buying a lifestyle! Many buyers or their agents overlook the cost and responsibility of your shoreline and dock. I feel we are caretakers of the little part of the ecosystem which you are buying into. The health of your lake may depend on it. Resist the tendency for a sterile, manicured shoreline and make it habitat friendly per the guidelines of the Department of Natural Resources, Soil and Water Conservation of the county, and my favorite the Chicago Botanical Gardens.

Since there are stationary, rolling, and floating docks, the dock should be an item identified on contract. The expense could be $5,000 to $25,000 if the dock needs to be built or repaired.

Another overlooked amenity is if a quality marina or mechanic is nearby. In my mind, this raises the perceived value of your lake house considerably. There is nothing worse than having your boat down for half the summer. An agent who lives on a lake will be cognizant of this matter and should be able to identify where the better marinas are.


Your lake house will be a source of relaxation, inspiration and fun. Relying on the expertise of a professional who specializes in lake property will make the process effortless and satisfying. This investment will not only be for you but for your valued family, friends and future generations. It is a lifetime dream of many, yet a realization by only a few. Enjoy the stars, sunsets and every memorable moment!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *