Advice for buying a lake house

Are you seriously thinking about purchasing your own family Lake House?  Typical first reactions are to focus on the house of our dreams and perfect spot of the lake.  These are definitely important considerations but the first step should be to select the ideal community or town to begin your search. Here are some tips you should consider to help guide your family to the perfect location.

1. Travel time from your main home.

How many hours are you prepared to spend in the car driving to and from your new lake get-away?  Busy families should consider the amount of travel time required to get to new spot so fun time is maximized and travel is not a burden.

2. What are your most favorite Lake house activities?

Not all lakes are created equal! It’s important to remember that some smaller lakes might not support all waterfront activities. For example, a fifty acre lake may only permit small boats and restrict motor boat speeds. You can’t enjoy water skiing on those lakes. If you want to fish, check on the fish species mix in the Lake you are considering.  The species mix and fishing restrictions can vary.

3. What is your anticipated family usage?

Are you hoping to use the property year-round or is this just a summer get-away? If year round use is a goal, identify the winter activities your family enjoys such as downhill skiing, ice fishing, snowmobiling or sledding. Be sure you there are places to ski, trails to snow mobile and other facilities to support the winter activities.

4. Are there critical resources your family requires?

All families have specific dynamics that should be considered as you scope out Lake House locations.  You might need easy access to a hospital or desire multiple grocery stores options. Perhaps you are looking for a yoga studio or fitness center. Many more remote properties will not have a local hospital or full service grocery store.

5. What is the status of cell phone coverage and internet services?

One of the first goals of buying a lake house retreat is to get away from the daily pressures and hustle-bustle of urban living. It is easy to overlook the realty that we are very dependable on our cell phones, laptops, tablets and the internet.  Surprisingly, some of the more remote lake front locations have limited to poor internet signals and speeds and cell phone coverage can be spotty to non-existent.  A simple internet search about the local status of these services is your first step, but you should ask about each specific property you are seriously considering as services can vary house to house on a remote road! Internet coverage can be affected by property specific issues such as the tree canopy of the setting. Who knew?!!

6. Who provides fire, police and ambulance coverage for the home and how far away is it?

It is common for safety services like fire and police to be provided by the county in more remote locations. Be sure you understand how far away from your home these services are dispatched so you have in mind how long it will take for police, ambulance or fire to arrive at your home if you need help.

7. Understand ownership restrictions and responsibilities.

Some lakes and river waterfront properties have restrictions on docks, boat houses and more. State and local restrictions vary widely. Check out the source of water that fills your lake. Sometimes a dam is used to control water flow and levels causing shore lines to vary year to year. In some cases, lake front properties are only offered with 25 year to 50 year leases rather than outright ownership.  Other property locations may have a requirement for you to perform specific types of maintenance to the shore, dock, water or lake weeds. It is important to understand these issues as they will affect how you can use and enjoy your new home.

8. Check out local dining and entertainment amenities.

It is helpful to a have a few reliable, nearby places for the family to grab a quick bite to eat. After a busy day on the lake, it is relaxing to go out and have a pizza or burger without the hassle of meal prep. The number of restaurant amenities will decrease as your location becomes more remote.  If you want access to a broader range of options including more upscale dining, you should look for lakes that are near a larger town.

9. What about the Local schools?

The local school system is typically not a ‘top of mind’ consideration when you are picking a summer lake house retreat. While not your biggest issue to consider, it should not be ignored.  I know of families that have decided to permanently move to their lake house and their children have enrolled in the local schools. It is valuable to understand the overall quality of the local school system. It is also important to consider the proximity of your home to all the schools.  There are cases in northern Wisconsin where high school students have more than an hour’s bus ride to and from school.

10. What is your budget for your new get-away?

Setting a budget for a lake front vacation home is a critical step to beginning your search as there is significant price variations among lake front communities. Like all real estate, lake front properties vary in price per square foot based on location, amenities, inventory, and much more. Real estate websites such as Zillow and offer great local information about available properties and pertinent statistics about property values. Take advantage of those resources.

Purchasing a lake house is a life changing event for your family. Special times and life long memories will be built at your get away.  If you begin by taking the time to investigate some of the subtle issues about your potential new lake front property, your will reduce surprises or disappointments after the big purchase has been made. Happy house hunting!!!