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How to Purchase a Lake House Vacation Home

Updated on February 20, 2013
Lake Gaston is beautiful at every season
Lake Gaston is beautiful at every season | Source

When you decide to purchase a second home, it is an exciting time. Be careful to resist the urge to immediately buy a piece of property. Intense research, smart budgeting and careful considerations will minimize your risk and aid in a successful purchase.

How to Select a Vacation Home Location

When selecting a location for your second home, decide if you will be using this home as a vacation home, for rental income, or both. If you will be using the home, how often? On the weekends, once a month, or for the summer? If it is a home your family wants to use, make sure the location is one that is not too difficult or timely to get to if you plan to use it regularly. A three hour radius may be doable for weekend use, but under two hours is even better. Also, choose a location that is conducive to the activities your family is interested in. Ice fishing may be fun for dads and grandpas, but kids that want to engage in water sports need warmer waters.

If you have children, consider their ages. It is easier to get away when the kids are younger. As they get older, they may have jobs or sports commitments, and they may be reluctant to leave their friends. How many years will you enjoy the home before too many activities prevent you from going as often as you would like? If you are purchasing the home with the thought of one day retiring there, does it meet the needs of your family now and your anticipated future needs?

If you are using the home for rental income, are you going to hire a maintenance management company to care for it or are you going to attempt that yourself? If it is the latter, make sure you can easily drive to the site.

Once you have determined the desired radius from your primary location, determine which lakes are in the area and do extensive research. Make sure the lake you are considering does not run dry in a drought. Find out if it is a water source for another city. Is the lake treated with chemicals to contain bacteria? If possible, visit the lake in the heat of the summer and mid winter. If the lake is maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, contact them to find our more information. Is there a certain water level maintained for the lake? Obtaining these answers prior to a purchase can save you from making a poor investment choice.

Lake Gaston at sunset
Lake Gaston at sunset | Source

Water Sports on the Lake

Wake boarding on Lake Gaston
Wake boarding on Lake Gaston | Source
Wake boarding on Lake Gaston
Wake boarding on Lake Gaston | Source

Determine Your Price Range

Before you set your eyes on your dream vacation home, do a thorough audit of your current income and expenses. Try to anticipate future expenses as well. Also, keep in mind these expenses that go into owning a lake home:

  • Homeowners insurance: This tends to come at a higher premium due to it being water front property.
  • Watercraft: It's no fun being on the lake without owning at least one boat! Think pontoon boat, ski boat, fishing boat, jet skis, etc.
  • Property taxes: Additional taxes for your new home, as well as your new boats.
  • Home Furnishings: All the comforts of home!
  • Lake toys: Whether it's fishing gear, wake boards, kayaks, kneeboards, tubes or floats, you are going to want toys.
  • Utilities: Even if you use the home infrequently, there is still a cost to heat and cool the home as well as regular home maintenance expenses. Whatever you think this number will be, double it.

Owning a lake home is a wonderful experience, but you do not want the home to become a financial burden or it will significantly diminish the enjoyable experience.

Do research on the selling price of homes with a similar desired square footage. Decide upon a monetary range that you feel comfortable with and start your search. Be aware that in many locations, homes on the main lake are considered more desirable, thus carrying a higher asking price than those on a distant cove.

Find a reputable realty that specializes in waterfront
Find a reputable realty that specializes in waterfront | Source

How to Select a Realtor for a Lake Home Purchase

Finding a highly responsive, knowledgeable realtor is key to having a positive experience when purchasing your lake home. First, find two to three real-estate agents you may want to work with.

Find Realtors

  1. Ask people you know with homes on the lake for their recommendations.
  2. Find a realtor who lives on the lake. There is no one who will know the lake better than one who lives there. She will also want to make you pleased with your purchase if she is also your neighbor.
  3. Research the top realtors for the area. See who currently has the most listings.

Interview Realtors

  1. Find out how long they have been a realtor, and how long they have been selling homes on the lake.
  2. Ask them questions about the housing market in the area. They should be well versed.
  3. Inquire about property values.

Check References

  1. Call references. Ask people what they liked and didn't like about the particular realtor.
  2. Check the agency and realtor accreditations.

Kayaking on Lake Gaston

Kayaking is one of many activities to do on a lake
Kayaking is one of many activities to do on a lake | Source

Know the Lake Rules and Restrictions

There is not a uniform set of rules for lakes. Each lake has its own regulations to be aware of. Some smaller lakes to not allow watercraft with motors. Some lakes do not allow certain types of boats, like high speed cigarette boats. Each lake has its own restrictions on what ages are required by law to wear a life jacket in a moving vessel. Knowing the rules of your lake can save you future fines.

Final Checks Before Purchasing a Lake Home

Before you make your decision to purchase a lake home, be sure to visit the house by land as well as by boat. Sometimes great houses have small tunnels to get through before you can access the main lake. Make sure you are comfortable with the distance and route to travel to the nearest marina or boat ramp.

If your potential new home has its own dock, measure the depth of the water. Make sure it is deep enough for a boat as well as swimming. Homes with shallow dock areas do not make for good resale.

Lastly, be sure to visit the home on an average Saturday in the summer to get a good idea of how the boat traffic will be. What may seem like a quiet area of the lake can be very busy on a weekend. Make sure the boat traffic will not affect the docking of the boat or swimming off your dock.

If you have done all the research and found a home with in your budget, then you have lessened the risk of your investment to the best of your ability. Enjoy building lasting memories at your new lake home!


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    • LauraGSpeaks profile image

      LauraGSpeaks 3 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Marilyn, I am so glad you found the information useful. Have a home on a lake is a lot of work, but far worth the effort. I wish you the best of luck when you begin your search. Thanks for stopping by.

    • Marilyn Fritz profile image

      Marilyn 3 years ago from Nevada

      I am impressed with your suggestions, and informative content. Someday my husband and I hope to have a vacation home like a lake house. It would be so peaceful and beautiful. Now we are equipped with ideas on how to locate and purchase one!

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image

      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      billybuc, I am sure the state of Washington has beautiful lakes, perfect for you to do your writing from! Thanks for reading.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Good suggestions for sure. Maybe someday I'll be able to do this. If I had to pick one place I'd like a cabin or home, it would be on the shores of a wilderness lake. That, for me, would be serenity at its finest.

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image

      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Thanks GoodLady!I love our lake house, but I dream of visiting your gorgeous Italian countryside.

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 5 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Pinned this Laura because it's the only way to enjoy the idea of a lake house second home! Lovely hub, thanks.

    • LauraGSpeaks profile image

      LauraGSpeaks 5 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      banks cottage, I love your hammock overlooking the lake. It looks so relaxing! You made good points on ongoing maintenance and population density--both are important items to figure into the purchasing decision. For us, I think there is more home maintenance on the lake house than our regular house. It needs power washing several times a year to avoid the dirt, spider webs and seasonal green slime. You also have to consider boat maintenance too. It is easy to be overwhelmed with the expenses, but the memories are priceless.

    • bankscottage profile image

      bankscottage 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Laura, great Hub and great tips and suggestions for owning a lake home. We have a great home on a lake in Maine (my picture is our hammock overlooking the lake in the direction of the sunset). When we bought it, it was about 45 minutes from our home. Moving to PA it is now 13 hours. We still keep it because it is a great place, my wife spends the summer there and someday, in retirement, we will both summer there.

      Our lake is dam controlled to supply water to a papermill several miles away. The water level can vary and it can cause some issues as you point out. Ideally, I would like the water kept up in the summer and lowered in the winter (so that I didn't have to take my dock out every year).

      One other expense that comes with a lake home is maintenance. Just like a primary home, things always need to be painted, repaired, replaced, updated, etc. The buyer has to decide if they want to do these themselves or hire others.

      Another consideration when looking at a potential lake is "population density". Are the buildings close together? Are there a lot of them or relatively few. Is the lake primarily used by the owners or, because of a public boat launch, do a lot of visitors come on weekends and holidays? Is there a "destination" somewhere on the lake, such as marina, small town, etc., where you may be able to take your boat for lunch or shopping.

      Our lake is actually a series of 3 connected long, narrow lakes. We are about 7 or more miles from the public boat launch so we don't get a lot of visitors down by our end. The homes are spread out and I can see a home across the lake easier than I can see them next to me. Even on summer weekends or July 4th, you can have the lake almost to yourself.

      Voted up, interesting, useful, and shared.


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