Buying a Lake Home

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kayakDreaming of warm weather, sitting on the boat with a book or a cool cocktail, or the grandchildren coming over and playing the water?

Likely, you have been spending months on the internet looking at lakefront property online. Studying the photos but can’t tell how many steps down to the water. Or, if the bottom is sandy or full of lily pads. Wondering if the lake can accommodate a 20 foot speed boat, is it deep enough for a sail boat, are jet-ski’s allowed, can the dock handle a permanent dock for a 24 foot pontoon boat, is the shoreline going to allow a simple kayak.

Nothing can satisfy these and other questions, like getting out there and taking a look. Over the next couple of months the real estate market will be filling up with lakefront property. If you get the chance, get out there and drive around the lakes and small towns surrounding the lakes. Michigan offers spectacular lakefront living and the diverse lakefront options mean there is something out there for everyone.

When touring lake homes in the late winter or early spring many times the homes have been closed up for the winter. The heat may not be on yet. The docks don’t usually go in until after May and the shore lines may still be covered by snow. So you will need to rely on your experience with the lake, if you have been there during the summer, the satellite imagery, photos of the property, and experience of your real estate agent to guide you through the process.

Here are a few tips and questions you should be asking yourself to get started:

1. What size lake will accommodate the lake activities I desire?

We commonly talk about the size of the lake by the surface area, or how many acres is the lake. Additional consideration related to this would be the shape of the lake and the depth of the lake. Here are few suggested guides:

< 50 acres: This is quite small for a ‘lake’. But small lakes can offer more privacy. Usually not a speed boat or jet-ski lake. But would be more accommodating for a kayak or small fishing boat. The shoreline is rarely sandy but usually are excellent havens for wildlife.

<150 acres: If the lake is round in shape and fairly deep (30 feet or more) having a smaller speed boat is more likely and the shoreline should be a bit more firm. Home owners on a small lake of this size is more likely to be a year around home or a small summer time cottage.

<500 +/- acres: Lakes of this size are more common for all sports lake living excluding sail boating. Everything from water skiing to excellent fishing and if you are lucky – a sandy beach front or firm bottom.

> 1000 acres: there are only a few lakes in Michigan that fall in this category. Two popular ones in the greater Kalamazoo area are Gull Lake and Gun Lake. Gull Lake is over 110 feet deep and has a history of fishing tournaments, boat races and sail boat races, scuba diving and everything in between. This highly desirable lake features million dollar homes, only 2 public access points, golf club, marina and well known bible camp and Kellogg Manor and bird sanctuary. Gun Lake has a vastly different population. Home values are more typically $400,000 – $800,000. The shape and the depth of the lake do not accommodate sailing or boat races but it does offer more slightly more privacy with the mature trees and coves. There are many restaurants and the well-known Bay Pointe Inn. This area is also surrounded substantial state and county parks promoting such activities as horse-back riding, camping, and hunting in addition to the water activities.

2. How important is a lake association?

A lake association at a bare minimum will help coordinate clean water initiatives and weed control but many lake associations boost the enjoyment of the home owners offering social activities, fireworks, boat parades and other community events. The best way to learn about a lake and the activities is through the lake association and many will have an online presence either a website or a Facebook page.

3. From dinning to ice cream, to groceries and movie theaters – what do I expect from the surrounding communities and how far am I willing to drive?

Many times you can only determine if the community offerings are to your own expectations by visiting the area. There are a fair number of lakes over 30 minutes from Kalamazoo which would be the closest larger city. This is fine for many who are looking to get away from the big city. Some smaller communities have more to offer than others from wine tours to antique stores to home cooked diners.

4. Peace and quiet and nature is more important than a sandy beach and active boaters, what are my options?

Consider a lake that does not have a public access point or lakes that have a large portion in a park or nature preserve. There are hundreds of lakes that are considered private or only have a limited number of home sites. Often these properties are more affordable than their counterparts on the all sports lakes.

5. Lake-front vs. lake access vs. public access – what is the difference?

Know what you are buying and before you write the check for the property verify the riparian rights are called out in the deed or legal description. Some homes will be located across the street from the lake but still own the smaller portion of property that has the lakefront or dock access. This is still considered “lakefront” but this may not be what you were expecting. Lake access should be deeded access but not all deeded access rights allow you to have a dock or leave a boat. When reviewing the legal paperwork if the riparian rights are not clear it is recommended to consult with an attorney.

Other considerations may be important to you and your idea of lakefront living such as sunrise view or sunset view. Select a real estate agent that can assist you through this process, asks the right questions, and guide you through the process. But also, you will want to perform your own due diligence and learn what you can about the lake and community.

Featured Lake Front Properties – Gull Lake

Local Lakes – featured lakes with descriptions and links to real estate for sale.


About the Author
Leslee is an associate broker of United Country Michigan Lifestyle Properties based in Richland Michigan, just outside of Kalamazoo. Learn more about Leslee at http://www.MichiganCountryHomes.com

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