Search by state, county, zip
Rachel Bevill-Cottrell | 2022-08-18

A Guide to Buying Lakefront Property

A Guide to Buying Lakefront Property

Buying land is an extensive process, and buying waterfront property can be even more complicated. There may be rules and regulations, unexpected costs, and extra paperwork that you’re unaware of.

If you’re considering buying recreational water frontage of any type, you should understand what exactly you’re buying, or possibly, what you’re buying into. This comprehensive guide will help you navigate the art of buying a lakefront property.

Questions to Ask Before Buying

What Are Water Rights?

Water rights are not as simple as “Who can fish in my lake?” There are many differences in water laws across the U.S., and each state may have different regulations.

Ultimately, water rights are in place to protect the integrity of the water, land, and nature while simultaneously balancing human use and enjoyment. However, water rights also impact access, especially if you’re looking at property adjacent to a public lake.

What Are Your Must Haves?

Make a comprehensive list of what you expect to gain from buying a lakefront property. Everyone’s needs and wants are different, and you may need to seek out very specific types of lakefront properties. Having a list of questions to show your trusted land agent will give you a head start.

Do Property Lines Extend Into The Water?

Generally speaking, no. As mentioned above, property on a lake does not usually extend into the water. The waterbed may be owned by a separate entity and regulated depending on the location. If you’re concerned with owning the actual water, speak with a recreational real estate agent and search for a small, private lake.

Can You Put a Boat Dock On Deeded Lake Access?

Deeded lake access refers to owning a property that does not extend to the shoreline and requires a deed, or a written legal agreement, that allows you to use the land extending to the shore to access the water.

Given that you do not own the land that extends to the water, you would likely not retain the right to construct a boat dock on this deeded access. Unless you have a deed with written, legally binding permission to construct a boat dock on the shoreline, you will not be able to do so.

How to Choose Your Lakefront Property

Step One: Decide What Type of Lakefront Property You Want

Determine whether you want lake view, lake access, or physical ownership of the waterbed. A property listed as “lake-view” is likely just that: a home with a beautiful view of the lake.

If this is all you want, you may save some money by purchasing a lake view property over a lake access property. The luxury of being within a short walking distance of the lake, and owning the property adjacent to the shoreline, is generally more expensive than just owning a home with a nice view.

Step Two: Decide How You Will Utilize The Property

If you’re intending to use the lake for recreational purposes, you should consider how you plan on utilizing the property. If you want a boat dock, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Does the property already have a boat dock on it? If not, you will need to do your due diligence to be sure that there are no laws prohibiting you from building a boat dock on this particular property.
  • Do you want a personal boat dock, or is there a nearby community boat dock suited to your needs? Many lakes have small, community boat docks where you can store your boat for an annual fee, and if this is something that fits your goals, it may save you the paperwork, stress, and money that it would take to construct your own.

Be aware that on public water, construction near the shoreline may be expensive, or potentially even prohibited. Here are some other things to consider:

  • Depending on the location of the home, you may be required to carry flood insurance, an unexpected cost that you would need to budget for.
  • Some lakes have strict regulations on construction near the shoreline. This is in an effort to preserve natural beauty, the quality of the water, and potentially the integrity of the entity that owns the actual water bed.

Step Three: Decide If You Want Private or Public Access

Learn whether the body of water you’re wanting to purchase a home on is classified as private or public. In general, if the body of water is navigable by motor boat, chances are it has public water access.

Public water simply means that you do not own the actual body of water; the state, the Corps of Engineers, or some other entity retains the rights to the water bed. You may own access to the water or the land connecting to the water, but not the water itself or the waterbed.

It is important to note that these rules are generally extended to the waterbed, and not the shoreline because water levels change depending on rainfall.

Just because you don’t own the water doesn’t mean that you can’t utilize it. You can still swim in public water, but be aware that other people may have access to it as well. If privacy is your main concern, seek a private body of water. A land agent that specializes in recreational land in your area will be able to help you understand the different nuances of private and public water access.

Step Four: Find Out Who Owns the Lake You’re Considering

When choosing a lakefront property, you should decide what lake (or lakes) you’re considering, and research who owns that body of water and the water access. Finding a trusted real estate professional will be pivotal in this entire process. A recreational land agent can help you with your search and conduct due diligence to uncover important details, like ownership and access info.

If it is classified as undesignated public land, it may be under different rules than public water owned by a specific entity or the state. Depending on the ownership of the actual lake, there may be rules and regulations that differ from state to state, county to county, and lake to lake. Familiarize yourself with these rules and regulations to be sure that the lake frontage you’re considering will meet your needs and goals.

Pros and Cons of Buying Lakefront Property

The pros of lakefront property are probably why you’re dreaming of scenic sunsets and boat rides:

  • A beautiful view
  • Easy, fast access to water-related recreational activities
  • Higher appreciation value

Of course, you should also look at the cons before purchasing any property. When it comes to water frontage, consider:

  • Privacy on popular public lakes
  • Flooding risks
  • Distance from towns and amenities

Final Thoughts

There are many nuances to buying and owning lakefront property, but if you’ve done your research, there is no reason why you shouldn’t begin this journey. Be sure to work with a recreational land specialist for help with your lakefront property search and due diligence.

If you’re interested in talking to a recreational land agent in your area and beginning your search, connect with your local AcrePro Land Expert.