Thinking of Buying a Lakeside Home? 9 Things You’d Better Consider First

August 31, 2021

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already been scrolling through listings in search of your idyllic lakeside cottage. And who could blame you? In these dog days of summer, we could all use a little waterfront respite from life’s stresses.

Take it from me—lakeside living truly is a dream come true. My grandpa built a cabin in Michigan where I spent many weekends and summers, and it’s still used by our family today.

I also owned a home across from a lake at another point in my life. Lakeside living means no more crowded hotel pools and impersonal cramped rooms.

It means sinking your toes in the sand on your own private beach, waking up to sun-kissed mornings and sipping coffee on the deck, and ending the day with breathtaking sunsets and the rhythmic soundscape of bird calls and water lapping the shore.

But all that blissful daydreaming aside, buying a lakeside cottage is way different from buying a typical home. And if you’re not careful, you could end up in the deep end (pun intended!). Here’s what you need to factor in before making your lakeside dreams a reality.

1. Consider the type of lake
The main (and most amazing) difference between buying a lakeside cottage and a regular home is lake frontage!

But “the type of lake makes a world of difference in your lakeside experience,” says Sarah Darrow, a lakeside homeowner and broker with Realty ONE Group Clarity in Stanwood, WA.

Do you envision puttering around the lake on a pontoon or high-powered motorboat? You’d better make sure it’s allowed.

“I live on a lake that does not allow gas-powered motors and has a very low speed limit,” says Darrow.

If you’re more into sunbathing and swimming, is the lake clean or mucky? Is it shallow near the shore, or does it drop off quickly? Besides water sports, there are other essential details to consider.

“Each lake may be categorized differently by the local, state, or federal jurisdictions,” says Darrow. “These designations will likely have an impact on what you are allowed to do along the waterline and lot.”

That includes things like new docks, expanded parking, and beach enhancements.

2. You should ask about the shoreline
You can pretty much do whatever you want when it comes to gardening and landscaping your house. When you live on a lake, however, there are typically rules and guidelines to protect the shoreline. There may be restrictions on the materials you can use, to prevent shoreline erosion; regulations for developing reinforced beach areas; or even bans on certain types of lawn fertilizer.

Speaking of the shoreline, be sure to check the history and see where it’s trending.

“The Great Lakes levels have hit historic highs over the last couple of years,” says Rob Serbin, broker and owner of Serbin Real Estate in Glen Arbor, MI.

Shoreline erosion can damage or completely demolish your lakeside vacation home. Securing permits from local and state authorities to amend the property may take much longer than you planned and become an extra expense you weren’t planning. On the other hand, if lower water levels are trending, your cottage could end up being farther from the water.

3. Look at where the sun shines (or doesn’t)
It might not matter too much where the sun rises and sets in your primary house, but when you buy a lakeside vacation home, that is something to consider for the quintessential lakeside experience.

“Think about morning coffee on the dock watching the sun come up, or evening cocktails on the patio—in the sun, or shade?” says Serbin. “Sunsets, while nice, can also heat up the interior of a home or cottage, and exposure to the sun can also create premature wear and tear on siding and roofing.”

You might need to earmark extra funds for weather-resistant materials to keep the decks and docks in good shape.

4. Can you rent out your cottage?
“While you may pay more for a lakefront home than a typical home, there’s also an opportunity for vacation or short-term rentals when you aren’t using the property,” says Lauren Buckland, director of sales and broker-in-charge, Cliffs Realty.

Local property management can check on the property, maintain the landscaping, and clean between renters. But before you start fantasizing about the loads of cash you’ll rake in, check with local ordinances to make sure you can legally rent out your home.

5. Check for connectivity
With so many people working remotely, it’s possible to hang your hat just about anywhere—as long as you have high-speed internet access. Verify the speed and bandwidth if that’s important to you. If you have other obligations, or if the kids are still in school, living full time at the lake might have to wait.

6. Keep seasonal upkeep costs in mind
Consider hiring a property management company to perform regular checks while you’re away, suggests Buckland. Although you may think of your cottage as a summer getaway, winterizing it could be a smart move to avoid frozen pipes that can burst if temperatures fall below freezing.

In fact, if it is well insulated, you may want to consider keeping the heat on in winter, Serbin says.

“Cold winter temps inside can cause extra shrinkage in trim, flooring, and drywall,” he points out.

7. You might have to pay for storage
It seems houses never have enough storage, but they usually come with a garage, shed, basement, or attic where things can be stored. Lakeside cottages might not have the same storage options. Will you be able to throw tarps on the patio furniture and other outside goods? What about your boat? Will you haul it back home or store it near the cottage?

“If you plan to store a boat at your new cottage, research options for winterizing it during the off season to keep it in good condition,” says Buckland. “Some companies will pick up your boat from your home and deliver it back to you when you’re ready to get back on the lake.”

8. Can you add on?
Lakeside cottages almost always have restrictions on making structural changes. You may have to jump through a few hoops, whether you’re building a new deck or adding on to the cottage.

“Check with the local authorities regarding any zoning restrictions, a lake association, or homeowners association who can provide you with written rules that may be attached to your property,” says Serbin. “A title commitment will often reference deed restrictions of record that can affect your future use.”

9. You need an agent who specializes in lakeside homes
Finding the ideal lakeside cottage requires a real estate agent who is familiar with all facets of lakeside living. The average agent usually doesn’t have the detailed knowledge of waterfront properties as someone who specializes in lakeside homes.
Article By: Lisa Marie Conklin |