TIPS ON BUYING LAKEFRONT PROPERTY
BY CATHY BLIGHT
WHY IS LOCATION ON THE LAKE IMPORTANT?
It impacts the value of your home. For example, every lake must have a wetland area. It’s what keeps the lake clean. As “dirty” water flows into the wetland, the aquatic plants filter it by absorbing nutrients. The result is, clean water flowing back out. While you certainly want a wetland area on the lake, this is not the area of the lake in which you want to live if you want to be able to swim in front of your home. As a result, homes in the wetland areas of lakes will be less expensive, since the frontage is considered less desirable. However, if swimming isn’t important, but wildlife is, then this is the spot for you. Wetlands support wildlife and nesting aquatic birds. As a result, wildlife tends to be abundant in those areas of the lake. Also, it’s a quieter part of the lake, since powerboats have a difficult time navigating wetlands.
WHAT ARE “RIPARIAN RIGHTS” AND WHY DO I WANT THEM?
Keep in mind that in Michigan, The DNR (Department of Natural Resources) controls the water. If you have a property with Riparian Rights, you own the shoreline and the land under the water to a specific point in the lake, the DNR “owns” the water. When you buy a lakefront home, be sure you have Riparian Rights. That's very important. If it's "Greenbelt" lakefront you don't. Greenbelt means you own the property up to a certain number of feet away from the shoreline, but not the shoreline itself. If you don't own the shoreline you don't have any Riparian Rights, which means you don't own the land under the water. That means you only have the right to walk over the Greenbelt to get to the lake (but so can anyone else). You can't alter the shoreline in any way, which prohibits you from putting in a dock or anchoring your boat there. If those things are important to you, avoid Greenbelt properties.
WHO WILL HAVE ACCESS TO MY LAKE?
The DNR has boat launches on certain lakes. Those are considered “public access” lakes. Anyone can launch a boat there. As a result, those are very busy lakes. Large lakes (over 250 acres) can handle that traffic, but smaller ones cannot. As a result, most small lakes would not have DNR access. But a few do, so avoid them. Go to my website; www.cathyblight.com and click on "DNR Lake Map Info" to connect to the DNR lake maps. They'll indicate the size and depth of the lake, what type of bottom (sandy, marl or muck) and whether or not there's DNR access.
WHAT SIZE AND TYPE OF LAKE DO I WANT?
The lake you choose depends on your lifestyle. Remember, the larger the lake, the more you’ll pay. Why pay a premium for a large “all sports” lake if you only want to enjoy the wildlife and kayak?
VERY SMALL “PRIVATE” LAKES 20-40 ACRES
If you’re not interested in power boating, pontooning, skiing, or jet skiing, and prefer wooded seclusion, lots of wildlife, kayaking, canoeing and fishing, stick to small private lakes. These tend to be around 20-40 acres. Private lakes limit access to residents only. Some of these lakes allow small electric motors, or small pontoons with electric motors, but nothing larger. These are “no wake” lakes. However, some don’t allow any type of motorized boat at all. These are “no motor” lakes.
SMALL “SEMI-PRIVATE” LAKES 50-75 ACRES:
If you want to be able to have a pontoon or a ski boat, but still want to be on a small quiet lake, choose a little larger one, around 50-75 acres. Due to their size, these lakes often limit access to the surrounding homes only. So they’re quieter than larger all sports lakes.
“LIMITED ACCESS-ALL SPORTS” LAKES 100-200 ACRES;
If you want to be on a bigger all sports lake with limited traffic, choose a limited- access lake that's larger; 100-275 acres. These lakes don’t have a DNR access for the general public, so boat traffic is reduced. Some limit the access to residents only. Others allow an entire township or more to have access. So it’s important to find out who qualifies for access.
LARGE “PUBLIC ACCESS-ALL SPORTS” LAKES AND “CHAINS OF LAKES”
If you like to stay out in your boat all day, choose a very large lake (350 acres or more) or a lake on a “Chain of Lakes”. The largest chains are in Livingston County. These are the “Portage Chain” of 7 lakes or the “Patterson Chain” of 5 lakes. Homes on Chains will be more expensive because you have access to so many lakes. Occasionally you can find a home on the chain that’s less expensive because it’s located on one of the waterways that connect the lakes or it’s on one of the small lakes in the chain. However, Chains will be busy, because there will be at least one DNR public access or more, and often there are public marinas as well.
LARGE “PRIVATE-ALL SPORTS” LAKES OVER 250 ACRES
The best of both worlds! A large all sports lake, with very limited traffic. The only lakes I know of in Southeast Michigan like that, are Lake Shannon in northeastern Livingston County. and Lake Sherwood in Southwest Oakland. Lake Shannon is over 350 and Lake Sherwood is about 305 acres. Both are completely private, with very active homeowners associations. They limit access to residents only. As a result, homes on lake Shannon and Lake Sherwood tend to be more expensive than homes on similar size lakes.
WHAT KINDS OF FEES WILL I PAY LIVING ON A LAKE?
Virtually all lakes will have some sort of a “lake maintenance” fee. This is often added to your property tax bill, but sometimes a homeowners association will collect it. The fee usually covers things like weed control and sometimes lake level, dam maintenance, (not all lakes have dams), association beach maintenance, and other costs. Fees can range from $50-$250 a year, depending on the lake size and other factors. The average is about $150 annually. Some lakefront properties are in flood zones, and will requite flood insurance, which is expensive. This is why I always check to see if a property is in a flood zone before we go look at it. Some lakefront properties will have special assessments for sewers or water lines that still have a balance due. This is another thing I always check before we look at a property. There's a misconception that lakefront homeowners pay a special "premium" in their taxes for living on the lake that the other residents don't. Tax assessments are based on property value. Since a lakefront home is worth more than a similar house across the street, the assessment will be higher.
WHAT ABOUT WETLANDS?
Did you know every lake must have a wetland area in order to survive? Wetlands are natures "water treatment facility". Polluted water flows in, then the wetland plants absorb the organic matter and silt, and the filtered water flows out. They also provide an important habitat and nesting grounds for a wide variety of wildlife, birds and fish. In addition, they serve as a valuable watershed and provide flood and storm control. However, as lakefront property dwindles, more homes are being built on property bordering wetland areas. This often results in property owners dredging wetlands to erect docks, beaches, and provide better water sports areas. This is beyond shortsighted, it's a fatal mistake for the health of the lake, and it's prohibited by the DNR. Finding the perfect lakefront home can be a challenge. The more you know about lakes and wetlands, the better prepared you are to find that perfect home.