What Real Estate Agents Don’t Tell You When Buying a Lake House

Are you thinking about purchasing a lakefront property? Perhaps you have a few questions about what you should ask your real estate agent when you begin to look for lakefront homes? I have a list of items that you will want to know before purchasing.

lake house - 3 girls jumping into lake

Have you ever dreamed of living on a lake? Does the idea of lake house living appeal to you? For my husband and I, the answer was an emphatic YES. We made the dream happen and bought our waterfront property as our primary residence in 2015.

We did a lot of planning in advance when we set out to find a house on the shores of a large lake. We learned a lot along the way. We had never lived on a lake before and that led to some lessons learned.

After looking at many lakes, we bought our lake home on the shores of Lake Murray in South Carolina. It is a large lake with approx. 600 miles of shoreline. It has both developed and rural residential areas.

small ranch house on lake

Things to Consider Before Buying a Lakefront Home

In this post, I will tell you what you should be asking your real estate agent at each of the lake homes you are considering buying.

Many of these questions can only be answered by someone that lives on a lake or previously has as they will know the answers from experience.

house nested in trees on lake

Knowing the answers to the following questions can make the difference between buying your dream home and envying your neighbors who made better decisions.

You would be surprised by how many people move to another lake home a few years after they initially buy because they weren’t happy with their initial choice.

sitting on deck overlooking lake murray view

What Type of Lake Home and Surroundings?

When deciding to buy a lake home, have a very clear image of what you want in not only the house, but the community surrounding it. Create a list of items to check off. Starting with must-haves and progressing to less important features.

Two black outdoor rockers on deck over looking a lake.

Unobstructed Water View – Many lake homes are located on coves where the view out the windows or porch or deck to the water can be filled with the boats and docks of neighboring homes. It is nice to have your lake house living room have a wall of windows that look out to a beautiful view.

Screened Porch for the Summer Months – Mosquitoes, midges, and mayflies are part of the lake living environment and can ruin time outside if you don’t have a screened-in outside space.

sunset over the lake

Sunrise and Sunset – Note what direction the house is facing so you can determine if you will be able to see one or both every day. Also take note that west facing homes will be much hotter in the summer.

Developed or Rural Community?

Many lakes are in rural areas or off the beaten path. It is very important to consider how close you are to the things that matter most to you. Do you want to be close to shopping, entertainment venues, restaurants, airport and healthcare or away from it all?

  • Are the roads paved to the house? If not, who maintains the road? Will there be a yearly cost for you to maintain it?
  • Do good internet and cable providers have service to the rural area? If not, you may need to pay to have special tech installed in the home.
  • Utility companies – drinking water – septic system? Is the water from a well or a city water system?

Does It Matter Where You Live on the Lake?

Yes, it matters where a lake house is located on a lake.

Lake House on large lot

On larger sections of a lake you will get a big water view, but also know that more boats will be going by fast and more frequently. It will be like living on a highway. Jet skiing is popular, but do you want to hear jet skis all the time? It may be better to look for an area with less motorized boat traffic.

Noise travels over the water. I was once out kayaking with my husband and he was talking on his cell phone. I could hear almost every word from about a mile away. Kind of cool, but not cool if it’s a nearby restaurant with live music every weekend – not so great.

Check out the neighbors’ boats. Unless you love the high speed “cigarette” boats, you might want to avoid properties close to neighbors with noisy boats.

Are there lake resorts nearby? Resorts are wonderful for vacations. But do you really want to share “your lake” with all of the tourists staying at those resorts all summer?

Are Trees Blocking the Water View?

Perhaps you’ll find a neglected property where trees and bushes have been neglected and some trimming and strategic tree removal will open the water view.

Living on the water home tour

Depending on the local codes or what the lake management allows, you may be allowed to remove the trees. If not, you can remove some of the lower limbs (limbing up) on big trees to open the view.

If you need to do this to create a perfect water view – there can be a significant cost to hire a tree trimming service, so keep this in mind.

Tour the House Both During the Day and Night

Just as with noise, lights on lake homes or nearby street lights can be seen from a long way off. You should visit the lake home you are considering during the day and at night.

Every light you see on nearby homes on the lake at night are doubled in the water. This can make what seems like a serene setting during the day – very lit up at night when you may prefer less bright light so you can enjoy sitting outside at night.

How Deep Is the Water in Front of the House?

Another question that needs to be asked is how much the lake level changes seasonally and how will this affect your boat and dock?

Riprap along lake shore

What are the Lake Levels Through The Seasons? – Lakes are either natural or manmade. If it is a natural lake, the water level won’t change as much as a manmade lake that is managed by either an electric company or the Army Corps of Engineers.

Generally – a lake that is managed by the Army Corps of Engineers will go through many different lake levels, some drastic all through the year versus an electrical power company that owns or manages the lake.

If you’re on a lake with a dam, the power companies also manage the lake level to ensure a reliable power source, so this increases the consistency and reliability of the water level.

water view from dock

The power company managed lake I live on drops the lake level 3 to 5 feet every winter, restoring the level in March. Every 5 to 7 years, the level is dropped significantly further (8 to 10 feet). This is done to manage lake weeds and improve water quality.

If the level drops a lot in the winter, our floating dock and boat will sit in the mud.

On some lakes, boat docks are on rollers and must be pulled in or out with chains or ropes to reach the water. This could be a long distance away from the shore as the level changes. This can be a lot of work.

Is the house on a flood plain? Will you need to purchase flood insurance?

Will you have to take your boat out over the winter months? If so, where will you store it? If the home is in a residential community, the homeowners association may not allow you to bring it on your property over the winter.

Also remember that most lakes, especially the larger ones, are public lakes. Don’t be surprised to see fishermen in their boats very close to your dock and backyard. A little disconcerting, but normal when you realize that people who don’t live on the lake still want to enjoy it.

What Shape is the Home’s Shoreline In?

Some municipalities do not want you to mess with nature and do not allow shoreline weeds to be removed or to alter the shoreline in any way without permission. If you want to swim in the lake in front of the house, this could pose a problem.

View from the water of lake house

You should also think about installing riprap if it’s not already in place. Riprap is a border of rocks or other material which protects the home’s shoreline from wind and boat wakes that cause wave erosion.

We lost approximately 5 feet of our shoreline to water erosion in the first several years after we bought our lake home. It was expensive to have riprap installed, but there has been no further loss of shoreline.

What About Snakes and Other Wildlife?

Lake environments bring snakes, as well as beavers, muskrats and wildlife you may not want to see.

You can find snakes anywhere, not just lakes. But they seem more prevalent around a water body, especially lakes with warmer water. The vast majority aren’t poisonous, but they may make you squeamish.

We started seeing snakes routinely after moving in. We finally realized that the bird feeder that the previous owner left was bringing snakes to our property.

Birds are messy eaters that create a lot of bird seed droppings under the bird feeder. The seeds attracted rodents. And that attracted the snakes. As soon as we removed the bird feeders, the snakes disappeared.

Another pest can be beavers – at night they eat the bark on trees close to the shore and can take small trees and shrubs to the ground. They use the branches to build their homes. We needed to install hardware cloth around every tree so they could not damage the trees and shrubs.

It is common at night to see raccoons and other wildlife on our lakeside deck and property looking for food.

Find Lake Community Groups Online

Join Community Groups – Join a Facebook group for the lakes that most interest you.

You will learn a lot about the lake and area lifestyle. These Facebook groups are sometimes restricted to residents, but you can often receive an exception if you’re planning to move there.

Be wary though when you read people commenting in the group that it’s a terrible lake. That may be an honest opinion. But people may say it jokingly as they want to keep their lake paradise for themselves.

Where to Find a Lake House Real Estate Agent?

If you are thinking about starting your lake home search and need to find a real estate agent, the best option is to seek recommendations from people you may know that live in the area.

The lake we chose wasn’t even on our “lakes to consider moving to list” when we started our lake home search.

Large house on Lake Murray

Good friends who knew we planned to relocate to a lake mentioned it. We had never heard of Lake Murray, SC before and in all the 7 lakes we looked at, it was the lake and community we liked best.

We found our real estate agent through Lake Homes Realty that represents thousands of lakes, lake properties and local real estate agents for each lake.

What are Unseen Costs When Buying a Lake Home?

There are additional costs associated with living on a lake or any body of water.

Hobie Mirage Eclipse

If you like to have fun in the water, water skiing or play water sports, you can spend $500 to $1000 on a kayak (or much more). How about a paddle board? Fishing gear? Canoe? Pontoon, speed or fishing boat?

Final Considerations When Choosing Your Lake House

sunset on lake

We will never regret buying our dream lake house. It has been a great investment and we love lake life and living on the shores of a lake.

For us, living on Lake Murray was the right answer as I wrote about in this post: Why I Love Living on Lake Murray in SC

I hope this “things to consider before buying a lake house” will help you to find just the right lake home for you and your family.

lake murray sc sunset

If you have any lake house living questions that I didn’t answer, just leave me a comment in the comment section below.

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  1. Thanks for this information! It just so happens we are looking for a home on lake Murray. My question is, are there areas on a lake you should stay away from. For example, if you want a boat and a dock, how deep or shallow should the water be? How do you find out if a cove has very muddy waters that would not be ideal? Thank you for your input!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Jerilynn – How exciting that you are moving to live along the shores of Lake Murray. I wish I could give you specific areas that have muddy water or low water levels around docks. I think you will need to access at every home you consider. Don’t be shy, ask at neighborhood homes to find out. I live on a section of the lake that is called the Crystal Lake. It got the name because the water is always clear and doesn’t get muddy. If looking on the map of the lake it is the section on the north side of the lake where Dreher Island is on the left and Timberlake on the right.

      The lake to the west of Dreher Island can get very muddy, especially in the spring. If you haven’t done so already, you should join the Lake Murray Facebook group where you can ask all kinds of questions. The group is vary active and has homeowners all over the lake. Find it here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2394016980846947

  2. Vicki Mazerall says:

    So informative. Thank you!

  3. Debbie Leidlein says:

    Hi Diane,
    I found your article at just the right time. My husband and I have begun our search for a lake house. We have looked at 6 lakes and keep coming back to Murray. I am glad to hear how much you love it. I am in the process of creating our list of questions to ask when we talk to a realtor (when we find one) and that is how I came across your post. Any thoughts on buying a fixer upper?

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Debbie – I can recommend a great realtor. Kathy and Ken Mason: 803-944-6670. We used them and they are terrific. As far as buying a fixer upper – there are many around the lake. With time and money you can make the home exactly what you want. For us, we wanted the best water view, the house was second to that. It took us about 4 years to get the house the way we wanted and we still have a few more projects to do. I fyou have any questions, just let me know.

      1. Hi Diane,
        We have the same thought—water views are the most important and we can make the house what we want over time. The great thing is we have the time to wait for the perfect property. Thanks for the realtor name-always good to hear good reviews from someone worked with them. Always looking for helpful advice, so if you think of anything…

  4. franki Parde says:

    YOU ARE my soul sista! Every, I mean, EVERY point you nailed! We live on lake front,in Central VA, facing West, warm side, etc. etc. We cleared the land ourselves, built log cabin ourselves, then garage, boathouse… It IS beautiful, however, as you said, not utopia. Would we leave…Nevah! franki

  5. Very helpful suggestions for lake-front home buyers! Your home and property are so gorgeous, you and your hubby have accomplished so much in your time there!

  6. Linda Schombert says:

    What a helpful, well thought out and beautifully written post, Diane! And I am not even looking for a lake house…thanks

  7. Thanks for sharing, that’s great to know!

  8. Great thoughts. Thank you!