Wisconsin is the ideal region for any outdoorsman, nature enthusiast, or an adventurous spirit. The Badger State draws in thousands of visitors throughout the year with its crystal-clear lakes, pristine rivers, and majestic forests.
Known to work hard for its dairy, lumber, and beer, Wisconsin plays harder: fishing, boating, swimming, and even scuba diving can be done in the state between two Great Lakes. But being able to live in your dream destination is vastly different from just visiting.
Imagine simply walking out of your back porch to see the most glorious sunrise peeking from the glittering blue waters of the lake. Instead of a backyard, you have a dock and a boat that can quickly take you on a calming fishing trip, or a sandy shoreline where the family can play and frolic. Exciting activities like water skiing and hiking can be a part of your weekly routine rather than being bucket list items for those rare vacations.
Investing in a waterfront property in Wisconsin is not just about buying a new house or condo in a picturesque lot. It is also about owning a grand view of one of the Badger State’s natural wonders, as well as ensuring a serene, vacation lifestyle for generations to come.
Making this dream a reality, however, involves additional considerations and processes compared to the usual “landlocked” real estate listings. If you want to know how to find the perfect lakefront property in Wisconsin, this guide can show you how.
Evaluate your needs and priorities
Before beginning your search, it is important to figure out the kind of lifestyle you want to live on your waterfront property or your plans for it. To help you establish your priorities, here are a set of questions that you should consider:
- How and when do you plan on using the property?
Waterfront properties are great investments, whether it is for residential, commercial, or rental purposes. It is essential to figure out why you want to own a waterfront property. Is it for personal use? Do you plan on turning it into a vacation rental? Will it eventually become your retirement home?
Your plans for the property affect other considerations such as environmental factors, property management, and maintenance.
- What kind of activities do you plan to enjoy?
Would your interests depend on having a property right next to or on the water, or would it be enough to be near the water?
If you plan on engaging in water activities and sports such as fishing, swimming, or boating, perhaps a waterfront property is more apt for you. But if vistas of the lake and its natural scenery are more of a priority, a little distance might allow a more panoramic view.
Furthermore, some communities place regulations and restrictions on both water and land activities. Consider this as you scout for waterfront properties and neighborhoods.
- What are your lifestyle preferences and requirements?
Do you prefer a quiet lake where you can fish and appreciate nature, or a touristy lake community where you can go water skiing, scuba diving, and hold big parties?
The kind of lake will determine what you can and cannot do on the water. For example, some boats are not allowed on small lakes because of their size. There are also lakes with sensitive ecosystems. In such places, water sports and parties are often prohibited.
- Are you ready to be a responsible lakefront property owner?
As a waterfront homeowner, you will be sharing the responsibility of caring for the environment. This includes maintaining and caring for the watersheds and natural shorelines which ultimately affect the water quality and natural beauty of the area.
There might also be less privacy than expected. Buying land on the edge of one of Wisconsin’s lakes or rivers is the same as buying property on the edge of a “public park.” Wisconsin’s Public Trust Doctrine grants rights to everyone to use and enjoy the state’s navigable waters. That means anyone can swim, boat, fish (and more) even up to the shoreline of your property.
Waterfront homes might require more care than other types of real estate properties. How you care for your lot not only affects the environment but also how future generations can enjoy it.
Determine your budget
There are a lot of financial factors to consider when purchasing a waterfront property. Aside from upfront costs, you have to think of hidden expenses and emergencies, among other things. Here are the three most important aspects in assessing your budget:
- Property cost
When it comes to purchasing real estate, it is wise to compare asking prices. If the house or lot you are considering has a notably lower price than other similar homes (called “comps”) in the neighborhood, it might have a lot of hidden costs or problems that can cost you more in the future. It could also be that the lot itself is mostly wetland, has nearby noisy commercial venues, or lacks zoning regulations and a comprehensive land use plan necessary for future developments.
Post-purchase and property development costs should also be checked, especially if there are any special taxes or fees imposed by the lake district or homeowners’ association. This includes looking into the existing (or lack of) utilities on or near the lot.
It’s not uncommon for some waterfront homes located in rural areas to lack adequate sewer, water, and electrical services we take for granted in city or suburban residences. Take care not to miss the costs of installing these basic utilities, which can be expensive.
Lastly, investigate loans available to you even before you begin your property search. Loans for lakefront houses and lots will most likely fall under the jumbo mortgage category. Since lenders will only consider the most qualified buyers, the process for this will take longer than a conventional loan.
Many of Wisconsin’s flood-prone lands are found near rivers, lakes, and the coast, particularly in low-lying areas or depressions where water naturally collects after rain. This automatically puts waterfront properties at risk of flooding and other natural disasters. We highly recommend signing up for flood insurance before purchasing.
Flood insurance is available through the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program. The insurance can be a little expensive, averaging around $700 annually. But this may be the cheaper option in the long-term when a single flood can cause tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of damages to your home.
Ruling out general house maintenance, there are two questions you need to ask when assessing maintenance costs for a waterfront property: Is your house built to withstand the waterfront? And does your property include a bulkhead?
Houses on or near the water take twice the abuse of a regular home. Considering flood risks and weathering, you must first check if the foundations of the waterfront property can resist humidity and other environmental factors.
Moreover, many waterfront homes and properties are protected from the water by a bulkhead, which is a barrier wall made of rock and stones. Waterfront areas and communities have heavy regulations for bulkhead care and maintenance, with some stating that homeowners are responsible for maintaining their own bulkheads. If this is the case, hire a specialist to inspect your potential home’s bulkhead and assess its maintenance costs before finalizing the purchase.
If purchasing and maintaining a waterfront home seems difficult for the meantime, perhaps renting a cottage or a condo may be more logical. Consider browsing through our collection of specially curated Bayfield area cabin rentals at Windseeker Vacation Rentals.
Get to know the lake
Choosing a waterfront home involves appraising dynamics and limitations that go beyond the property’s borders. Like landlocked properties, it is recommended to review the neighborhood, its accessibility to certain services, and the local culture. Add the area’s ecological attributes, as well as the regulations and restrictions, to fully get to know the lake community and determine if it’s the perfect fit for you.
- The natural environment
The first thing you should look at when assessing a waterfront property is the shoreline. It serves as your main access point to the lake. Shores can be rocky, naturally sandy, grassy, full of weeds, or filled with muck.
Another thing to consider is the local fauna and flora. It will affect your life on the property. The health of a lake depends on its aquatic plants, which serve as the habitat, food source, and spawning areas for fish and other aquatic life.
When lakes become enriched with nutrients during spring, aquatic plant growth increases and boat access to the main body of the lake may become difficult as early as July. The water is also crucial to a variety of birds, mammals, and reptiles, and they will most likely pass through your property.
These qualities present questions about your lifestyle needs and priorities and whether your property meets them. Can your kids play on the shoreline and swim on the water? Will you be able to build or repair any structures safely? Can you dock or launch your boat from here? Will you be comfortable sharing the lake with its animal inhabitants? Can you enjoy water sports and activities on this lake?
- Community culture
One of the main points of owning a waterfront property is to enjoy the water. The local culture can impact your enjoyment.
Get a feel of the character of the community and what it has to offer, which can greatly affect both the property’s value and your lifestyle. Does it attract its fair share of tourists? Are there any local events and festivals? What’s the ratio between permanent and seasonal residents? Take multiple trips throughout the year and take note of the kinds of residences and businesses on the shoreline, and whether those will result in traffic, people, noise, or litter.
Observe how your neighbors use their properties: how frequently do they stay? Do they rent their homes to others? Make sure to consider what local amenities and services are accessible from the property, such as schools, grocery stores, healthcare, and others.
- Local rules and restrictions
To maintain the lake’s pristine condition, district and community regulations are put in place. Many municipalities have strict regulations when it comes to building out into the water, so separate building permits are needed if you want to build a pier or dock.
Most lakefront houses are also part of homeowners’ associations, which can impose rules on certain property improvements such as building heights, lawn or garden plants, and even house paint colors. See if you agree or can live with the local rules and regulations before making an offer on a waterfront home.
In Wisconsin, slow-no-wake speed is required on lakes within 100 feet of docks, rafts, piers, or buoyed restricted areas for all lakes, as well as on the entire lake if it is 50 acres or less in size with public access. In short, lake size matters, especially if you are planning on waterskiing or boating.
Some areas on the shoreline might be too shallow or weedy for swimming. Specific seasonal and environmental factors can also affect the quality of fishing and the type of fish available at the lake. All this information can be provided by interviewing community residents or neighbors, as well as by your realtor.
Screening waterfront homes: what you need to do
With so many factors and aspects to consider, purchasing a waterfront property in Wisconsin might be more stressful than the usual buying process. Detailed planning, inspecting, and negotiating are needed, especially with all the environmental and safety concerns around waterfront properties. Hence, the best route to take is to hire a local waterfront property specialist to help you make the best decisions.
What essential benefits can you get when you work with a realtor?
- Local experience and insider information
TA waterfront property is known as a specialty property. Only a local realtor can give you the essential information on these specific locations. They know whether your property has muddy or sandy shores, what building limitations or regulations are in place, insurance policies you might need, and what available amenities and recreational activities are allowed in the area.
Similarly, they can also introduce you to your potential neighbors and other community figures who can give you insights on what it is like to live in the area.
Realtors analyze the market and know what properties are available and for what price. These local experts not only have data on local home sales you want to see, but they can also make suggestions based on insights backed up by years of buying and selling waterfront real estate.
- Professional and expert networking
Assessing and closing on a property involves many professional players, such as real estate attorneys, real estate marketing agencies, and property valuation experts. And with real estate as complex as a waterfront property, you will also need connections to bulkhead and boating experts, architects, repair consultants and connections with specific lake district municipalities and HOAs.
Buying a lakefront home involves knowing and interacting with these professionals. Your real estate agent can recommend those with the best reputation, competency, efficiency, and local expertise in the industry.
- A better home buying experience
To any aspiring and first-time home buyer, all of this might be too complicated and overwhelming.
In purchasing a waterfront home, you will have to search for a property for sale in the market, assess all the considerations and factors noted above, and engage with all the negotiations involved. A realtor can handle these and more within a relatively short amount of time.
A real estate agent who specializes in waterfront homes and lots will handle most of the tricky processes leading to the closing, such as addressing title and structural issues, asking the right questions, and involving the right people in the transaction.
Make smart waterfront investments with Windseeker Realty
Here at Windseeker Realty, we believe that our clients come first.
We understand that for our clients, purchasing a home, condo, vacant lot, or commercial property is more than just a transaction. As such, we dedicate ourselves to providing specialized expertise and personalized service to all our clients.
Trust us to provide you with the right tools and relevant information for all of your real estate adventures here in Wisconsin’s Bayfield Peninsula. Browse through all our available waterfront properties here. When you’re ready, get in touch with us at 715.779.5000 or email us at Agent(at)WindseekerRealty(dotted)com.