Posted in: Buying a home, Lakeshore

The Do's and Don’ts of buying a lakeshore home

Do's and Donts of lake home buying

Key insights

  • Research is key, and lake home or lake cabin buyers should keep in mind that setting parameters early in the process will help them find the right property.
  • Private lake homes can be expensive, so buyers on a budget may consider a home with lake access to save money while getting a larger property in cabin country.
  • Keep your lakeside hobby in mind as you search. The right lake for a water skier could vary from the perfect fishing or canoeing lake.

Ready to dive into owning a lake home in Minnesota or western Wisconsin? As the local lakeshore experts, we can advise you on the elements you’ll want to research and prioritize as you buy a waterfront property.

The location

Do consider distance. It's easy to say, "Any lake home will do!" but it's smart to create parameters for where you'd like to end up. As you list the requirements you’re seeking in a lake home, whether it’s only for weekends or part of your everyday life, consider how far away from everything you’ll have to travel.

If it’s your weekend or vacation home, two to three hours is ideal. If you’ll still need to commute to work from your lake home, make sure it’s a distance you can handle. And don’t forget to consider how far you are from family, friends or key amenities like grocery stores! And set up saved searches on so you can track new properties as they become available.

Don’t forget about traffic. As you begin searching in your chosen area, do a test run of the commute on a Friday evening and Sunday afternoon. Those "up north" two-lane highways can jam up quickly, so it's important to prepare yourself for typical traffic you'll experience as you head to your weekend oasis. Pro tip: The Edina Realty mobile app allows you to search according to commute times!

Do check out the local area. Whether you’re moving in full-time or looking for a weekend or summer getaway, you’ll want to know as much as you can about your neighbors and the closest municipality. What are the local restaurants like? Is there a summer festival you should plan to attend? Ask the locals what the best features of their hometown are, and plan to soak them all in!

The financing

Do set your budget. You’ll need to follow the same steps as buying a traditional home, so take the time to carefully calculate your maximum mortgage payment, including insurance. If you won’t be living in the lake home full-time, consider whether you’ll make the property available for rentals, or talk to friends or family about co-ownership.

Don't forget added costs. Like any home, your lake property will include expenses outside of a mortgage, including everything from winterization services to homeowners association dues. Be careful to include each of these bills in your budget as you plan for your home. And if this will be your second home, you should expect to spend some cash on the furniture, appliances and recreational items you’ll need to enjoy it!

Access to the water

Do think about the type of lake home you’d prefer. Many lake home buyers are committed to purchasing a private waterfront home with a dock and a private boat slip. If you can't live without a nightly boat cruise, a home on the water is the right choice.

Don’t count out lake access homes. If you prefer relaxation and quiet over the steady hum of boats on nearby water, you may want to consider a property with close access to a beach or public boat slip. Most lakes have access via community docks, beaches and boat drops so you can get on the water when the time is right. The other upside to lake access homes? They are usually less expensive than homes located directly on the water, and they typically have lower taxes.

Life at the lake

Do consider what kinds of recreation you love. Different lakes in Minnesota or Wisconsin can be better or worse for different types of activities. If you’re an avid fisher, research what can be caught on the lake and what’s permitted. If kayaking or canoeing is more your speed, make sure the lake’s usual conditions are ideal.

Don’t forget the dock. Some sellers may prefer to take their dock with them, so make sure you understand whether the existing dock is included in the sale. If it is, ask about how to install or remove the dock as the seasons change. If it’s not included, plan for the expense of purchasing and installing the new dock where you’ll access the lake.

Do research the boat you want. If you live to waterski or fish, you're likely itching to purchase the boat of your dreams. It's a great idea to begin researching the type of boat you'll want — in fact, it may help you steer your decision toward a specific lake or region.

Don’t buy it yet. However, lakes have different boat and motor size limitations, so it's critical that you don't buy a vessel that ends up restricting your lake options too much. If you have a boat size in mind, mention that to your REALTOR®, who can help customize your search to lakes that match your needs.

Don’t forget about what’s under the water. Just like every lake is different in terms of recreation, every lakeshore is different as well. Is your lakeshore rocky, mucky, weedy or sandy? Get a detailed accounting of those first few feet between the shore and the middle of the lake, and be sure it meets your expectations.

Hiring a Realtor

Do hire a lake home expert. Agents who specialize in lake homes and cabins offer an incredible wealth of local knowledge, especially in our neck of the woods. They understand everything from lake depth to winter road clearing to the building permits that some Minnesota and Wisconsin lakes have in place to limit development.

Don’t worry about how to find an agent. Stressed about finding the right agent? Don't be! Once you determine your search area, check out our list of Edina Realty offices specializing in lakeshore or contact our customer care team to be linked up with a lakeshore agent in your desired area.

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Status Definitions

For sale: Properties which are available for showings and purchase

Active contingent: Properties which are available for showing but are under contract with another buyer

Pending: Properties which are under contract with a buyer and are no longer available for showings

Sold: Properties on which the sale has closed.

Coming soon: Properties which will be on the market soon and are not available for showings.

Contingent and Pending statuses may not be available for all listings