Look Before You Leap – Quimby's Cruising Guide

Look Before You Leap

When buyers see a home on the water for sale in their price range, there is often an overpowering urge to leap before they look. This can be a recipe for disaster, particularly with regard to the unique characteristics of property. While lakes and rivers in the same region can appear fairly similar and have many of the same attributes, you can rest assured that no two waterfront properties are exactly the same.

Buying lakefront and riverfront property is different than any other real estate. You’re not only buying a house, you’re buying a body of water and a lifestyle. It’s an experience that will change the way you live — it becomes a retreat to escape the hassles of daily living.

In shopping for waterfront property, knowing what questions to ask before signing on the dotted line is important. Perhaps even more critical is how you interpret the answers to those questions. Here are some questions you should be asking:

  • Is the property serviced by an on-site septic system? If so, has the system passed state inspections? Be sure to get a copy of report.

  • If the property is serviced by town sewer, is there a betterment still to be paid? Who is paying it? What is the yearly cost of town sewer and water?

  • Does the property require flood insurance? If so, ask for a copy of the current policy and be sure to find out the cost per year.

  • Are there any easements associated with the property? Are the lake (or river) rights owned or shared? Be sure to obtain a current copy of the deed.

  • What are the conditions of the shoreline in the summer? Depth? Weed count, type? Obtain summer shoreline photos or speak with neighbors to verify conditions.

  • Are there any known defects in or around the property? Have the current homeowners completed any upgrades? Was the work permitted? Request copies from town departments.

  • Has the property been appraised recently? If so, when? Ask the seller how they arrived at the asking price and request to see recent comparable sales.

  • Does the area have an active lake or river association? If so, ask for updated contact information. Who manages and / or owns the lake?

  • Is the water level controlled? If so, how? Is it lowered in the winter? Is the water quality tested annually? Recent issues?

  • What recreational activities are allowed / not allowed on the lake or river? Are there dock restrictions? Ask for copy of Rules & Regulations.


The answers can be deal breakers or speed bumps. It really depends on your particular situation. What’s most important is to work with a realtor or buyer broker who has experience with waterfront properties and can help you interpret those answers to make the best decision.

In fact, working with a buyer broker with specific expertise in the buying and selling of lakefront or riverfront properties might be the most important decision you make in your search. Period.

As you can tell from the bullets above, waterfront property is unique and requires knowledge of water quality, aquatic vegetation, water management techniques, associations, watershed runoff, market conditions, etc. Your buyer broker’s experience and knowledge is an ace up your sleeve that will prepare you to make the most educated decisions possible.

Not only can a buyer broker with experience help you attain the answers to make an informed decision, but he or she can save you an extraordinary amount of time in the process. They essentially become your “personal assistant,” saving you time by qualifying homes in advance and pre-screening locations to ensure the properties meet your requirements.

Most importantly, your buyer broker is your industry and local insider when it comes to the matter of market value. Understanding the value of waterfront property is a separate science compared to non-waterfront. A waterfront specialist can analyze and adjust for the comparables that have sold (both on and off the market), ensuring that you are not overpaying for the property.

At my company, Lakefront Living Realty, we like to say there are two kinds of people: those who live on the water and those who wish they did. You can add a third type: those who bought a waterfront property that ended up being a major headache. With the right advice from a qualified waterfront expert/buyer broker, you can realize the dream of lakefront or riverfront living without the nightmares.

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