The most useful tips on buying a waterfront home in Wisconsin

adirondack chairs sitting on a wooden pier

Homes that are close to a tranquil lake or any body of water have long appealed to those looking to enjoy a particular lifestyle. There can be varying reasons for wanting to live in such a location, but the desire to live amid nature’s beauty has always captivated the imagination.

Purchasing a waterfront home can be the best real estate investment you will ever make. Your dream home can be had with all your preferences and conditions, and more importantly, within your budget.

If you are looking to purchase a home along Wisconsin’s shorelines, you’ll need to consider the factors that come into play when owning and maintaining a home that faces a freshwater source.

  1. Think about why you want to own a waterfront home

  2. Why do you want to purchase this type of home? How do you plan to enjoy or make use of this investment? Sometimes, asking why we want something is difficult to quantify; sometimes you just have a feeling that this is what you want. However, asking yourself these questions will help you clearly weigh the pros and cons of owning a property by the lake.

    If you plan to spend vacation time or your retirement at a waterfront property, what activities are you looking forward to doing? Boating, fishing, canoeing, or swimming may be a few things that come to mind. If that’s the case, does the location you’re considering allow for these activities and how well does it cater to them?

    You may also be considering renting out your waterfront home to travelers and guests. If so, what features would you want your waterfront home to highlight or be known for? Are you looking to attract guests with a cliff view or beach home instead? Does the zoning of the property allow for rentals?

    You may even be planning to make a waterfront home your primary place of residence. If located in a remote area, would you be willing to drive long distances for services and amenities?

    Whatever your reasons are, clearly evaluating what you want makes the commitment required stronger if and when you decide to invest.

  3. See the location with your own eyes
  4. Nowadays, a quick Google search can show you what a waterfront location looks like in a matter of seconds. While this makes looking for a suitable property quite easy in some respects, you wouldn’t want to just rely on internet images.

    Seeing the location and the surrounding community with your own eyes helps set expectations, or even in many happy circumstances, exceed them. For instance, you might find that the water is significantly clearer when observed up close. Or, you may notice the presence of certain bugs by a lake or river isn’t aligned with your preferences.

    Visiting the site also gives you an opportunity to ask people what it’s like to live in the community. Consider reaching out to homeowners in the area and get their take on what it’s like to tend to and maintain their own waterfront homes.

    It’s also a good idea to check if there are local lake or river conservation groups in the area. These tight-knit circles have intimate local knowledge of the surroundings that will undoubtedly come in useful for your decision making. If you do invest in the area, then you’ve already introduced yourself.

  5. Be aware of the specific features of a waterfront location
  6. twilight over the blue water of the rugged lake superior coast with a small island

    Each waterfront location will have features that can either improve or worsen appeal. Consider the following:

    • Proximity to floodplains and wetlands – Floodplains and wetlands act as a natural catch basin for excess water coming from lakes and rivers. Some waterfront locations often have these features nearby and there are usually additional regulations that limit construction. For example, building a new home can be extremely limited in floodplain settings due to the risk of flooding.
    • Lake or river bottom – Waterfront locations will have varying lake or river bottoms. Some will be hard, which is good for swimming and wading through the water. However, if your feet fall deeper into the ground with each step, then it might not be the best location for such activities.
    • Water level – A stable water level is ideal for a few key reasons. First, it prevents all kinds of debris from being visible on your property when the water is low. Also, flooding may be less likely to happen. Water levels in lakes can vary from month to month. It’s recommended to ask your agent or the surrounding community about water levels throughout the year.
    • Wildlife and plants – An area may be frequented by various wildlife and plant species. Depending on your preferences, these inhabitants may make it hard for you to enjoy certain areas of the property. The location may also have invasive plant species, which can impede certain activities or greatly decrease property value.
    • Home orientation – The position of a house to the sun or waterfront is another feature to consider. In places that are usually cold, with short summers on average, west-facing homes do a better job of staying warm throughout the year. Homes oriented this way take advantage of the afternoon sun, which also makes it a bit more comfortable to stay longer in outdoor areas.

  7. Prepare to take on responsibilities to safeguard the environment
  8. In states like Wisconsin, waterfront property owners must comply with state regulations that aim to preserve water quality and the natural habitat of certain species.

    When you purchase a waterfront property and have specific plans for developing it, you need to ensure your building plans are aligned with environmental rules.

    For instance, you can’t build too close to the lake or river. There are building requirements enforced from the water up to property lines. Structures must also be of a certain height. Removal of native plants by the shore is generally prohibited, unless otherwise allowed in limited areas. On the other hand, in some areas, property owners are expected to remove invasive plant species that may be present on their properties.

    Wisconsin state law also regulates the demolition of existing buildings on waterfront properties. Disposal of brick, stone, wood and other construction waste must not cause environmental problems in a nearby lake, river, floodplain, or wetland. It’s also prohibited to bury waste underneath the land where the property sits.

  9. Be prepared to give up a little privacy
  10. copper harbor

    Under Wisconsin law, the waters facing your home’s shoreline are publicly owned. Anyone fishing, swimming, or boating in this part of the lake or river is acting well within their rights — as granted by Wisconsin’s Public Trust Doctrine.

    As a result, this may not allow you to attain the level of privacy you might have expected. People can swim and wade through an area that is just a few feet away from your shoreline.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean that you won’t have more privacy than if you lived in an apartment building in the city, just that if you’re looking for full isolation, you’ll have to do thorough research on what areas of waterfront tend to be the most busy.

    By upholding public ownership of navigable waters, the state and the general public can work together to maintain healthy lake and river ecosystems. And you can also potentially take part in this effort to preserve the environment. Waterfront property owners play a key role in ensuring that the land and water surrounding their lots are free from pollutants and waste.

  11. Scrutinize the price tag, especially when it’s too high or too low
  12. In a seller’s market, properties often become overpriced. To determine if the listing price is unusually high, you can ask your agent to look up the sales history of a property or find comparable sales in the area. You may still push through with an offer despite the high price, but it’s always better to know the context behind the price. That way, you know exactly what you’re buying into.

    On the other hand, properties can also be priced extremely low. And there are a number of factors that can influence such a pricing strategy. The lot in question may be sitting on a wetland or floodplain and could be exposed to constant flooding. There could also be a lack of a robust land use plan and zoning regulations that help inform development projects in the area — which often decreases overall appeal and property value.

  13. Consider the financial implications that come with a waterfront property
  14. Apart from the purchase price, there are additional costs to account for when looking at waterfront homes. These can be categorized into taxes and development costs, insurance, and hidden costs.

    Taxes and development costs

    Depending on the location and features of the waterfront property you’re considering, the following expenses usually factor into your budget:

    • Property taxes, including any special assessments
    • Renovating or developing an existing structure
    • Installing solar energy or other types of renewable energy capabilities
    • Installing cable TV and telephone lines
    • Purchasing security cameras, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and other safety devices
    • Purchasing a watercraft
    • Building a boathouse, outdoor fireplace, and other amenity or structure

    Insurance

    For buyers purchasing their second home, not all insurance policies will include coverage beyond the first house. So it’s recommended to revisit your policy with your provider to check if a waterfront property can be covered.

    But regardless, it’s usually a good idea to get a second policy that’s specifically designed for a waterfront home. There are specific hazards present in waterfront homes and it’s important to tailor fit the insurance plan to anticipate these special circumstances. As you shop for the best policies for your needs, consider the following:

    • Flood insurance – While your waterfront property may not be designated as a high-risk area, it’s still worthwhile to get flood insurance. A degree of flooding is much more likely when you’re close to a body of water and if that happens, you’d want to be covered for any potential damage. You may have to acquire this separately since not many policies cover damage from flooding.
    • Fire insurance coverage – Fire is another issue that should be taken into consideration. This is particularly needed for vacation homes, which won’t be frequently occupied. And since often, no one will be there to keep an eye on the state of the home on a daily basis, electrical mishaps can occur undetected. For properties in relatively remote locations, it can take longer for the local fire department to respond.
    • Theft coverage – An obvious concern is that of theft. You’ll need to protect your home, especially during the off season. And even when tourists are out and about, the fact that a second home is often unoccupied means it is still vulnerable without adequate security measures. In addition to an insurance policy, it’s also best practice to install a security system.

    Hidden costs

    There are also additional expenses that may not be so obvious to a new waterfront property owner. These include:

    • Fees for a lake or dock association
    • Repair and maintenance costs for erosion control structures
    • Population control of invasive plant and animal species
    • Upgrading or repairing the drainage system
    • Connecting the home to electricity, natural gas and other fuel sources
    • Costs for backup systems in case of power outage

  15. Consider buying outside of the summer season
  16. For the budget-conscious home buyer, it may be a better to purchase a waterfront home during the off-season. Since summer is usually the time when many people are looking to buy. Instead, looking for properties during the winter months may allow you to take advantage of lower prices when the market is slower.

    When in doubt, it’s best to consult an experienced agent or realtor on the best time to buy a waterfront property. If you’re considering Wisconsin for your next real estate investment, you’ll be pleased to know that regardless of the season, Windseeker agents are here to help you find your ideal lakefront home.

Explore beautiful lakefront properties in Bayfield, WI

bayfield wisconsin

For the best views of Lake Superior, consider exploring Bayfield, WI and the surrounding communities. Located in the northeastern portion of Bayfield County, this city is your gateway to a number of prominent attractions.

To plan your stay in Bayfield, the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce has a great site where you can explore in detail all there is to do, including a calendar of events. This makes it easy to plan well in advance. There’s even information and resource links such as where you can find venues if you’re thinking of holding a wedding in Bayfield.

In terms of the properties available in the market, there is a range of options to choose from. There are spacious properties facing Lake Superior’s pristine waters, single-family homes with a lot of improvement potential, and even commercial properties suitable for a bar or restaurant.


Consult Windseeker Realty on your next property investment

Life in charming Bayfield could be for you. It might also be the perfect place to invest in a vacation home or rental property. If you’re in the market for a waterfront property, get in touch with our team at Windseeker Realty.

With years of experience in serving Wisconsin’s Bayfield Peninsula market, we can help you make the right investment decision. Allow us to support you in achieving your real estate goals. You can call us at 715-779-5000 or send a quick email to agent(at)windseekerrealty(dotted)com.