Lakeside home
Photo by Ivan Cholakov/

13 questions to ask before investing in lakefront property

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When it comes to choosing a waterside property, it’s all about the natural assets. After all, unlike the cottage itself, shorelines and waterways usually can’t be renovated.

Ultimately, the factors that determine what makes the “perfect” lakefront depends on individual preferences, but here are some of the things you may want to consider when you’re evaluating prospective properties.

What’s the shoreline like?

Is it sandy, rocky, pebbles, or mucky? While you can always haul in sand after the fact, nature rules and mucky shorelines are difficult to correct.

What is the structure of the shallows?

Is the water swimmable? Is it reedy? Is it hard-bottomed? Is there a steep drop-off or a gradual incline? How deep does it get? For boat owners, the latter will dictate whether you can launch and keep your watercraft close to home.

Is it a small lake, large lake, riverfront, or private lake?

The preference is up to you, but it will affect your overall experience.

What is the history of the water level?

Water levels can fluctuate widely from year-to-year, affecting shorelines dramatically. Look at historical records for the area to determine if it’s problematic in the area.

What’s the view across the lake?

This is what you’ll spend most of your time looking at. So while that rundown cabin across the way might not be an eyesore initially, ask yourself if it will it bother you after a couple of years—or even a couple of nights?

What is the climb up to the cottage from the waterfront like?

Sure it’s annoying to walk up and down stairs with trays of cold bevvies, but perhaps it can be overlooked—or maybe not. Steep stairs may not be a problem now, but if the property is in your family for years to come, will they be an issue later? Similarly, stairs may require maintenance, as will rocks and other slippery surfaces leading up to the cottage.

Are there any limiting factors for docks?

While docks are available for variety of shorelines, some styles are more costly than others and require more seasonal maintenance. Consider what type of dock you’ll be able to install, as well as what type of dock anchor will be required.

How noisy or congested is the waterfront?

Many of us go to the cottage for a bit of solitude, while others pack up every weekend, eager to get active on the water. Either way, you’ll want to know how busy it gets.

What types of boats are allowed?

Some lakes prohibit high-speed and even powered boats. This may be good news for kayakers, but bad news for water skiers.

How accessible is the property?

While you might dream of owning a boat-in cottage, the reality isn’t for everyone. How difficult is the cottage to access in foul weather or if your boat runs out of fuel? Does the lake freeze in the winter? For road-access cottages, is the road ploughed regularly during the snowy season?

Are there any erosion issues?

Don’t worry—chances are that you’re not going to end up as one of those horror stories, where your entire cottage falls off a bluff and into the lake. However, if soil erosion is a problem in the area, one summer storm has the capability to wipe out valuable feet of frontage overnight. Look for evidence of erosion, including bare soil, slumped banks, exposed roots, or water channels.

What wildlife frequents the waters and shore?

Even the biggest wildlife enthusiast might become annoyed when a gaggle of geese insists on using the just-raked beach for a toilet. If you’re keen on swimming, you might want to investigate the prevalence of snapping turtles and leeches. Finally, if you’re a fisherman, what species of fish can be found?

What about the neighbours?

First of all, how close are your neighbours? Secondly, do they have a soft spot for blaring ‘80s hair metal while wakeboarding in their speedo? It doesn’t matter whether you’re buying a condo in the city or a cottage in the country, neighbours should be a key consideration, not an afterthought.

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