Lake Property Buyer's Guides:

   The guide below is my best shot at providing a brief summary of things to consider when buying lake property. Everyone has unique reasons for wanting to own lakefront property, so the same data can be looked at differently by different people. My goal is to provide some thinking points that help you find the lake, lot and house combination that best suits your needs. I hope this guide helps you in that quest.

   As always, if there is something you would like more information about or if you have questions for me, send me a text / email or give me a call and I will do the best I can to help.


Buying Property on a Lake

  In this section I will break down the different things I think are worth looking at when you are looking at a lake. If there is anything that you look for and you don't see here, I'd love to hear about it so I can make the guide better going forward.

  While pretty much every lake in Northern Wisconsin is going to look beautiful as the fog lifts off in the morning or the sun sets over it at night, what you see during the day will vary depending on the clarity of the lake. If you are boating on a clear lake you will see a bright white wake behind you (which doesn't really mean anything, but has a cool feel to it). You will also be able to look down through the water around you and see fish, sunken logs, and other interesting stuff in the water. When you jump in the water you'll come out feeling clean and refreshed because you won't have residual sediment load stuck to your skin. there is nothing harmful about jumping into a lake that isn't clear, it's just a different feeling that might mean something to you.

cloudy water
Cloudy vs. Clear
clear water

  Runoff is the main thing that leads to cloudy water in this neck of the woods. Cloudy lakes generally have a lot of run off, where clear lakes don't. I should point out that there are quite a few clear lakes that will get runoff in the spring. The structure of the lake (usually means it is deep) just handles it better than others. While swimming is going to feel more refreshing when you are in a clean clear lake, you will probably catch more fish in a murkier lake. While the fish are easier to catch in cloudier water (total blanket statement that doesn't hold up all the time), the number of trophy sized fish go up as the water becomes cleaner. If the main reason you want a place on a lake is because you want to catch a lot of fish fast, you might be better off seeking cloudier water. Keep in mind that cloudy water is by no means bad water it just a diferent feel than really clear water.

  Lake depth is one of the easiest topics on this list to generalize. When looking at the depth of the lake, deeper is always better. Before I speak of the positives of a deeper lake, I will talk about the one negative. Deeper lakes are generally cooler than shallow lakes. In Northern Wisconsin the temperature between lakes does not vary by a huge amount, but the ice usually comes off deeper lakes about a week after the shallow lakes open up.

  There are many benefits to a deeper lake. One major benefit in Northern Wisconsin is weed control. Weeds generally grow in warm, shallow water. If you choose a lake that is mostly less than 15 feet deep you run the risk of the lake being overtaken by weeds. Weeds rarely grow in water over 15 feet deep so if a lake has an average depth of over 15 feet, you can sure there won't ever be a takeover. Another benefit to a deep lake is volume. A deep lake has more room for fish and fresh water than a shallow lake. A deep lake also has more room for energy created from boats moving through the water (waves) to disperse so the effect on the shoreline is not as destructive over time. Boating in deeper water alleviates some of the worry of hitting rocks or other obstructions in the water. Having said that, just because a lake is deep doesn't mean it doesn't have shallow spots to watch for.

  While the stability of the water level is determined by the geological features of the lake, a deep lake does provide some benefits in a time of severe drought (which has occured a few times in the past decade or so). There have been quite a few lakes in our area that have been rendered nearly unusable in years of severe drought.

  When considering the depth of a lake, it is important to know the average depth and what percentage of the lake is shallow. A lake can be 1000 acres of 4 foot deep water with a 1 acre hole that is 40 feet deep and the depth of the lake would be listed at as 40 feet, which can be quite misleading. That is why you will find average depth listed for every lake on this site.

  Lake location is probably the most overlooked factor when it comes to finding the right lake. The 20 minute drive on the winding roads through the woods is beautiful the first 10 times you do it. After that it gets to become quite the hassle when a "quick" trip ends up eating two hours of your day, 40 of which are driving! The further you get from town the less time you will have to spend with your family. One thing I hear over and over is that people underestimate how many times they will run to town on a trip up north.

  Another reason lake location is important is that proximity to town, especially a "big" town, greatly increases the chances that you'll have what I'll label as modern amenities. High speed internet and cell phone coverage are important to a lot of people. With the abundance of state land and the relative lack of a year round population, there are many spots in Northern Wisconsin where you won't have high speed internet or even cell phone service. If you plan to work from home at all or need to be available at times while at your lake house, this is worth considering.

  The other modern amenity that is related to proximity to a bigger town is natural gas. The winters up here are cold. Even if you won't be coming up for the winter, you still will be keeping some heat in your house if it isn't a seasonal place. Natural gas is significantly less expensive, more reliable and less of a hassle than heating with propane. It's also nice to not have to look at your (and your neighbors) propane tank every time you drive in.

  There are three types of lake access for the lakes in Northern Wisconsin. They are private, semi-private, and public. A private lake is a lake that has no public access points and is surrounded by private land. It is very common for a lake lot in Northern Wisconsin to be advertised as "private" when the lake is in no way private. Private lakes are very, very rare and if you see a place advertised as private, make sure to follow up with questions on access. A semi-private lake is fairly close to a private lake. With a semi-private lake there are currently no public access points. A semi-private lake can become a public lake at a later date, whereas a private lake cannot. Semi-private lakes are generally smaller lakes away from the major cities, but this isn't always the case. A public lake is a lake with easy to get to public access points. Most lakes in Northern Wisconsin are public lakes.

  There are many reasons why lake access type is an important factor in assessing a lake lot. The first reason lake access is important is that it determines how busy a lake will be. It is relatively safe to assume that a public lake will have people fishing and boating on it for pretty much all hours of sun light. Northern Wisconsin is a vacation destination mostly due to being able to be on the lakes. Many people who don't have a place on a lake head to the bigger public lakes (usually lakes on chains or really large public lakes) to do their boating and fishing. This means more people, more people means more noise and activity to deal with than a semi-private or private lake. Some people prefer the activity, some prefer the quiet and there is no right or wrong answer. A semi-private lake doesn't have easy access so you are far less likely to deal with a lot of people. Now that rentals are allowed on nearly every lake up here, you will find more activity on semi-private lakes than you would find on a completely private lake. Many semi-private lakes have private launches where the owners will allow access, sometimes for a fee. A semi-private lake is far more quiet than a public lake, but is less private than a private lake. A private lake will almost always be quieter than other lakes just because only current owners have access to the lake. People who buy on private lakes are typically looking for peace and quiet and their lake use is more laid back than what you would typically find on public bodies of water.

   The second reason lake access is important is the "feel" of the lake. A feeling is difficult to put into words but I will try to do my best. For this illustration, I am going to compare owning a lake lot in Northern Wisconsin to a family outing at a water park. When owning on a public lake it feels like you took the family to the waterpark for the day of fun. There is always stuff to watch and take part in, but in the sea of people, you are just another one of the dots. Everything you do will be seen, but it will be seen by people you probably have never seen before and will probably never see again. You can still spend quality time with your family, but it is in the public view. A lake lot on a semi-public lake is like going to the water park on a corporate outing. You know more of the people that are out and about on the lake, but not everyone. A lake lot on a private lake is like going to the water park on a day where a group of people you know rented the whole park for the day. You still do the same things you would have if a bunch of strangers were there, but it is far less crowded and you are at least vaguely familiar with everyone you bump into. It is also more private and safer when there are no strangers on your lake. Having spent a lot of time on a private lake, I can assure you that there is a feeling of being part of a community with common interests that isn't available on the other types of lakes.

  The final reason lake access is important is restrictions/protections. Public lakes are public lakes with public rules. Private lakes often come with protective convenants. Things like boating hours, fishing regulations, and architectural styles are often covered by protective covenants. When looking at a lot on a private lake, it is important to ask what sort of additional protections have been put on the lake. If you want to ride your jet ski until sunset every day or just don't like being restricted by rules of any sort, a private lake with "quiet hours" in the evening would not be for you. If you are into fishing and fish management, you are more likely to see lake associations trying to improve the fishery on private and semi-private lakes.

  Lake size is kind of a weird topic. Size is usually thought of in acres, but I've found that usually isn't the most useful way to think about it. The problem with looking at lake size in terms of just acreage is it does not paint the full picture. For instance, a 400 acre lake with a unique shape could have 10 miles of shoreline and an oval shaped lake that is 1,000 acres might only have 6 miles of shoreline. If you plan to take a pontoon boat around the lake every evening, you would have more shoreline on the "small" lake than the "big" lake. That's why I think of size as a combination of the acreage and shape.

   As a general rule, if you have a big boat and you are looking to cover some ground fast, you want more than 1000 acres of water. If you use your boat for waterskiing/tubing and just general tooling around you want to be on a lake that is at least 100 acres but preferrably over 300. If you are most concerned with fishing, the acreage of a lake is probably not going to be as important as other aspects such as how good the fishing is and how busy the lake is.

   The one thing that size can affect is view. Some people prefer a view of more water. Even in terms of view, the acreage of the lake doesn't always matter much. You also have to consider what you can actually see from your lot. There are numerous lots on big water in Northern Wisconsin that have small views. A house on a 1000 acre lot with a view of 30 acres of water won't be as majestic feeling as a house on a 200 acre lake that stretches for a mile.

  There are three main types of lakes in Northern Wisconsin. They are drainage lakes, seepage lakes, and spring fed lakes. The most common type of lake is the drainage lake. A drainage lake gets its water from runoff. There are two types of runoff, groundwater runoff that is water that collects during rains and snow melts and river runoff which is essentially pooled up river water controlled by a dam. The water quality in drainage lakes can vary greatly. A deep groundwater drainage lake with a high basin can be very clean and clear, where a shallow river drainage lake is going to be dirty and murky. As a general rule, it's safe to say that deep drainage lakes are going to have much better water quality than shallow ones.

   The second most common type of lake in Northern Wisconsin is the seepage lake. A seepage lake is a lake formed by rain, runoff and groundwater and does not have an inlet or an outlet. These types of lakes have inconsistent water levels. In the recent past, there has been periods of major drought in Northern Wisconsin and many seepage lakes were down five to fifteen feet. These lakes can also be susceptible to flooding in years of heavy rain or snow. Seepage lakes are often very clear lakes with very clean water. The less runoff that goes into a lake, the cleaner the water will be.

  The least common type of lake in Northern Wisconsin is the spring fed lake. Like seepage lakes, spring fed lakes often have very clean water. Some spring fed lakes are less susceptible to low water levels during droughts. Lakes with strong deep springs aren't affected by times of drought while others with less powerful springs and are. Because spring fed lakes always have an outlet, they are less likely to be affected by flooding. Ppring fed lakes with strong springs can sometimes have more dangerous ice. Not that springs automatically mean dangerous but you will see less vehicles on the ice as the thickness can vary pretty quickly. In places where there are strong springs in shallow water the ice might not be as thick as the rest of the lake. This is something to consider if you do a lot of ice fishing.

   In the section about clarity above I have a picture of a clear and a cloudy lake. That picture also shows how drastically different the color of the water can be from lake to lake. We have a lot of swamps in Northern Wisconsin. The swamps stain or tan the water giving it a thick red/brown color. When this water runs off and mixes with the water in lakes, the lakes can take on the color even when they are clear lakes. The color doesn't affect the clarity of the lake, but it does change the look of the water. Most lakes have a small period of tanned water in the spring, but lakes with high volumes of water exchange (deep/outlet/etc) quickly lose the color. The shallow lakes and river drainage lakes stay that color all year.

  This category ties in with a few of the others. Size, shape, access, depth and location all play a role in how busy a lake is. Lakes that are part of a chain get the most traffic. Chains are popular for boating, jet skiing, pontoon trips and fishing so you get a pretty consistent level of activity. The bigger non-chain lakes also see a fair amount of traffic. The nice thing about a bigger lake is that it handles the traffic better than a small lake, the flip side to that is you don't see a lot of people trailering in to a smaller lake so the big lakes usually will end up with more activity per acre of water. The other thing to look at in regards to activity level is the availability of rentals on the lake. Renters definitely use a lake in a more aggressive way than those who live on the lake. My theory is that when you live on a lake you are a little more conscious of how your actions affect your neighbors. Almost every lake in Northern Wisconsin has rental properties on now that the laws have been recently changed, in most cases it is more of a matter of how many there are.

  This is a can of worms I went back and forth on deciding whether or not to open. Invasive species are kind of like the politics of lake evaluation. Everyone has opinions and they're usually different even though they are based on the same set of data. It all comes down to interpretation. The following is just my interpretation.

  There are many types of invasive species that have made their way into the lakes of Northern Wisconsin. They all affect a lake in different ways. Some affect boating, some affect fishing, some affect swimming, some don't affect much at all and some will eventually be looked at as beneficial to have. As time goes on and we as humans continue to use the lakes, there will be more non-native species that make their way into the lakes. In my opinion you have to first look at three things; your needs, the structure of the lake, and the characteristics of the invasive species. For instance, lets look at a lake with swimmers itch. If you love to swim you might initially think that lake is out immediately. Well, it's not quite that simple. Swimmers itch is more of an issue close to shore. If you walk to the end of your dock, dive in, and swim across the lake you're most likely going to be fine. If you have grandkids playing in the shallow water all day, they're the ones that are going to get the itch.

  Eurasian Milfoil gets talked about most because it can affect the way lakes are used recreationally, most notably for swimming and boating. This is a good example of how the structure of the lake comes into play. For the most part milfoil grows in the 4-8ft depth where the bottom is soft. It can grow deeper on clear lakes. If you're looking at a lake that is mostly shallow, it's entirely possible that it could be taken over by weeds. If a mostly deep lake has milfoil, it probably isn't going to affect you a ton.

  Once you've looked at how the invasive species interacts with the lake and your needs, the next step is to look at the management plan. I actually think the presence of a management plan is far more important than what type of invasive species is in the lake. My logic is that we don't know what lies ahead in the world, but if a lake association has proven it can (or can't) handle the obstacles it currently faces, I think it says a lot about what the future could look like. There are a lot of ways to deal with invasive species. You can use chemicals, you can let nature run its course or you can do something in between. They all have their pros and cons. Knowing what the management situation is like can tell you a lot about a lake.

  Having said all of the above, for many people invasive species isn't even worth worrying about. You can do all of your research and find the perfect situation and two years later a new species could find its way into your lake and everything you thought you knew is thrown out the window. I think of it as something to look at, but it's way down on my list after many characteristics that have more of an affect on the day to day use of a lake.

Buying a Lake Home

  This guide is about what to look for when buying a lake home. When I'm not selling real estate I am involved in the design and building of lake homes. I will try to point out different things to consider that I think can affect your enjoyment of a home. I have a separate section of the guide for lots, but it is relevant for homes too since homes do sit on a lot.

  The view from your lake home is obviously important, but I'm highlighting it for a couple of reasons. First, a lot of people worry about the view from outside their home...which isn't a bad thing, but sometimes the view from inside can be lost in the noise. For instance, there are lake homes available for cheaper prices simply because the view from outside includes an unsightly boat house or a neighboring house that is too close. A lot of these unsightly things might not be visible from inside the home. Since people are inside their house more often than outside of it, finding such places can lead to getting a good value on your new home. Of course, if seeing that other house right when you drive in bugs you, it probably doesn't make sense to buy that place.

  The second thing I want to highlight about the view is time of year. If you are looking in the spring and fall, you might see a great lake view that all but disappears once the leaves bud out in the summer. Conversely, you might be able to see something you don't want to see in the spring and fall (like a neighbor's propane tank) that you won't even notice during the summers when you are enjoying your lake home.

  The final thing I'll point out under the "view" topic is more of a general ambiance item. Some people don't have a lot of experience with landscaping / manipulation of the land and will see an unkept woods and view it negatively. Cleaning up a woods and planting new trees/bushes/flowers is a relatively simple project that can drastically change the way a place looks.

  In most cases it is safe to say that the older a house is, the more likely issues will pop up. Northern Wisconsin has a relatively harsh climate and homes built here have to be able to handle everything from winds, to rain, to snow. Over time the climate can beat up a house a little (or in some cases, a lot). As a home ages, it slowly deteriates. Mechanicals start to lose their efficiency, unprotected wood starts to rot, shingles start to curl and the style can even become dated. At some point the decision has to be made whether it is best to remodel or tear it down and start from scratch. The newer the home, the farther you are from having to make that decision.

  Another thing to consider with the age of a home is what kind of technology was used at the time of the build. There are so many interesting things you can do in new house build that weren't even thoughts on anyone's radar 10 years ago. For the most part, dated technology isn't much of an issue in this area. Most homes were built pretty simply. The area that stands out the most (to me) with technology is lighting, specifically switching. If you are used to a smart home and smart switches it can be quite the pain to go back to flipping switches. In many cases you can upgrade to smart home features, but in older houses with older wiring it is going to be a battle and not real cost effective.

  The materials used in the construction of a home can affect a lot of parts of a home. In this section of the guide I'm going to focus on the maintenance aspect. I will touch more on materials as I work through the other categories. A lot of homes in Northern Wisconsin (especially the older ones) have wood siding. With wood siding comes a need to maintain it. If wood siding has not been properly maintained it will start to cup, rot and ooze sap making your house look old and unkept. While it isn't a real difficult job to keep up on the maintenance of siding, a lot of people would prefer to not spend their vacation time doing so. If you decide to pay someone else to do the maintenance of the siding, it can get to be a pretty expensive annual cost. In recent years there seems to be a lot more homes going up with maintenance free siding. If you are buying a home, the cost of maintaining the siding is worth factoring into your decision.

   Another material to look closely at when buying an existing house is the roofing material. Shingle quality varies by quite a bit and some shingles are known to fail before others. Some have longer, transferrable warranties when other's don't. If a roof has started to fail, you could be looking at a large expense in the near future. Metal roofs have become more popular recently, but they certainly aren't without problems. The best part about the metal roofs is they seem to age pretty well from a looks perspective.

  Other materials that require maintenance would be things like driveway blacktop, landscaping pavers and any concrete around the property (including unheated garages). There aren't any materials would completely deter me from buying a place, but it's good to at least consider long term maintenance when buying a property.

  With many houses in Northern Wisconsin being heated with propane and fuel oil, a well insulated house can save you money every month of the year. There are other things to consider when it comes to efficiency but in this section I'll focus on the type of insulation type.

  There are basically four types of insulation used in homes. Fiberglass, cellulose and open and closed cell spray foam. They all thier pros and cons. If fiberglass insulation is installed in a sloppy manner (very common) it does not do a lot of good. In my experience it also is not as effective even when installed properly. The positive is it is less expensive. If cellulose has not been dense packed, it could settle and leave a void at the top of the wall cavity. Cellulose is also more expensive than fiberglass. The benefits to a good cellulose job are numerous. I definitely look more favorably at a house with cellulose than any other type of insulation. It's a great insulator, it adds a lot of mass to a house and it makes for a noticably quieter home than any of the other options. You don't see a lot of open cell spray foam up here. It is less expensive but also less effective than closed cell foam and many insulators steer you towards closed cell. Closed cell spray foam is a pretty bulletproof material, but I don't really care for it, especially in new home construction. In an older, more stable home with thin walls it makes a lot of sense because you can get more R value and the wood is more stable. In newer homes where the wood is still moving I've seen a lot of cases where micro-cracks form, especially by the studs. Closed cell foam loses its effectiveness (in regards to R-value per inch) as the thickness increases. Because of this, there is usually only 3 or 4 inches sprayed in a cavity (to meet code). This leaves an air gap which will lead to convection currents in the walls, which can lead to drafts. While closed cell is also the most expensive type of insulation, it's not what I would recommend in new homes.

  The final insulation related aspect to look at is the construction method used to build the home. A better method will do more for the insulation value of a home than the type of insulation will. The best way to increase the R value of a wall is to break the thermal bridge created by wood studs. Wood has a r-value of about 1 per inch. Wood studs often make up 25-35% (seems crazy, but it's true) of the total wall area of a house. This means if there is no break between the outside of the stud and where it meets the drywall, 25-35% of your wall will have an R value of about 5.5! The best way to create a thermal break is with rigid foam insulation on the outside of your house. Other effective methods are double wall construction and staggered stud construction. The less thermal bridging a home has, the more comfortable it will be and the cheaper it will be to heat and cool.

  Sticking to the comfort theme, we now move on to windows. I'll preface this section by saying that my search for the ultimate window led me to become a window dealer for what I believe are the best windows around, so I might be a little biased about the importance of windows here.

   Windows are something that are a bigger factor with older houses than newer ones, but greatly affect comfort in all homes. As with a lot of things in life, a house is only as comfortable as its weakest point. In a lot of older homes there will be single pane glass windows that don't always fit the best (slight house movements over time combined with flimsy frames). A lot of windows are drafty and drafts are simply unfomforable to live with. Drafts result from a couple of things. The most common is poor air sealing. Even new big name windows only meet the minimum requirements for air sealing. It's pretty common to be able to go up to a window on a cold, windy day and feel the draft coming from the window unit. Another way drafts form is from convection currents. These are caused by temperature differential between the glass and the air. Single pane glass is just a poor insulator. Ideally a house will have at least double paned windows with a gas injected between the panes for better insulation values. There is a movement towards triple pane windows but the only time they really make a lot of sense from a payback perspective is if the rest of the house is superinsulated (very rare) and even then the value is debatable if natural gas is your primary fuel source. Now from a comfort standpoint, tripe panes are definitely nicer if you are going to be sitting close to them.

  You will sometimes hear people say that modern homes are built too tight and a house needs to breathe. Don't listen to people who say that. The building science industry has proven over and over that a tightly sealed home is a more comfortable home that costs less to heat and cool. Even at extreme levels of air tightness a house still "breathes" plenty. I have seen enough construction to know that it is very rare to see any effort put towards air sealing. A tightly sealed house will have caulk on all the wood to wood connections, a taped air barrier on the outside and many other details that an unsealed house won't have (can lights are a huge air leak, not because they have to be, but because it takes time to do right). While these aren't things that can be verified without a blower door test, you can and should ask questions about how the house was built, especially if it is a newer home.

  It isn't too hard to walk around a house and look to see if penetractions have been caulked. This is a minimal step but if it hasn't been taken you can pretty comfortably assume that there wasn't any effort put into air sealing the home.

  If you plan on using your home in the winter, the type of heat makes a huge difference in how comfortable the house will be. How the heat is generated makes a difference in the amount of time, effort and money you will spend but the delivery system is what affects comfort. Heat can be generated with wood, propane, natural gas or electricity. Wood takes a lot of effort, electric costs a lot of money and propane prices can change drastically year to year and you need to make sure you keep fuel in the tank. Natural gas is a cheap and easy way to generate heat.

  When it comes to the delivery of the heat you can either heat the air and blow it around or you can heat the objects radiantly. Radiant heat is far superior from a comfort standpoint. It's also a quiet way to heat because you don't have blowers going all the time. Radiant heat is also a more efficient way to transfer heat from the source to you. In my opinion, a house with radiant heating is far more valuable than one with forced air because it makes such a huge difference in winter comfort. If you don't have intentions of using your place a lot in the winter the type of heat obviously doesn't mean nearly as much. Forced air is certainly an effective way to keep a house heated, it just is less comfortable.

  There isn't a lot to look for when it comes to septic systems. The main thing is that it is in the county maintenance program. This means that it has been monitored every three years and is in good standing. A house with just a holding tank would be less desirable than one with a system because you would need to have it pumped constantly. While conventional systems are nice when you're building a new home because they cost less and aren't visible, when buying a home, there really isn't any benefits to having a conventional system over a mound system. You could actually make the arguement that the mound system will last longer. One thing that is worth considering is where you would put a new system if the current one were to fail. Some lots are so small that it would be hard to squeeze a new system in.

  A lot of homes, especially those on chains it seems, that come up for sale are older seasonal cabins. While they might fit your current needs, its possible that you would want to add an addition or two in the future instead of starting from scratch (if the home is in good condition). In this case you would want to make sure that there is room to do so. Lot line setbacks are 10 feet in Oneida County and 15 in Vilas for homes. Garages have a five foot setback.

  If you plan on using your home in the winter, the type of heat makes a huge difference in how comfortable the house will be. How the heat is generated makes a difference in the amount of time, effort and money you will spend but the delivery system is what affects comfort. Heat can be generated with wood, propane, natural gas or electricity. Wood takes a lot of effort, electric costs a lot of money and propane prices can change drastically year to year and you need to make sure you keep fuel in the tank. Natural gas is a cheap and easy way to generate heat.

  When it comes to the delivery of the heat you can either heat the air and blow it around or you can heat the objects radiantly. Radiant heat is far superior from a comfort standpoint. It's also a quiet way to heat because you don't have blowers going all the time. Radiant heat is also a more efficient way to transfer heat from the source to you. In my opinion, a house with radiant heating is far more valuable than one with forced air because it makes such a huge difference in winter comfort. If you don't have intentions of using your place a lot in the winter the type of heat obviously doesn't mean nearly as much. Forced air is certainly an effective way to keep a house heated, it just is less comfortable.

Buying a Lake Lot

  This guide is about what to look for when buying a lake lot to build a home or when buying an existing home. Hopefully it proves useful as a start when thinking about things to think about.

  The orientation of your lake lot is something that matters if you want either a sunrise or a sunset view. During the Northern Wisconsin Summers the sun rises as early as 5:05 am and sets as late as 8:52 pm. Southern exposure is often sought after because people want the sun to shine in their windows and on their beach. One thing to remember is that on the heavily wooded lots common to Northern Wisconsin there is not a lot of direct sunlight comes through. There's no such thing as a bad direction for your lot to face, there are just some differences between the exposures.

  As I stated above, southern exposure is good for those looking for direct light throughout the day. Eastern exposure is great for sunrises and you have the benefit of getting early morning sun on your shoreline. If you are an afternoon person or love a great sunset it's hard to beat westerbn exposure. One thing that is worth pointing out about western exposure is that the late afternoon sun can really heat up a house. Nice in the winter, not always what you're looking for in the summer. It's also REALLY bright. Northern exposure is a little underrated in my opinion. The light is more indirect and soft in houses with northern exposure. It's a really pleasant, comforting light in my experience.

  The shoreline is an important part of a lake lot. There are different types of shorelines that carry different types of prices. The most sought after shoreline is the hard sand bottom directly off the shore. Hard sand bottoms are great for swimming and other water activities near your pier. Muck bottoms are not as much fun to step in or walk around in. Many lake lots in Northern Wisconsin feature some fisherman frontage between the shoreline and the start of the lake. On lots with some fisherman in front, a boardwalk is needed. Many people enjoy the scenic setting of a boardwalk spanning across an area of taller grass and flowers. It is not uncommon for lots with fisherman frontage adjacent to the shore to have really nice hard sand bottoms where the boardwalk ends. Personally, I would rather have a boardwalk out to a hard sand bottom than no boardwalk and muckier frontage. If you use the lake primarily for fishing and boating, how the bottom feels on your feet probably won't make much a difference. Others prefer solid ground right up to the water even if it means a soft bottom. There's no right or wrong, but it's something you should consider.

  The terrain around lakes varies quite a bit up here in Northern Wisconsin. You will find some lots that are real flat to the water and others that you almost have to be a billy goat to navigate. The nice thing about lots with some elevation change is that they are prime candidates for walk out basements which really add a lot of nice living space to a house. The views from a steep lot and a level lot are completely different. I don't know that you can make a blanket statement saying what slope to the lake is the best, but if you could it would be that the really steep lots that require a lot of steps to get down to the lake are the least in demand and therefore a little less expensive.

   Another material to look closely at when buying an existing house is the roofing material. Shingle quality varies by quite a bit and some shingles are known to fail before others. Some have longer, transferrable warranties when other's don't. If a roof has started to fail, you could be looking at a large expense in the near future. Metal roofs have become more popular recently, but they certainly aren't without problems. The best part about the metal roofs is they seem to age pretty well from a looks perspective.

  While something worth looking at, lot size is a bit over-rated criteria in the judgment of a lake lot. Almost lots in Northern Wisconsin are at least 20,000 square feet (about a half-acre) and many are close to an acre which is plenty of room to fit a house and a very large yard (a football field including the end zones is .83 acres).

  To me setting is more important than acreage. To really judge whether a lot is the right size for you, you almost have to go out and stand on it. Look at where the nearest buildings are, look at what you see while driving in, note how busy the nearest road is and how busy that part of the lake is with activity and you will start to know whether or not the lot is big enough for you.

  It's also important to know how much of the land is usable. There are many wetlands in Northern Wisconsin that can't be touched or even looked at sideways without the DNR chasing you down with guns blazing (slight exaggeration). Wetlands reduce the amount of usable acreage of a lot. If you are looking to add a large outbuilding to go with your house, you should make sure you have adequate room to build. Another thing I relate to usability is how the lot drains. Sometimes lots will be in a bit of a hole which can create a bunch of additional headaches down the road. It isn't a deal breaker because water is something that can be managed, but it is something worth keeping in mind.

  That which surrounds your lot often affects the enjoyment of your place. Things to look for include proximity to the road, how close the neighbors are and what you see when you look across the lake. If a place is close to a road, is it a busy road? Busy roads can be noisy. Lightly traveled roads can be a nice convienience if you can plant some trees between your place and the road. Some things to look at with the place next door would be how close the neighbors are, how maintained the proerty is and whether or not they have animals. Neighborhoods can have a large effect on the value of your lot/home and an even larger affect on how much you enjoy your place.

  Another thing to look at as far as the surrounding area is concerned would be nearby trails. The trail networks in Northern Wisconsin have been growing rapidly recently. Especially the walking and biking trails. There has also been an expansion of ATV trails and the snowmobile network up here is quite extensive. Most of the time being close to a trail is a good thing, but there are occasions when people who are looking for a quiet escape from the world might not want to be real close to an ATV or snowmobile trail.

  While it may sound romantic to be cut off from the world on your escape to Northern Wisconsin, it can also be a major annoyance to not have the option to be connected. Checking out the utilities and cell phone coverage at the lake lot you are looking at is a wise decision.

  Cell Phone coverage can be spotty in parts of the northwoods. If it is important to have the option to get in touch with people at all times, the cell phone reception on your lot should be taken into consideration. Another consideration for those who use the internet to keep up to date at work on working vacations or just use the internet on a daily basis is internet speed. Dial up internet connections are not uncommon in Northern Wisconsin. You will also find a lot of places that use dishes for their connections. While some people may be happy with that type of connection, I don't think I've run into one in the past fifteen-twenty years or so. Many of the lakes closer to the main towns like Eagle River and Minocqua have high speed available, which can be quite important in our world as it becomes more and more digital.

  Natural gas is a great utility to have available. As you get further from the towns, the chances increase that you will be heating with propane. It gets cold in the winter up here and there is a big cost savings heating with natural gas instead of propane, wood, or oil. You also don't have to deal with the hassle of keeping your tank full.

   Most lots in Northern Wisconsin have private wells. It is a good idea to ask the average well depth in the area as well as what the water is like. The deeper the well has to be, the more expensive it will be to install. Luckily, most wells up here don't have to be real deep compared to other parts of the state.

  Lot restrictions or protections are something that a lot of developers put on land they develop. This is done to protect their investment which usually means it will also protect your investment. It is wise to know the protections on both the land you are considering as well as those on the rest of the lake. Most lots come with no restrictions, and this can lead to some really run down looking areas. Driving past pseudo-junkyards on the way to your beautiful lake home is hardly the best way to start or end your trip. Many buyers overlook this aspect when they buy their first lake property.

  It's also good to know if there are restrictions that would be a pain for you to deal with. Protections on a lot don't always line up with a buyers intended use of the land. It's good to know this before you get in too deep. Some people just don't like being told what is and isn't allowed. If that fits the way you look at things I would suggest not getting a place where you will have to deal with restrictions of any sort. I would say that generally speaking, restrictions and protections improve a place more often than they hurt it.

  The last guide item I have is Lake Associations. Associations can be a good thing and they can be a bad thing. On the good side of things the association will usually have the good of the lake in mind with their actions. A powerful association that is well managed can be seen as an asset for dealing with anything that comes up in the future (fish management, weed management, etc). There are also associations that can get pretty political and not everyone handles power with the responsibility they probably should. I can't really come up with anything specific to look for in an association because everyone is different, but it is worth Knowing whether or not an association exists for the lake you are looking at and if it does, what do they all do? You just don't want to end up in a situation where you have to deal with things you'd rather not deal with when you are up trying to enjoy the lake.

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