Lake House Dreaming: Make It a Reality

Lake House Dreaming: Steps to Make It a Reality

Owning a waterfront home in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region is a treasured experience. For many individuals, the thought of owning a lake house is a dream; for others, it becomes a reality… a dream come true. There are approximately 273 lakes, ponds, and rivers in what we call the Lakes Region.

I thought I would provide some insight for those of you considering purchasing a lake property.

Here are a few valuable tips to research:

What size lake is important?

If you’re an avid boater and love exploring different towns,  islands, and restaurants, a lake the size of Winnipesaukee offers more variety and places to visit than a 300-1,000 acre lake. For others, the peacefulness, tranquility, peaceful canoe/kayak rides, and calm waters of a small lake or pond fit the bill better.

Find an agent who “knows” the lakes intimately.

When you select a doctor, I’m sure you research how many procedures they’ve performed in their specialty. It’s similar with Realtors®– you want to find an experienced specialist.

There are many Realtors® who have never driven a boat, never mind own one. There are many technical questions relating to the Shoreland Protection Act, dock permitting, aquatic lake plants, and waterfront evaluations that need explanation. So to ensure a seamless closing and ultimately a sound investment, seek the services of a professional Realtor® with a solid background in “Lake Property Sales.”

Big vs. smaller lakes?

Are you seeking to avoid boat turbulence and prefer tranquility and quiet lapping of the waves? Or are you looking for a sizeable lake to explore? These are important considerations. With a multitude of lakes in the Lakes Region, there are all sorts of choices available.

Are you looking for a quiet cove or long-range lake and mountain views? If you’re into heavy boating, Winnipesaukee certainly has an abundance of islands to explore and boat around, whereas some of the smaller lakes are perfect for natural habitat,  kayaking, swimming, fishing, and spending some quality time with your grandchildren on the beach.

Research nearby amenities.

Are there any marinas nearby? What if my boat breaks down or I need gas? Can friends find a nearby launch for their boats? How close is the nearest supermarket, convenience store, gas station, marina, or restaurant? Activities for the children and proximity to cultural activities like music venues, summer theatre, ski areas, concerts, movie theaters, craft fairs, etc. could be very important. Also, study the future impact of neighboring properties, zoning regulations, and commercial properties nearby.

Understand water depths.

Be informed and understand the difference between a gradual sandy beach or a drop off of 20 ft. right from the shoreline. What’s important: young children on a gradual sandy beach or teenagers who love to “dive in” to deeper water? How deep is the lake or pond? Are there springs in the lake? Where does the water source come from? Is the average depth 9-16’ or 49-74’? It makes a huge difference in terms of water quality and fish habitat.

Obtain a copy of the seller’s site assessment.

All lakes and ponds in New Hampshire greater than 10 acres require a site assessment when selling a home within 200’ of a body of water. The assessment must be prepared by a NHDES permitted septic system designer for the seller to determine if the site meets the current standards for septic disposal. Pay special attention to smaller lots to see if they comply, especially if you’re considering home expansion.

Research water quality and aquatic plant growth.

Milfoil and other invasive lake plant species can be found on many lakes, especially in shallow coves without circulation. Water clarity is often better in deeper sections of the lake or where there’s an active current. Some sections of the lakes may have a brackish water color due to minerals in the water, logging, plant/tree decay, water circulation, etc. A good source for information is the NH Department of Environmental Services (www.des.state.nh.us) and the Lake Winnipesaukee Watershed Association (www.winnipesaukee.org) as well as (www.winnipesaukeegateway.org.)

Understand the difference between southwesterly exposure and northern or eastern exposure.

This is probably one of the most important issues for many buyers. Westerly exposure will add 3-4 hours of sunshine to your day—sometimes more—and will also extend warmer days as Spring and Fall approach. Blazing sunsets will also prevail. On the other hand, if you have fair skin and prefer to be out of the sun, cooler in the summer, enjoy the sunrises, and wake early, facing north or easterly might be the perfect solution.

What type of boat traffic?

Are you seeking tranquility with a quiet lapping of the waves? Boat turbulence and congestion are important considerations. On New Hampshire’s largest lake, you can still find peace and tranquility, depending on location, weather, and peak periods. Some locations offer long-range panoramic views and large open water, while others offer scenic, quiet coves in less traveled locations. Many ponds and smaller lakes have certain boating or jet ski restrictions. Study the rules carefully before purchasing. You might only want the pond or small lake for canoeing, kayaking, swimming, and fishing. On the other hand, if you’re big into boating and socializing, the variety of restaurants, activities, towns, and islands to explore on Winnipesaukee are unlimited. Talk with future neighbors and residents and get their valuable input on boating traffic in the immediate area. Also, research if any “boat rafting” areas are nearby.

Lake/boating regulations.

Speed limits on the lake? Horsepower restrictions? Are Jet Skis allowed? No wake zones? Will bridges limit sailboats? Water-skiing or wake-surfing regulations? Dock size regulations? Permanent vs. seasonal docks and maximum size according to state regulations (NHDES). Are breakwaters allowed? How do you obtain a mooring permit? Can you install a “perched beach”? Setback requirements and tree-cutting to conform to the NH Shoreland Protection Act? Setbacks for new structures or patios close to the lake? All of this information is helpful in making an informed real estate decision.

Don’t purchase a boat before your home!

I’ve seen some over-anxious clients make this mistake. First, pick a lake that fits your lifestyle. There are 10 horsepower limitations on some small ponds and lakes. Pontoon boats are popular on some lakes, while 23-32’ boats, larger bow riders, and cabin cruisers might be preferred on larger/rougher lakes. Know the maximum size boat your dock will accommodate. Will you need a dock, boat whip, a boat lift system, or additional mooring for rough waters?

Decide the distance. How far from your primary home?

The consensus is that a 2-3 hour drive from home seems manageable. If you purchase something 6-8 hours away, will family and friends use it as well? The drive can get to be a bit taxing over time. Laconia Municipal Airport, Manchester Airport, and Logan Airport in Boston provide many flight options.

Research permitting for waterfront amenities.

Are permits in place from the NH Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) for permanent or seasonal docks, dock canopies, breakwaters, decks, or walkways close to the shoreline, gazebos, patios, and other structures close to the shoreline? Check to see what dock size was permitted, are the moorings permitted, was a perch beach permitted, check for permits on boat canopies, boat and jet ski lifts, and swim rafts. 

Understand the difference between “Lakefront” and “Water Access Communities.”

There are many choices. Most of us have a vision of a cozy lake cottage sitting right on the water on its own lot and lake frontage. There are however many alternatives that make a lot of sense. There are many fine “water access communities” throughout the Lakes Region that offer beautiful beaches, boat docking facilities, and other amenities like clubhouses, tennis courts, indoor/outdoor pools, etc., all at a much more affordable price point.

Study the covenants and restrictions.

Many waterfront properties are subject to association covenants, rules, regulations and restrictions and yes association dues. Carefully review all declarations and covenants to ensure you’re comfortable with all matters.

Fishermen—know your lakes!

Visit the Fish and Game website (www.wildlife.state.nh.us), visit local bait and tackle stores, and talk with the locals. All of the lakes are different, and water depths vary substantially. Lake salmon, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, brook trout, perch—there are so many “special spots,” but how do you find them on the charts? How about fishing derbies, ice fishing derbies, and bass tournaments? Which lakes and when are they held? Also, who stocks the lake with fish, and when?

How much shorefront, privacy, and real estate taxes?

Prices vary substantially on the lakes because of the amount of shorefront and land area. Study the neighboring properties and how close they are. Look at setbacks for all buildings for compliance. 50’ of shorefront vs. 300’ is a big difference. Real estate taxes can be considerably higher in some towns vs. others. Is the lot steep? Lots of trees vs. open lawn areas? In a cove or open water with dramatic views? Any wetlands? Is the dock large enough? Many rocks out in front of the property to navigate around? Any algae blooms or exotic weeds or milfoil? Sandy bottom, rocky or muddy? Crystal clear waters of brackish colored? So many variables to consider.

In summary, rely on the experience of a professional Realtor® who specializes in the sale of all types of lake properties. At Roche Realty Group, our professional Realtors® will make the process as effortless as possible, with the ultimate goal being your satisfaction. Let us help you make your lifetime dream become a reality.

This article was written by Frank Roche. Frank is president of Roche Realty Group in Meredith, NH, and can be reached at (603) 279-7046. Please feel free to visit www.rocherealty.com to learn more about the Lakes Region and its real estate market.

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