Q&A for Lake Property Buyers

Q&A for Lake Property Buyers


What are the initial steps we should take when buying lake property?

  1. Investigate what lake you prefer and your price range (compare Lake Lanier, Lake Hartwell, and Lake Keowee). Go online to  www.LakeandHomeSearch.com and enter your search criteria for the latest listings.
  2. Talk or email a Lake Specialist REALTOR (hopefully it’s me), and ask how prices compare.
  3. Go online to my website, www.SayJayLakeandHome.com and click on Resources and Links for the Army Corps of Engineers for the lake of your choice (check out lake history, water levels, shoreline management rules and guidelines, etc).
  4. Ask your REALTOR to send you current listings of homes and/or lots in your price range (keep it as narrow as you can). Also, ask him to include you on MLS Auto Notification for any new listings.
  5. Spend a day with your REALTOR looking at various listings and get a feel of the lake. Listings can only peak your interest. They don’t tell you where the sun is in the morning, how deep the water is, the noise level, or how close your neighbors are.
  6. Talk to a lender and get pre-qualified. That way you’ll know how much you want to spend and what your financing options are.

What time of the year is best to look for lake property?

  1. Anytime is the best time (“they’re not making any more lake property”). New lake property listings come out everyday from MLS.  Even when lake levels are down, you’ll have a better idea what you’ll have in low water circumstances when you buy. After viewing a few properties, you’ll know when that special “it’s the one” property hits the market.
  2. Many buyers have found that the homes that they considered buying one year have gone up in price “considerably” the next.  The problem is – their budget didn’t go up as well, so they found themselves either out of the market or evaluating different buying options.

Should I sign a Buyer’s Agency Contract with my REALTOR?

  1. It’s your choice -
  2. You can remain a customer and represent yourself.  The Real Estate Agent can help you with ministerial services (showing homes, preparing documents, etc.). Or -
  3. You can choose to hire an Agency for representation through a written Buyer-Brokerage agreement. Some of the duties an Agent can provide you are: Advise and educate you on pricing, market and property evaluation, recommend protective clauses in purchase agreements, maintain confidentiality, refer reputable lenders, suggest negotiating strategies, arrange closings and coordinate inspections, provide guidance through the purchase process to avoid missing deadlines, etc.
  4. Remember, that until you enter into a representation agreement with an Agency company, you are considered a customer and the Agency cannot council you or be your advocate, and cannot advise you on price or terms (per State Laws).  The Real Estate agent should provide you with documentation describing the different Agency Relationships in Real Estate.
  5. I asked a few of my recent clients why they decided to sign the Buyer’s Brokerage Agreement, and what some of the benefits they received were. Here are their responses:
                                                              i.      “My wife and I wanted Jay to know that if he was going to be honest and loyal to us (previewing properties, giving advice, taking us to see pocket listings or ones that haven’t been listed yet) then the least we could do is have him as our Agent. And…it didn’t cost us anything.”
                                                            ii.      “We knew his time was limited and we wanted him as our Agent because he did a good job for our neighbor.”
                                                          iii.      “I needed his experience and advice on pricing.”
                                                          iv.      “It just seemed right. Jay was spending a lot of his time and hundreds of dollars on expenses (gas, brochures, maps, etc) just for us.”
                                                            v.      “We were aware of the help a Buyer’s Agent can provide through a prior purchase and definitely wanted representation when purchasing our lake property.”

What are the most important items to look for when buying lake property?

  1. It depends on your preferences, but the reason you’re looking for lake property is because you want to enjoy “the lake”. If that’s the case, then before walking in the house, go down to the lake. Ask yourself these questions: How’s the view? How close is the house to the water? Is the path too steep? How deep is the water? Is the dock what you’re looking for? Can the dock be upgraded? What is the noise level at the dock? What direction is the dock pointed? Where will the sun be in the morning and afternoon? Is the water quality what you’re looking for?
 How will I know if the property is priced right?
  1. Your REALTOR (“Buyer’s Agent”) should be able to advise you on comparable properties that have sold recently. After looking at other lake properties, you’ll have a good feeling on what price is appropriate and the “fair market value”.  Try working backwards on pricing. What is the lot worth?  How old is the home? What price did a home that is very similar recently sell for?  How much would it take to build it new?  What improvements have been added?  What personal property (dock, lift, etc.) is included?  How new is the listing?  Add everything together, and compare it to the asking price. That should give you a place to start. Then when all is said and done – what is the property worth to you?


What determines lake levels?

  1. Amount of precipitation during the year.
  2. US Army Corps of Engineers Lake Management Plan
  3. Flood Control and Electrical Power Requirements
  4. Downstream Requirements for Waterway Control and Environment

What “Special Stipulations” should be considered when buying lake property?

  1. Pre-purchase Courtesy Inspection by the Army Corps of Engineers
  2. Septic Tank Inspection
  3. Review of Subdivision and Deed Restrictive Covenants
  4. Review of Flood Zone boundaries
  5. Option for Survey for possible encroachments
  6. Well water testing (if not on public water)
  7. Special repair items that may not be covered under an inspection (cleaning gutters, fireplace cleaning and inspection, etc.)
  8. Last, consult with your Buyer’s Agent. They may recommend stipulations that you would never think of.
Should we shop for loans, or just go with our current lender?
  1. It’s smart to talk to other lenders.  Many are very cooperative to provide you with “Good Faith Estimates” so you can compare.  Ask your REALTOR for a list of contacts. You’ll be surprised on the money you can save.  
  2. It may be advantageous to look at a second mortgage as well as a first to offset PMI costs. Your lender should be able to explain this.

What is a community or courtesy dock?

  1. Some lake communities (subdivisions), where most of the homes are not located “on the water”, have a dock available for homeowners, living in that community, to utilize on a temporary basis.  Be sure to get a better understanding on where the dock is located and how it is to be utilized before considering the area.
If we find a “For Sale by Owner” (FSBO) property on our own, should we still use our Agent?
  1. Yes, see Question #3 above. Your Buyer’s Agent can help you in many ways so you’ll be able to make educated and objective decisions, plus help avoid costly mistakes.
What do the different zones (Red, Yellow, and Green) mean on the lake?
  1. Please visit my website (www.SayJayLakeandHome.com ) and click on the link for the US Army Corps of Engineers. This site will give you information on the lake, levels, and the Lake Shoreline Management Plan.
I’m interested in buying a lake lot. What items are important to ask for and consider prior to putting in an offer?
  1. First, consult with your own Agent (REALTOR). Lake lot buyers   sometimes feel they get a better deal by working directly with the Listing Agent.  They may not realize that the Listing Agent works for the Seller. Why not have your own representation, especially since your Agent will get his commission from the Seller.
  2. Do some research.  Is the lot buildable (check with the County Planning and Standards department)?  Has there been a perc test completed (if not, have one done prior to closing)? Is there a survey or plat available? What does the dock permit call for (is that what’s there currently), and is the dock positioned per the permit?  Has there been an Army Corps of Engineer projection survey completed?

What does Auto Notification mean? Recently I received a listing that wasn’t quite what I had told the REALTOR we were interested in. 

  1. This is a Multiple Listing Service (MLS) term for providing new listings automatically when they’re entered into the MLS program from members (Real Estate Agents) of the MLS system. When you get a new or changed listing from this service, you’re getting it directly from MLS and receiving it the same time as your REALTOR. Some customers/clients feel that their REALTOR is selecting and sending these listings. That’s not correct. Your REALTOR lists your search criteria in the MLS system, and the system sends the new listing usually within hours that it’s entered. Keeping your price range fairly narrow will help prevent you from getting bombarded with too many emails and listings.

Usually I set up the Auto Notification criteria fairly broad so that my customers and clients can get a better feel of the lake and what’s out there. Once we visit a few properties, and they get more familiar with the lake, then I narrow the search and specifically pick out select properties according to what they prefer.

For example, most lake properties are less then ½ acre, but some Lake property buyers want an acre or more. By putting this into the MLS system, the Buyer may not see great properties that normally they’d fall in love with and would give them the privacy that they’re looking for.
Another example: Some buyers want 4 bedrooms only. In this case, I usually explain that many homes around the lake are listed as 3 bedrooms, but have bonus rooms that also serve as bedrooms. Limiting the search field to 4 bedrooms will eliminate those homes from the search.
Because Auto Notification comes directly from the MLS Service, I ask my customers and clients to have a little patience with what they see, knowing that I may not have previewed the property yet. I’ll be happy to follow up and look at the ones that appear interesting. Those that aren’t what you’re looking for… please forgive me and disregard.

How should we prepare when we go out with our REALTOR to look at lake properties?

  1. First of all, do your homework on what listings you’ve reviewed, prioritize them by your favorites, and send them to your REALTOR. This will allow him/her to prepare and make appointments prior to the date you go out. Usually, 4 – 6 listings are appropriate to visit in a 4 hour time frame depending on the distance between the homes or lots. Usually, I add other listings or non-listed homes to the list, if they’re in the vicinity and with similar criteria.
  2. The REALTOR should provide you with a package, when you meet, that will have various information on the lake and listings that you’ll be visiting.
  3. Consider taking the following items: a camera to film special aspects of the home or lot so you won’t forget what it looked like, a notepad to jot down questions or notes that you want to discuss with your REALTOR, your check book (for earnest money) if you think you’re at the point you may be making an offer.
  4. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. You’ll be walking down to the lake where some paths may be slippery and steep.
Before buying, is it a good idea to talk to the neighbors?
  1. I’m a strong advocate in meeting and talking to your neighbors prior to buying. Find out about the area, but also find out if you want to live next door to these folks.You can tell a lot from their reaction to your questions.
  2. Here’s some sample questions:
                                                             i.      How do you like living in this area of the lake? What are the best attributes? Drawbacks?
                                                           ii.      How busy is this area of the lake on weekends?
                                                        iii.      What are the other neighbors like?
                                                        iv.      Is there a homeowners association in this area? What are some of the more important rules and/or benefits?
                                                           v.      Are there any problems with crime in the area?
                                                        vi.      Is this a block party type of neighborhood, or do most folks keep to themselves?

With the overall market the way it is, are there any “really good deals”  out there?

 If you’ve been reading the newspaper and watching the news, you know that the overall housing market has really slowed down. So what does that mean for the lake property market? Real Estate Lake Specialists will tell you that lake home sales have slowed as well, but there are still deals out there. And, that’s exactly what the majority of lake property Buyers are looking for … that “really good deal”.
I’m asked by potential Buyers, “Do you feel lake property Sellers are starting to drop their prices? Is now the right time to buy lake property? It’s interesting to note that, at the same time, I’m getting Sellers asking, “Should I reduce my price or wait until Spring? I know my property is over priced, but why am I not getting any offers, even low ones?
It’s obvious that there are not as many Buyers looking right now. Many of them have been caught in the same situation… trying to sell a property before they can buy another. But, for many lake property and second home buyers, plus Baby Boomers, they have money available to take advantage of the market.
In reviewing recent listings on Lake Lanier and Lake Hartwell, I’ve found that many prices have been reduced by 10-20% or more. Plus, in at least one instance, a lake lot on Lanier sold for one third of the original list price. Go figure! I guess the bottom line is still…everything is negotiable, and it’s always going to be a “supply and demand” market.
My suggestion to Buyers, when you see something that “floats your boat”, look at recent comparable sold listings, discuss with your Agent what a good price would be (and what it’s worth to you), and then make an offer (even when it doesn’t come close to the asking price). Some Buyers feel offering a price that is 10% or more below list price is an insult. I don’t agree with that. Things have changed (a  slower market, rising interest rates, low water levels and fewer legitimate Buyers).
My suggestion to Sellers… if you’re serious about selling, price your property to sell. Sometimes that’s not what the property next to you is listed for, or what your property was appraised at last year. My opinion has always been, “good lake properties that are priced right will sell” (even in this market).
So when it comes to buying your dream lake property, find the property you want, decide what its worth to you (the max you’ll pay), and then make the offer. You never know! It could be that “really good deal”.
                I hope that this Q&A has helped answer some of your questions regarding buying lake property. As you can tell, many of the answers are based on my experience as a Lake Specialist and Lake Home Owner. Please email sayjay@bellsouth.net if you have any questions that aren’t covered in the above. And …..Thanks.    

Contact Information

Lake and Home Group
Keller Williams Realty
4878 Manhattan Dr.
Buford GA 30518
GA: 770-757-2799
SC: 864-287-7530
Fax: 770-504-5509