Lakefront Buyer Series Tip #1: A Lake Home or Lake Cabin?

With 22 years as a lake property specialist across Minnesota and Western Wisconsin, I’ve gained a few tips for waterfront real estate buyers over the years.  But instead of throwing them all at you at once in a shortened version, I will try to be a little more comprehensive on each individual item by feeding these thoughts to you one at a time. 

Dan’s Tips on Buying a Lake Property…Lake Home or Lake Cabin

Many buyers start to think about having a place on a lake in Minnesota or Wisconsin after visiting a friend or relative’s lake property – or even being at a resort for a few days.  Chances are, you were there for a weekend or so, and had great weather, lots of fun on the water, and an overall wonderful time.  It was truly a getaway, and on the way back you started dreaming about having a lake place of your own. 

If you have lived in your current home for a number of years, you may be thinking that it makes the most sense to combine the two and just move to the lake full time.  But make sure you really want to live on the water year-round before you head in that direction.  There are benefits and drawbacks to both lake cabins and lake homes, so let’s take a look at some of those. 

Benefits of Lake Homes

  1. Generally costs less to have just one property.  Although you will typically be spending more to actually live full-time on the water, because you will require additional space and amenities you might not need in a cabin.
  2. Much easier to maintain a single property.
  3. You are always there, so no need to drive to the lake cabin on weekends.  Saves gas and time.
  4. Because you are at the lake all the time, you have a built-in neighborhood of people all around the lake who you may become friends with through: lake association meetings, other lakeshore owners, or just being on the water and pulling in to say “Hello.”  A lot of lakeshore property owners like the idea of getting to know others on the same water body.
  5. You don’t need to haul tools, supplies, and boats back and forth.  And you don’t need to have two sets of everything.
  6. You will generally get a lot of company! 

Negatives of Lake Homes

  1. You may not feel like you are really getting away.  At home there are always the day-to-day chores that don’t really change just because it is the weekend, and they keep staring you in the face.  Sometimes going to the cabin can get a bit of that work off your mind.
  2. You might have neighbors on the lake who use their properties as cabins, and they are coming on the weekend – with their friends – to have a good time.  The neighborhood may not be as quiet as living off the water.
  3. There will be times when you will want to go to another lake – or just somewhere else – but will feel a bit tied to this lake place.
  4. Besides the regular chores that go with owning a home, you will have the additional maintenance of the shoreline, dock, and other items staring you in the face each day…where at the cabin you only see them when you get there.
  5. You will generally get a lot of company!

 Benefits of Lake Cabins

  1. You are away from it all during the time you are there.
  2. It probably feels more like being on vacation than it does to be at your lake home.
  3. Many of your neighbors are also there on a limited scale, so they will tend to be more upbeat and relaxed.
  4. When company visits, they may be more inclined to help out with buying food and supplies, along with pitching in on chores and clean-up than they would at your home.
  5. Most people can get by with a little less when it comes to a cabin, so you won’t have to worry as much about all the finishing touches on the place, or even making sure everything it is always spick and span.  Lake cabins are meant to give you a break from all those duties so that you can enjoy all the plusses that go along with them, like fishing, reading, conversation, and recreational activities…without having to feel like the chores are never-ending.
  6. If you like finding projects to work on, you can be a little more carefree and creative at the cabin.  A seven-tiered deck may not be as viable at your house as it is at the cabin.
  7. Many times you will be able to purchase a cabin within your budget on a much higher quality lake than you would be able to afford to live full-time on.
  8. They offer a unique atmosphere for bonding of family and friends.  The world slows down a little when you are at the cabin, and relationships become easier.  It is hard to place a value on this benefit!

 Negatives of Lake Cabins

  1. Distance from home can be a negative if you have a tight work schedule, so make sure you don’t get further away than you are comfortable with.  For people with more flexible schedules, they can sometimes find quite a bit better deals by going an extra hour from home.
  2. Finding contractors and others to help maintain your cabin can be a little harder since you have to search them out when you are there.  At home, you can make appointments with people throughout the week.  You also have to be a little more trusting that these people will get the jobs done right, since you can’t always be watching over them.
  3. Maintenance issues such as leaky roofs and bad furnaces can happen when you are not around, so it is good to have someone you trust check on the place now and then.
  4. Extra costs in the way of heat, electric, taxes, maintenance, etc.  But it is also hopefully a good investment for the future, which should overshadow those negatives.
  5. You may want to travel to other places, and having a lake cabin can cause you to think twice about doing too much of that.  Generally, people go through different stages in their lives, depending on various factors such as: the ages of their kids and grandkids; their health; relationships with friends and family; and wanderlust.  Make sure it is the right time in your life to have a lake cabin before you buy one.

Hopefully, these items will help you think about what is important to you when it comes to choosing between a lake home or a lake cabin.  Obviously, there is also an in-between group who lives at their cabin or “summer lake home” for several months and then goes south – or back home – for the winter.  Those people have a little more flexibility and time on their hands, so they don’t have to think about as many of these situations as many of us do when choosing the perfect lakefront property in Minnesota or Wisconsin.

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