6 Pitfalls to Avoid When Selling Lakefront Property

Selling your home is a daunting task, regardless of where it’s located. Every sale faces a unique set of challenges, from appraisal to zoning. For those seeking to sell a lakefront property, though, the process can be particularly tough to navigate because there are many other factors that influence buyer interest and price.

While some may say that the best way to get a fair price for your lakefront property is to hire a specialized realtor, with proven, measurable success in the lakefront sector, it’s not your only option.

If you’ve decided to sell your lakefront home, you’ve got your work cut out for you, but the process is not impossible. Here are six common pitfalls of selling lakefront property along with important tips for avoiding them.

1. Not Cleaning and Showcasing the Lakefront

This one may seem obvious, but it’s easy to neglect. Homeowners pull out all the stops when it’s time to spruce up a house to be sold. Floors are refinished, walls are repainted, kitchens are remodeled. There are hundreds of resources online and in print dedicated to walking sellers through the process of preparing their home—even on a budget.

What most of these guides neglect, however, is the importance of tending to the rest of your property. And when the rest of your property includes a beach, you’d better not forget to put a little work into sprucing the area up to make it even more appealing.

Start with the basics: pull weeds, pick up trash, and make sure there are no potential hazards. If you have a sandy beach, rake the sand neatly. If you have turf right up to your waterline, make sure it’s neatly mowed and edged.

Take the opportunity to create a warm and inviting atmosphere on your lakefront. Because most people have never owned lakefront property, they’ll have a hard time envisioning themselves “at home” on the water.

In addition to displaying cozy, weatherproof furniture to create that welcoming outdoor living space, take your potential buyers on a ride—a boat ride. This pro tip comes from Paul Moore, of Smith Mountain Homes. He says:

“When I’m showing homes at Smith Mountain Lake, being able to show by boat is a very effective way to quickly move around the lake seeing a handful of properties in a short time. Additionally, I’ve noticed a much higher percentage of buyers actually buying when I’m showing them around the area by boat.”

While you won’t be showing a variety of properties, the view of your home from the water may be just what the buyer needs to say yes to the sale. After all, it’s a view you can’t get with just any home.

Finally, don’t forget about the route from the home to the lakefront, either. Make sure the path is clearly marked, especially if there’s dense foliage; lighting the way with solar lights or other fixtures is a nice touch. Try to make it accessible to all potential buyers.

2. Not Following Dock Rules

Maybe your property already has a dock, but you never really use it. Maybe you don’t have a dock, but a realtor friend has suggested installing one to raise the value of your home. Even if you’re a boater who uses a dock on a daily basis, you might be surprised to learn that a dock comes with a handful of legal hoops to jump through.

Think of your dock as an aquatic parking spot. When you’re on the road in a car, is it wise to simply park it wherever you can find space? Not so much. We know that there are plenty of laws about where we can and can’t park, from fire hydrants to handicap spaces to parking on people’s front lawns, and the same goes for boats.

For instance, on some lakefronts, it’s illegal to store oil, gas, or propane on a dock and many cities have strict limits on the dimensions of your dock. Above all, almost every dock is required to have a permit. These permits are usually administered by state agencies, although every property is different.

If you don’t have a permit, and your potential buyer’s agent knows that, you could lose the sale and get slapped with a hefty fine.

3. Lousy Lakefront Infrastructure

Owning lakefront property brings a whole new level of worry to homeowners. Waves and tides cause constant erosion, threatening foundations and other structures. Big lakes bring big storms, and all the damage that comes with high wind and waves. Getting your home and property ready for the winter is a bit more complicated.

Make sure that your infrastructure is up to snuff. You’ll already be getting your home inspected, but make sure that the inspector pays extra attention to the structures that are most prone to lakefront issues. Check historical reports of storm events and severe weather, and prepare for the worst. Your potential buyers will want a home that can withstand whatever the water throws at the property.

Furthermore, if you have lakefront amenities, such as a dock or a boathouse, spend time getting them up to date. On older properties, these structures are often the first to get neglected, so make sure everything is structurally safe and sound.

4. Pricing Based on Inland Estimates

It’s easy to make the mistake of pricing your lakefront home like you’d price any other home, yet a lake house and an identical landlocked house carry far different in terms of cost.

At the same time, pricing your home the same as you would a similar oceanfront property is a mistake too: “In the last decade, the popularity of lakefront property has exploded. But it is still not as fashionable as oceanfront—yet,” says Moore. Overpricing your home results in less interest and a longer selling process.

When selling without a professional, it’s important to note that there are a lot of factors that influence the value of a waterfront property. Some of these considerations are the same ones you’d make when pricing any home. Other factors are unique.

For example, not all lakes are created equal; the size, cleanliness, and recreational draw of your body of water will impact your property’s value. More important is your property’s frontage: What is your particular piece of the waterfront pie like? Size, slope, substrate, and other factors can impact the value of your frontage.

One of the best ways to start estimating the value of your lakefront property is to investigate the asking prices of similar properties in your area. Pretend that you’re a buyer, not a seller and “shop around” for a couple days, paying special attention to homes on the same body of water as yours.

After you’re armed with some comparable prices, it’s a good idea to get an appraisal. It may cost you about $300 to $500 up front, but it’s worth the investment to make sure you price your property correctly from the start.

5. Poor Marketing

When you’ve tidied up your waterfront, made sure your docks and other structures are in order, and settled on a price, you may think the work’s over. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Marketing a waterfront home can be the trickiest part of the process.

First and foremost, it’s important to ask yourself: Who will be looking to buy my home? Your target audience is a bit different than the typical homebuyer. Advertise on websites and local interest groups that cater to boaters, anglers, waterfowl hunters, scuba divers, and other water hobbyists.

As realtor Eric Skinner points out, the aviation community is not to be overlooked either; pilots of amphibious planes want lakefront properties, and they typically have the budgets to backup their needs.

With the rise in popularity of online real estate listings, publicizing your home is a bit more straightforward than it used to be. In addition to listing on large, popular sites, check out niche websites dedicated specifically to waterfront properties, including Lake Homes USA and LakeHouse.com.

6. Ignorance of the law

Finally, make sure you’re doing everything by the books. The laws and regulations governing the purchase, development, renovation, and sale of waterfront property vary greatly from state to state, and even locally within states.

For instance, do you know your riparian rights? If not, consider them: As a waterfront owner, you have a legal right to access your waterfront, but that doesn’t mean that you own the water or even the land underneath the water. Many bodies of water are ecologically sensitive, and can be protected under various environmental acts and measures. For example, areas that are in designated flood zones are subject to regulations set by FEMA.

If you have any questions, concerns, or hesitations about your rights and responsibilities as a waterfront owner, contact an attorney. Many real estate attorneys specialize in waterfront law, and will make sure that any changes you make to your property are legal and that all sales you undertake are binding.

About Jessica Thiefels

Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than 10 years and has five years of experience in the marketing world. She is currently a lifestyle blogger and has been featured Inman, Homes.com, Lifehack, Tripping and more. Follow her on Twitter @Jlsander07.

4 thoughts on “6 Pitfalls to Avoid When Selling Lakefront Property

  1. I agree it is important to know your target market when placing your waterfront home on the market. It could greatly appeal to hobbyists to decorate your home tailored to activities within nature. This could potentially accelerate the sale of your home.

  2. Thanks Jessica! Those are great points to strike a cautionary note for anyone looking to sell lakefront property. However, I would differ on the point that tries to sway the readers away from the expertise of a realtor. I can confidently tell you from our experience of being in the business for over 45 years that a lot of our clients cite the need to sell the property quickly and at good prices as reasons to work with us and our success rate speaks for itself.

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