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ClownColor

Buying lake property 101

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ClownColor

Did not see any "cabin" threads so I thought I would post this here until it gets moved.

I thought I would start a thread on what to look for and what questions to ask when buying lake property.

I'd like to start out with raw lakefront land. Here's some questions I've already asked:

Any easements, mineral, or soil rights? Associations, tribal land, or government lease land? Septic, water, utilities on-site? If not, are they approved per county? What are the setbacks? Building restrictions? Water levels during all 4 seasons? Flood zone? Public or private road to property?

What else should I consider? What's the minimum lakefront in feet one would consider? Is 75' decent privacy? Is 100' the minimum to consider? Do people with boardwalks to the lake regret buying them? Is buying raw lakefront worth it (considering retirement or investment)? Are you grandfathered into the setbacks and legalities from the date of purchase or can they change? If buying from private seller, what must you consider? Should one hire an agent?

From financial prospective, what can I assume the down payment will be (minimum %)? What are the going rates for raw land loans? What other thing besides insurance does one need to consider when purchasing raw land regarding loans, money, payments?

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Tom7227

On the financial side if you are going to be buying it with another family or friend it is imperative that you set things up so that a split can be done with minimal hassle when that ends up being necessary. Contact an knowledgeable attorney to help figure out how the property should be registered - joint tenants, tenants in common, a partnership or possibly even in a trust. The have a contract that specifies how the buyout takes place. It is inevitable that the parties will split and if it isn't settled beforehand there will be a lot of acrimony.

If you do go ahead with a joint purchase then you need to deal with issues about who has contributed what to the property. If you build a cabin and one guy can't do much and the other does plumbing, electric .... how does that get worked out. Who owns the dock, which boat lift goes with the property. It can go on and on.

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Grum

All great points, a lot to think about. The only thing I might add is to ask when the property was last surveyed? A friend's older brother bought a piece of property with a cabin on it from a private party. Years later when the neighbors were selling their property, and had their lot surveyed, the actual lot line went right through part of his cabin. I don't recall the details on how it was settled but I do remember it involved unexpected legal fees.

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B420

In addition to having the lot surveyed, request that all wetlands on the property be delineated. Many of the "raw" lots that are left on the lakes have a lot of wetlands on them which can really limit what you can do with the lot.

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ThunderLund78

I've been getting a first hand education in a lot of this the last couple of years as my family purchased a cabin in 2009. You'll find there's a lot of gray area and all sorts of state/DNR and county regs that are at best ambiguous and at worst conflicting in some way. And then you find that once you do figure it out and follow the letter of the law--The guy across the lake just goes and does what he wants and there's often no real enforcement action taken. In our particular situation, we did some lawn landscaping which abuts to the water's edge. We looked at a bunch of options with the intent of keeping the shoreline natural. We could only get a county permit after we agreed to only use grass (no pavers or any kind of patio--if only for a small area) because dirt filters run-off. Understandable, and that's what we did. But the county attorney's house across the lake has an unbelievable man-made rock facade that covers the entire hillside down to the lake with a waterfall. It basically violates every reg we had to follow--Either he was comfortable paying the fines associated with it or had some inside pull--It's all purely speculation. But the fact is--there's no level playing field when it comes to lakefront property. Also, property owner associations can also be a big factor. Look to see if the lake you're looking at has one and find out what their "policies" are. On bigger lakes they can turn into lobbying groups that can sway local elections to get things passed. I don't doubt the honest intentions, but there's no doubt that it can get a little shady sometimes.

Lastly, Tom 7227 got it right if you're going in with family. We bought it between my Parents and my three sisters and myslef and we have a trust set up. All contingencies have been pre-agreed. This is huge, and we've had very little conflict because of these tough conversations ahead of the final decision.

Aside all of that, though. It's 100% worth it if you can find a way to make it happen. Memories that will last a lifetime for you and your family, just gotta understand the obstacles to overcome.

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JoeMX1825

I would say the most important factor is the lake itself, is the water in decent shape? schecchi disk readings getting better or worse?, check the DNR reports for the fish survey's to see if the lake is getting better or worse. Also ask about the historical water levels. lakeshore owners on Whitebear lake might have some opinions on this.. You can always change the cabin, but you can never chain the quality of the water it's on..

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ThunderLund78

DNR lakefinder online was an INVALUABLE resource when we were looking.

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Walleye Guy

Just a few others.

Meet all the neighbors adjoining the property before putting in an offer

Check police records to check for records on cabin break-ins in the area.

Look for information on perk testing for septic systems.

Ask about depths of wells and quality of water

Clearly understand all rules about water setbacks for impervious surfaces

Check into the property taxes. You may get sticker shock

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BoxMN

I would say the most important factor is the lake itself, is the water in decent shape? schecchi disk readings getting better or worse?, check the DNR reports for the fish survey's to see if the lake is getting better or worse. Also ask about the historical water levels. lakeshore owners on Whitebear lake might have some opinions on this.. You can always change the cabin, but you can never chain the quality of the water it's on..

+100 wink

See if for yourself in August, not just the lake but the actual shoreline of the lot. That doesn't mean anything about any shoreline, as they are all perfect, but perfect is different for different folks. Some want to swim, so want a beach. Some want to only fish or pontoon, so mucky/weedy shore doesn't matter. Just don't try to turn muck/weeds into beach, or the lake will be worse for it, and you truly will never get the "beach" you really want.

The advice to meet the neighbors, especially the adjacent ones, is very important. We did not, and it has turned out just fine for us, but I can certainly see where this could make a dream into a nightmare in some instances.

I also think I would consider a full survey if I did it again. I know where my lot corners are, so I know where the lines are, but the neighbors think/assume it is slightly closer to me wink They aren't going to build any more, and we get along fine, so it doesn't matter to me right now that sometimes their trailers are parked on my side, but having pins that tell exactly where it is might come in handy especially if building on either side is going to happen in the future. I have a feeling once I build a detached garage, they will be scratching their heads a bit on where it will go, ha! They will be fine though, as I will be giving them my "old cabin" shed.

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nofishfisherman

You can always change the cabin, but you can never chain the quality of the water it's on..

That may not be completely true in all situations. Sometimes cabins were built in such a way that they are no long meet todays regulations. They are usually grandfathered in so they don't need to be moved but once you start doing anything to them that may change. I have a couple different friends who inherited lake property with small cabins on the property. Once they went to renovate or expand the existing cabins they found out they were too close to the lake and couldn't be altered without first being required to move them back away from the water. In both instnaces they ended up tearing down the old cabins and having to rebuild new cabins that meet current rules/codes.

I would make sure to understand what is grandfathered in on the property and what options you have for altering those things if there are any. You don't want to find out you bought a one bedroom cabin with plans to add on only to find out you can't renovate the existing cabin.

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pathogen

All good points and advice. You did mention associations, and it is important that you understand the covenants and costs if you become associated with an association. Sometimes they are taken lightly and it can be a shock when you realize you can't do something you would like to do.

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magicstix

All the info previously posted is great advice.

The neighbors is really good also, we lucked out right near us but the guy at the end of the road is a real peach.

Issues we've seen is land surveying done wrong, set backs, permits, road maintence are a few that come to mind. Still worth it though.

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Tom7227

Do you think it is fair to say that any piece of lake shore worth having a cabin on in Minnesota already has a cabin? I really don't know but it just sort of makes sense to me. Certainly with the price of recreational land 10 years ago I can't see that there were many bargains out there.

Sort of the reason for asking is that a person who finds a lot with an existing building could be in for some unpleasant surprises as have been mentioned. The lake shore regulations have been given a wink and a nod in many places for a long time but I think that is changing, and I suspect the changes are going to be for more stringent enforcement than for less. Setbacks and waste water are the big issues.

I would spend a lot of time checking things out before I bit on the fixerupper.

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ThunderLund78

I would think most of the people who spend time on this site would understand the importance of shoreline preservation and I've personally seen some cabin owners do a really nice job and still have a good shoreline for recreation, etc. But sadly, a lot of places you see out there are 150" of rushes tore out with white sugar sand dumped in.

We were never interested in doing that at our place so we never checked into it but I gotta believe you could never get a permit for doing that unless it's a resort or public park.

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wayne123

I think talking to the neighbors is a good idea but do not take what they say as fact. When we bought our cabin the neighbors all told us we could not add on. Before we bought it we got a letter from the county saying we could as long as we met certain requirements.

I think it would be nice to start with raw land but you will have more options if you consider lots with cabins on them. If you want a sandy beech on a prime lake you will probably have to buy something with a cabin already on it.

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MontanaMax

You want to check out 3 sources in the nearest town: the two busiest breakfast/coffee shops, the two busiest bars, and the senior citizens center. After a few beers, see what the bartender and those you spot as local regulars what they know about the property/lake. Same with the owner/locals at the restaurants. Do the same at the senior citizens center with the local ladies. If you play it right they will puke what they know without your prying. Much of what you learn might be worthless gossip but you will find nuggets and maybe some make or break info. Those with a financial stake (sellers, realtors) or special interest (neighbors who want to see the current owners go) won't give you the best info (or shall we say, the rest of the story).

Where else you gonna hear about that fire 20 years ago, the ant/termite/tick infestations, the stabbing incident, the sinkhole that was filled in, that burglers hit the cabin every year, the current owners have let locals use the side yard to haul ice houses in and out for 40 years...the list goes on and on. You won't get this stuff on a title report or seller's disclosure sheet. The only way you can say any of this stuff truly won't bother you is if you know about it before you buy.

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deerminator

If I was buying a seasonal place, I would buy a place that met my needs with as small a yard and upkeep as possible so I could enjoy the lake. Or have it landscaped so I could not worry about mowing or doing any work other than taking my boat off the lift. : ) I'd also check into the sewer and well and the quality of the electrical grid. We recently got new neighbors. They bought the little lot next to us with 50 feet of lakeshore and a lot about 200 feet deep (landlocked with easement/road from other neighbors driveway) for just over $100,000. It's a very small cabin but on a prime lake. There are deals out there if you do your homework. If we had a cabin versus living on the lake, I'd want a similar situation like that if at all possible. Minimal upkeep and just more time to enjoy the lake. Even if you are a little cramped. Less to take care of!

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LightningBG

While well thought out....I think if you do everything listed here, you'll end up being 90, wondering when that perfect place will come around. Or that "perfect place" will be gone long before you have a chance to get an offer in. (Sorry, Talking at a senior center? Last time i was at an senior place, the ladies could barely tell me where their home was right down the road, let alone some other property)

Imo, figure out your budget. Talk to a mortgage person after you have decided what kind of a payment you can afford. Expect to put down 10-20%. Next, find an area or lake you like. This could be quick, could take some time. Next, get a real estate agent in the area. Interview a bunch if you want or get a referal from a trusted source. You'll want someone negotiating for you and handling paperwork as well as looking for places. Decide your critera. 4 bedrooms needed or will 2 do? Do you want a resort or bar on the lake or rather have it low key? Do you need a garage? etc. Next, wait. Be patient for the right place, but be in a position to act quickly if you find it. Go ahead and look at a bunch of places. Go look at 20 if you want. Have standards but realize you might not get it all. Budget accordingly. Appliances are junk? No problem if the price is 20k less than a comparable with good appliances. Expect to have some type of problem, whether it's a million dollars or 90k. Keep extra $$$ available for the unexpected. Getting things inspected is fine and all, but dont expect to have the time or $$$ to get a full inspection, survey, perk test, well test, wetlands map, neighbor interviews and all the setback requirements all figured out in time to put an offer in.

That's about all i can think of at this late hour, but most importantly: Have fun! Its a cabin, right? Dont get too stressed out. You very well may miss out on that dream property, but chances are, there will be another one right around the corner. There always is. I could give you a list as long as my arm on all the properties I've "missed out on", but I rarely think of that first one that I thought was the end of the world. There have been many since then that i have bought and many more that i haven't. Heck, if you get somewhere that you dislike in a couple years, dump it and find another. It's not like your married to the darn place. Property is way easier to part ways with. wink

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bturck

We bought a place 9 years ago and it eas a great move. I went on the Internet and started putting in our criteria, contacted a realtor and started visiting the different places. Once she knew what we were looking for it narrowed the search. The cabin we found was painted yellow and my wife hates yellow, but we both knew that Home Depot carried more than one color too so we got past that. Over a couple years we did our thing, tongue and groove inside, vinyl siding, new plumbing, new appliances. The lot isv76x110 and can be mowed in 30 minutes. Our realtor took care of the paper work, well and septic inspections etc etc. a call to the county (Kanabec) gave me all the info on any future expansion ie: additions etc. it was really pretty pain free and with her help and expertise went very smooth. T has been a truly wonderful 9 years and as we look back we tell ourselves we are glad we did it rather than wish we had. Good luck in your search and hope you find your piece of heaven on earth.

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BoxMN

Just a couple other things, and then I will stop wink

Lightning mentioned it, but there is no "perfect" place, regardless of the property. Every place will have some type of drawback, so just remember that you won't get it all, and that is fine. We have a hill going down to the lake - some people want that flat lot (lots do) but the hill isn't that bad for us, as the rest of the lot is great, and the natural beach area is great. (300 feet from state land for hunting, gin clear water, sand on one side of dock, brush and lillies on other, 6' deep at end of dock, good lake view, walkout perfect lot, on end of deadend road, etc.)

Also on the "work" issue... don't get too concerned about that - I know lots of people talk about "all the work" and cutting two lawns, etc. Horse hockey... it is a cabin, and cabin work is different. You don't have to be in a rush, you can do it with a beer, and you can set the hammer/shovel/etc. and leave it there (literally) until next time. I know my grass is tall right now, but it can wait until I get there next, and even until after I fish when I get up there, maybe longer wink as mentioned, it is a cabin, and there for fun! My old tractor with the Superman sticker will eat it up fast, haha! We did work on the old cabin and got sweaty, but it was fun putting in pine, etc. and we made sure to only work on Saturday after morning fishing, and done by about 3 pm to enjoy afternoons.

Definitely have fun searching, and be ready to pounce when you find what you like. Friends just bought one on our lake, and they negotiated a pretty gosh darn good price still, as it had been on the market for quite a while. Good luck!

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MinnesotaMike

We bought raw land 8 years ago, we didn't even concider some of the things that popped up and bit us in the behind, but hay we own lake property.

If I was to do it today things would be alot different.

As mentioned, any land worth anything already has a cabin on it for a reason.

Does the land have access to where you want to camp/rv or build a cabin?

We had to build a road to our site and guess what, yep, we had to go thru wetland, not a marsh mind you, wetland. There are many different types of wetland but the result is all the same, you have to jump thru multiple hoops to do anything on them. It took us 12 months to finaly get a road to our site. By road I mean the local contractor to dump class 5 in the field. I could have plowerd it up and planted corn but to put a road in was a major hassle.

We have 8 acres, 5 is open field and 3 is woods to the lake. We put a mobile home on the edge of the woods and have a trail thru the woods to get to the lake. We have extreme privacy, which is what we were looking for. I didn't want to be on my deck and hear or see the neighbors. Now back to wetlands, yes woods can be considered wetlands. When we bought, the trail was not much more than a goat path, now I can drive my truck (in the fall ) down to the lake, we cut alot of trees out to open it up.

In the spring and even this weekend I doubt I will be able to get the four wheeler down the path, it will be wet. I don't like to tear it up so I will take an alternative path thru the woods to get to the lake.

That being said, know what you are buying or getting yourself into

Is electric in to the camp site? Can it be put in? How much $$$ to put it in? Call the local utlities.

Financing:

When we were looking I was told by Wells that they would not give us a loan on Raw land, we had to do a Home equity line of credit, which is fine we paid it off early.

You might want to talk to the local banks but we heard the same story from them.

Lake:

Very important to narrow down what you want in a lake, we didn't.

We are on a river system that floods the lake every spring and is really low in the fall. In the spring the end of the dock might be 6' deep, in the fall it is 2' deep.

Lake work:

No such thing!

We have done a TON of projects at the lake. Brought in a mobile home, built a pole building, and lots of little things.

It takes me 2-3 beers to cut my grass on the rider, thats not work. It take me 5-6 beers to cut my neighbors grass (we help each other if we are not going to be up for a while)now thats work.

We are lucky, we don't have neighbors to the south of us and the 4 neighbors to the north are great, we all get along and have fun together.

Anyway, that got longer than anticipated, It's a lake property.

Be ready to buy it, be ready to have projects, be ready to enjoy it!

Good Luck ,

Mike

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minneman

Something not mentioned, Be aware some counties have a "bluff" setback of typically 30'.

Be sure to check into this if your looking at property with a hill to the lake.

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frazwood

I also recommend getting the property of a lake cabin surveyed before you buy. It can be costly, but it's more costly to own land in which the property lines are in dispute.

I have definitely learned the hard way that things like building codes and new construction permits are very different in Central Minnesota than they are in the Twin Cities.

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Ufatz

Have a proper survey done. Is well and septic correct and has it been approved in recent years. You may buy the piece and then find you have some very expensive problems to solve.

And TAXES! Most Counties will tax the $@#%$ out of people who own lake front land. Be prepared. Many of our friends pay thousands and thousands of dollars a year in taxes. I mean THOUSANDS!! LOL

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ClownColor

The property in question has 100' of shoreline on one acre of land. The minimum lake front required to build is 100' with 35,000 sq/ft and I beleieve on eacre equals 43,560 sq/ft...so I should be good here. There was also another sq/ft number that excluded wetlands.

I called the county and they said he could not sell this parcel and the county wouldn't approve of the split (he is splitting his parcel and selling half) UNLESS it was buildable. With that said, whats buildable....500sq/ft house, 800 sq/ft house, with garage, no garage, deck, no deck...

I do agree that the best lots probably already have a cabin. It's going to be hard to figure everyhting that I want now, would want in the future, all pending setbacks, wetlands (if any) and anything else I don't foresee..hence all the good input from people.

I do like the area, LOVE the lake, and it abutts county (hunting) land. And best part...its affordable now and I can putz on it for the next 20 years until I retire.

Anyways, keep the help coming.

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