Lakefront vs. Lake Access: Which is Best For You?

So, you’ve decided that a lake home is for you — congratulations! The decision to invest in lake property is one that you’ll never regret. Afternoons on boat rides, evenings watching the sunset, swimming in the summer — these elements of the lake lifestyle are undoubtedly worth it. 

But when it comes to choosing your lake home, there are several factors to consider. In or out of state? An urban or rural lake? But beyond these basics, it’s important to think about how you envision your life on the lake. Is it essential for you to have a lakeside view outside your back door? Or are you content with close access to the lake, as long as you have convenient amenities around you? 

The decision comes down to this: lakefront versus lake access. If you’re unsure which type of property is for you, check out our short quiz below:

Lakefront Property

Photo courtesy of Realty Executives

A lakefront home essentially means that your property includes a lake shoreline. For most buyers, this option is appealing because there’s zero distance between you and the water. Especially if you’re a devoted angler or someone who enjoys watersports, it benefits you to come and go from the lake at your own leisure. Plus, being able to entertain guests on a boat dock while overlooking a scenic view is an excellent perk! Of course, a house on the lake also means additional responsibilities.

For instance, yard maintenance doubles with a lakefront home. For these lake homeowners, your curb appeal is important for both the front yard and the backyard. When thinking about your shoreline, you should also make note of whether your lake is owned by the U.S. Army Corps. If so, they have ownership over the space between your property and the lake itself, so you’ll want to learn what kind of personal use is allowed on Corps property. Another responsibility with lakefront property is the upkeep of your boat dock. However, if these additional duties don’t bother you, it may be in your best interest to pick a home with convenient proximity to the lake.

Lake Access Property

Photo courtesy of Railey Vacations

With a lake access home, you won’t have direct closeness to the lake via private property. Instead, your views of the lake vary greatly depending on how your property is designated. If it’s a “waterview” property, you’ll be able to see at least a portion of the lake from your home. In other cases, the view of the lake will be totally obscured. However, you would have access to the lake by route of a community dock or pathway. The downside to this option is obvious — your home is a further distance from the lake, and you lack a private shoreline.

However, for many lake homeowners, direct access isn’t so important. In fact, some find it nice to be free from responsibilities that come with a lakefront property such as shoreline and doc maintenance. Instead of tending to a dock’s upkeep, you can elect to rent a slip at a local marina for your boat. Another perk is that lake access properties are often less secluded, and you’re closer to a flourishing community of other lake lovers and closer to urban amenities like restaurants, shopping, and golf courses (depending on the lake area). 

When deciding on lakefront vs lake access property, the main question to ask is: what does your desired lake lifestyle look like? For some, it’s a remote, private setting with constant access to the water, no matter the cost or the maintenance required. For others, it’s about having a nice vacation home near a community with the ability to access water when you want it. It doesn’t matter which you choose — there are so many different ways to experience life on the lake! Because these different types of properties can vary greatly based on the lake and the state, you’ll want to consult a lake-focused agent to find your dream home.

Whiteboard Topics: Does “Lake Home” Mean “Lakefront”

Not every lake home is waterfront, but they all have their advantages.  Lake Homes Realty’s CEO, Glenn Phillips, breaks down the differences between types of lake homes.
  1. Sometimes, But Not Always: Not every lake home is on the water. There are many options available including lakefront, lake access, and lake view.
  2. Lakefront: This property is also known as waterfront, and is actually on the water. The home has direct access to the lake.
  3. Lakeview: These homes are some distance away from the lake, but have a beautiful view of it from where they are. For some, the view is the highlight of lake living.
  4. Lake Community: Typically a large community with plenty of amenities including golf courses and clubhouse access. You’ll also be a fair distance from the water but said amenities will more than make up for it.
Whether your home is right on the water, or some ways away, you can still make the most out of your lake living experience. Think about what’s most important to you before you buy your dream lake home!

Lake Homes: More Than Just Waterfront

When you hear, “lake home,” those words can conjure a variety of images. Contrary to popular belief, not all lake homes are waterfront homes.

As a matter of fact, many people who own lake houses aren’t even close to the waterfront! Because of this, many lake homes are more affordable than you might think.

There are three major types of lake property: lakefront, lake access, and lake community. Each of these have their own pros and cons, both functionally and financially.

looking out at the lake through window

Waterfront Property

Lakefront, also known as “waterfront,” property extends to the shore of the lake itself.

It offers the most prestige, the most access, and a direct line to the lake right out your door.

Lakefront property can be incredibly beautiful, and there’s nothing like looking out your back patio directly onto the calm waters of the lake in the evening.

Naturally, such prestige comes with a high price tag. Waterfront property is significantly more expensive than similar property even a block away from the water.

It also brings with it many more responsibilities.

Waterfront property is the most vulnerable to flooding, erosion and inclement weather. There are often special insurance requirements, and upkeep can be a significant commitment of time and money.

If you plan to build or improve on waterfront property, make sure your plans fit with the local regulations. Many lakes have restrictions on docks, signage and landscaping.

Since there is a limited amount of shoreline on each lake, property on the water’s edge often appreciates the fastest.

Waterfront is also very attractive to vacationers. This can pay dividends if you intend to rent it out.

Waterfront property is perfect for those who have their heart set on the water’s edge, and have the time and money to maintain it.

Lake View Property

“Lake view” property, also known as “lake access,” is near the water, but does not extend to the lake itself.

This property can be a literal stone’s throw away from the water and is often just as picturesque as lakefront.

Prices vary from lake to lake, but lake view property is typically much less expensive than lakefront.

Lake view property isn’t as scarce, doesn’t have the same water access and doesn’t have the convenience or prestige of being directly on the waterfront.

At the same time, lake view can give many of the benefits of waterfront, at a fraction of the cost or the headaches.

Owners still typically have easy access to the lake, without needing to maintain their own stretch of shoreline. Weatherproofing and maintenance costs aren’t as significant, either.

Most lake communities have options for those who live on the lake to enjoy its benefits. Marinas can store boats until you need it, and there are usually access points for swimming, fishing and water sports.

If you want property close to the water’s edge, but have a limited budget, lake view property may be for you.

Lake Community

Most lakes have neighborhoods arrayed about them. Many of these homes aren’t within clear view of the water’s edge, but are still very much part of the lake community.

Homes situated in a lake community a short distance from the water can cost a fraction of waterfront property.

Nicole Anderson Walters, a Lake Homes Realty agent specializing in real estate on Logan Martin Lake, Alabama, offered, “you can save money by being in a lake view or lake access neighborhood. Many have water views and community areas with boat launch.”

“Where a home may cost you $89 per square foot off the water, the same home could cost upwards of $168-$200+ per square foot directly on the water,” she added. “You can often find a much nicer home off the water with amenities in the neighborhood.”

Depending on the size of the lake, these neighborhoods can range from high-end gated communities, to condos and cabins, to retirement communities and everyday suburbs.

These lake communities are often a short drive to a short walk or drive to the lake itself, but still have easy access to fishing, swimming, boating and other lake activities.

As an added benefit, most avoid many of the upkeep costs and restrictions associated with lakefront property.

Many communities are also situated near state parks, landmarks, shopping centers and other attractions. If these appeal to you more than living near the water, look for lake communities within a short distance of the lake.

Find what works for you!

Every lake is different.

In addition to those listed here, market prices can vary greatly between lakes. If you can’t find the kind of property you are looking for at one lake, look for others nearby.

You may find a hidden gem right under your nose!

Five Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Lake Home

five questions to ask before choosing a lake home

If you are shopping for your first lake home, there are several factors to consider. Between lake geography, utilities, property restrictions and hidden costs, buying lake property can be full of unexpected surprises. Be sure to ask these five questions before choosing a lake home.

1. What are you looking for in a lake home?

This is the simplest, most important and toughest question!

Lake homes can come in a surprising range of prices, conditions and access to amenities, even on the same lake.

Will this be your primary home, or a second home? Are you looking for an existing home, or a lot to build your dream house on?

man holding glass on wine next to door on lake beach - lake front access

What is most important to you – the view, the activities, boating or fishing, the local community, having fun with the grandkids or just getting away from it all?

Thinking about these things will help you find just the right kind of lake home, and narrow down the wide array of choices you have available.

For example, if this will just be a summer home, a large waterfront property that needs weekly upkeep may not be the best choice.

On the other hand, if you want a house big enough for the extended family to visit, a larger home a short distance from the water might be the best fit for your budget.

2. What kind of water access do you need?

When it comes to lake homes, there are three general kinds of water access: lakefront (also known as waterfront), lake access, and lake community.

Lakefront property goes right up to the water line, or within a few yards of it. This is the most expensive option, but also lets you enjoy the lake directly.

You have instant access to boating, swimming, fishing and other activities.

boat dock during sunset

“Lake access” is property that is close to the water, but not on the lakefront itself.

These properties often have a clear view of the lake and are a short walk to the water. These are often significantly less expensive than waterfront property.

“Lake community” property is part of the overall lake neighborhood, but without direct access to the water.

These can be anywhere from a few blocks to a mile or two from the lake. Owners still enjoy the lake lifestyle, even if they aren’t directly on the lake.

Homes in lake communities have more limited access, but are often much more affordable.

3. What restrictions does the lake have?

Many lakes have restrictions that you might not know about as a visitor.

They are often regulated by power companies, neighborhood associations, even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Each lake, has its own regulations.

These entities work to preserve the wildlife, culture and natural beauty of the lake and the surrounding neighborhood. Becoming familiar with them will give you a big head start on finding your ideal lake home.

Some common restrictions address factors such as: boat usage, docking, exterior fixtures (such as gardens and doghouses,) light fixtures, seawall maintenance and leasing or rental agreements.

4. How are the utilities set up?

Knowing about the area’s utilities can save you a world of stress when choosing a lake home.

In rural lake communities, modern conveniences like cell phone service and high-speed internet may be hard to come by.

Water access is something to be mindful of, too. Not lake access, though – the plumbing!

choosing a lake home - bills to watch out for HOA, water, internet, cell phone service

Some lake properties draw water from a well. Find out if the property uses a sewer system or a septic tank, too. Each of these can bring unexpected costs or upkeep.

If you intend to build, see what the cost is to set up utilities for the property – specif.

You want to know this before you purchase it, not after!

5. What conveniences are nearby?

Many who are choosing a lake home often just look at the property itself. Don’t make this mistake!

Marinas, golf courses, country clubs and campgrounds are all important parts of the lake lifestyle.

choosing a lake home - waterfront community

Take the time to learn about the off-lake community, too.

Nearby hospitals, restaurants, police departments, shops and grocery stores are all things to take into account, too.

Many lake communities have local websites where you can learn more about the area. These are often hidden gems, and from them you can learn a great deal.

Getting to know the local culture can turn a property from, “let’s think about it,” to, “this is the one!”