Aerial picture of the Waupaca Chain O'Lakes

Your experience buying a lake home, condo, or cottage will depend on your expectations. You’ll be disappointed if you expect things to go as they have for non-waterfront homes you’ve purchased in the past. Lakefront real estate is different.

Lot Size

Lake homes are on smaller lots. Due to the high demand for waterfront, the land surrounding a lake gets divided over time into small, narrow, or wedge-shaped lots in order to fit as many properties as possible on the lake. The waterfront side of the property is often the shortest, making the size of most lots dependent upon how far back the waterfront is from the road.

House Sizes

You’ll have to spend more to get the same size home on a lake. Off the lake, it’s not unusual for a property selling for $450k to consist of a $400k home on a $50k lot. On a lake, a $450k property is more likely to consist of a $100k home on a $350k lot.

Lake Features & Lifestyle

The lifestyle you want to achieve will depend on a lake having specific characteristics.  For example, if you want to take your family waterskiing, you will need a “full-rec” lake where the boating ordinances allow you to go fast enough and create waves. On the other hand, if you are more interested in kayaking or paddle boarding, you might not want a full-rec lake.

List of lake features that determine value

Similarly, a sandy lake will be important if you want to play in the water. But, if you prefer spending your time on a boat, a sandy bottom might not matter.

If you plan on snorkeling, you’ll want a clear lake where the water is clear enough to see at least 12 feet underwater. Otherwise, you might be okay with water clarity of 11 feet or less.

You’ll want a large lake to take prolonged boat rides or make long straight runs on a wakeboard. But, a smaller lake can be quiet and have fewer waves to tip a canoe.

A deep lake is excellent for scuba diving and catching walleye. But you don’t need a deep lake to fish for musky or pike.

A lake with a lot of shoreline means more properties to sight-see while cruising in your boat or more places to fish if you like casting into shore. But, more shoreline can also mean more neighbors and a busier lake.

Having a bar or restaurant you can boat to is terrific for entertaining, but only a few lakes have them, so requiring that will severely limit your search.

Pricing

Lake homes are more expensive. The values of lake lots depend on the amount and quality of improvements, how many feet of waterfront they include, and which lake they are on. Homes on lakes with more features tend to cost more. Of the forty lakes currently featured on our website, only two lakes have all of the first seven features in the graphic above: the Chain O’Lakes in Waupaca and “Big” Silver Lake in Wautoma.

Finding Lake Homes

Lake homes list less often.  When you start your search, there will be fewer properties to choose from.  During your search, you’ll have to wait longer before another property gets listed.

A 2022 analysis of Chain O’Lakes homes found that homes on the Chain listed and sold at 44% of the rate of the market as a whole throughout Waupaca County.  Here are the results of that analysis:

Chart of 2022 MLS sales on Chain O'Lakes vs. Waupaca County
* For a more similar comparison, the MLS listings sold in Waupaca County only include homes that sold for at least $450k, the lowest sale price on the Chain in 2022.
** The 2022 tax records were used to determine the number of properties in Waupaca County with a market value of at least $450k. While the tax records do not determine what a property will actually sell for, they do list assessed values.  A study comparing sales on the Chain with assessed values at the time of the sale found that assessed values in the year homes sold were 59% of sale prices on average.  Therefore the number of homes throughout the county with a market value of $450k or more should be approximately equal to the number of homes with an assessed value of at least $265k (59% of $450k). In addition, the tax records do not indicate if a residence is located on a property, only what the property was zoned for and the assessed value divided into land and improvement values.  Therefore, to eliminate vacant land with garages or other non-dwelling improvements, only residential-zoned properties with over $60k in assessed improvement values were included.
*** The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) is the system real estate agents use to list properties for sale.

Making Offers

Since lake homes list less often, it may take several months or years to find the right property. When the right property lists, if you don’t act fast enough or make the best offer, you may have to wait months or years for your next opportunity. Learn how to make a winning offer on lake property.