Your starter lake home: How to save money on your first waterfront property

Key insights:

  • If you want to be near the lake but don’t need to be on the waterfront, a lake access home could be a viable — and cheaper — option.
  • Broadening your criteria may help you find more affordable listings. In your search, include terms like “cabin” instead of just “lake home.”
  • You may have to get creative when purchasing a lake home on a budget, especially when hosting guests. Consider adding a bunkhouse or a closet full of air mattresses to the checklist for your first waterfront property.

When living in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, escaping to a lake home is the epitome of summer fun. And while many aspire to buy a waterfront property in retirement, you might be wondering… do I have to wait that long? Or could I find a way to enjoy summers on the water much sooner?

If you find yourself daydreaming about your future cabin, remember that affordable lake home properties do exist. Much like traditional starter homes, these entry point lake houses can be the perfect stepping stone to owning a larger waterfront property down the road. When moving forward with your lake home search, keep these tips in mind to find the perfect fit for you and your family.

What is lakeshore vs. lake access?

Stepping out onto a sandy beach just a few feet from your lake home or cabin is a wonderful luxury. But in actuality, do you plan to spend most of your time relaxing on the beach or cruising around on the water? If you enjoy fishing, canoeing, speed boating or jet skiing at your lake property, you might not use the beach that much (or at all). In this case, you may wish to opt for a home with lake access. For the right buyer, a lake access home can be quite practical — and they tend to be cheaper, too!

Here’s a crash course on lake property lingo:

  • lakeshore home is situated directly on the waterfront.
  • lake access property offers access to the lake, but someone else will own property between yours and the water.

Note: When searching for lake homes online, it can be confusing to know if you’re looking at lakeshore or lake access properties. Work with your REALTOR® to help ensure you set the right parameters and understand the scope of each property.

You can also use these links for access to all properties in Minnesota and western Wisconsin:

Have you considered a trailer?

When you hear the word “trailer,” it might come with a bad rap. However, trailers can be a terrific option for first-time lakeshore homebuyers — and they can be stylish, too! From renovated vintage trailers to newer models with all the bells and whistles, there’s an option for every budget.

You can also think of it this way: What is a tiny home, if not a trailer with a facelift? As tiny homes continue to rise in popularity, lake home trailers are likely to become a more viable option for aspiring lake homeowners. By changing your viewpoint to include trailer and tiny home options, you may just open a new door to low-cost and even lower maintenance lake homes.

Look for a cabin, not a lake estate

Try to re-frame any preconceived ideas you may have when it comes to the differences between a lake home and a cabin. A starter lake home in your budget may be a bit more humble, and a bit less Instagram-worthy than you’d like… but it can still be an ideal destination for you, your family or friends.

By leaning into the knotty pine walls and cozy quarters of an Up North cabin, you can design an on-budget, unforgettable space filled with warm memories.

Consider cabin co-ownership

Another option is to go in on a waterfront property with family or friends. Co-owning a cabin is a possible alternative for those who want to split the financial burden of an additional property. While time spent at the property would likely be divided between multiple families, it could be a winning solution for those with a limited budget and an unlimited affinity for the lake.

Should I buy a property with family or friends?

How to accommodate house guests at your lake property

Lake home buyers often want to be able to host their large families, but many quickly realize that multi-bedroom lake properties are out of their budget. In that case, remind yourself that what’s really important is that you’re all together, not the size of the home.

When looking at potential lake properties, prioritize homes that have enough bedrooms or sleeping space for your immediate family. Then, consider alternative sleeping options for visitors. Here are some creative ideas for guest accommodations:

  • Pitch a tent for a fun night camping under the stars.
  • Ask folks to drive their RVs to park on your property or nearby campground.
  • Keep extra air mattresses and sheets stashed in your closet.
  • Ensure all sofas fold out into a bed.

Stay patient, but be ready to move

As with the more traditional home market, lower-priced lake homes are in high demand today. That means that you may run into a lot of competition as you try to buy your first-ever waterfront property. Remember to:

  • Hire a Realtor who specializes in your desired lake home area.
  • Keep an open mind about properties that don’t meet all of your criteria, especially if they are within budget and on the right body of water.
  • Book your showings as quickly as possible, to ensure you see the home before others bid on it.
  • Stay hopeful, but realistic. You may be outbid on a few properties, but your agent will be there for you every step of the way.

Jump into your waterfront home

Affordable lake properties are out there! Moving forward, reach out to Edina Realty or one of our agents. We’re here to help you make those weekend getaways at the lake home and bonfire-filled cabin nights come true.