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Jan. 22, 2019
6:07 pm


Prioritize items to ease lake home search

By Bev Knight
So, you’ve decided to buy a lake home. Good for you! You’ll love living on Lanier, but be aware that buying a lake home is probably unlike any other purchase you’ve ever made. To prepare for that process, minimize the frustration and reduce your learning curve, it may be helpful to think through all of the issues before you start. It will also help your agent find you the perfect home. The following paragraphs should explain many of the issues, and the checklist will ensure that you are ready to buy when the time comes.
Financing – Before you fall in love with the wrong house, find out what you can afford. In most price points, it has become a seller’s market, and the best homes will sell quickly – often the first day. To  compete for great deals, you need to be ready to act. Talk to your lender about getting a prequalification letter which confirms your ability to get a mortgage. This will be required with most offers, and it will streamline the process if you have it ahead of time. Plus, it will help you determine your budget. If you are a cash buyer, you will need to be able to show proof of funds. That can be a copy of your bank statement with the account number blacked out or a letter from your financial institution. Most sellers will want the letter signed so they can verify its authenticity. While you’re at it, read about tax codes in the county(ies) you’re interested in and the implications of a second home versus a primary residence. That may also affect your budget.
Agent – Find an agent who resides and sells property on the lake, and make sure that agent works with buyers. There are many laws and rules regarding lake property that the average non-lake agent won’t know. Does the dock automatically transfer with the property? What about the dock permit? Would  the boat lift go with the dock? Does the cove go dry in droughts? Can I get a new dock permit/ What is required to upgrade my dock? These and many other questions will come up, so you’ll want to work with an expert. Moreover, in this seller’s market, the best properties will sell right away. You don’t want to wait to see it on Zillow because chances are, it will have already gone under contract by the time the listing filters down to those secondary sites. It helps to have someone in the lake community who hears about these upcoming listings at team meetings, church, parties, community gatherings, etc. It’s the buyer who is ready to act who wins the most competitive properties, and that usually means they have a lake agent watching for them. Another reason to speak to an experienced agent relates to short term rentals. There are some areas where that’s allowed and some where it isn’t. If you’re planning on renting out your property using VRBO or other comparable sites, be sure your agent knows how to determine if that’s legal in that area.
Location – Generally speaking, lake residences are referenced by four geographic quadrants: NE, NW, SE and SW. North and south lake are divided by Browns Bridge. The east side includes property closest to I-985, and the west side is the GA 400 corridor. Why is that significant? Because each area has its own benefits and personality, not to mention price considerations. In many cases, the closer you are to Atlanta, the higher the price tag. If you have a sail boat, you probably want to be on the south end because those boats cannot fit under Browns Bridge when the lake is at full pool. Plus, most of the marinas designed to accommodate sail boats are on south lake. If you’re all about large groups of people and partying on the lake, you might enjoy south lake. Cocktail Cove anyone? If you prefer a quieter lifestyle and less boat traffic, north lake might be a better fit for you. If you are buying a permanent residence and commute to Alpharetta, the west side probably works best. If you work off of I-85, the east side would be better. Before you get started, think about what area suits your needs. Keep in mind that the most expensive market is Cumming, but there are bargains to be had all over the lake. You just need to be patient and make sure you’re ready to pull the trigger when the listings come up.
Lake Characteristics – Everybody thinks they want a big view, deep water, a short flat walk to the lake, and no boat traffic by their dock. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to find all those features for an affordable price; so, here are some considerations as you prioritize your wish list. If you think about terrain, most of the time a flat walk to the lake means shallow water at the dock just as a steep path means deep water. Keep in mind that a meandering path can make the walk to the lake easier; plus, if you have a medical necessity of some kind, you can usually get a cart permit from the Corps. With regard to a big view of the channel, there are benefits and challenges of living on big water versus in a cove. Big water often affords a better view, but it may not be easy to swim off your dock and your lake vehicles will get a fair amount of wake from the passing boat traffic. On the other hand, a cove provides privacy and less wake, but you may have water level issues in droughts. One choice is not better than the other, but it makes you a more informed consumer if you weigh these factors before you start looking.
House Requirements – Other issues you want to consider include your preferred architecture, number of bedrooms, proximity to restaurants and shopping, type of neighborhood (subdivision versus more secluded), storage needs, and more. Is this going to be a permanent residence or a weekend home? If it’s a weekender, you may not need a bedroom for every child. Many lake homes have bunk rooms for young’uns, and kids love it. If it’s a residence, your closets will have to accommodate every day life; but, if it’s a weekender, you can get away with less closet space. This allows for a bigger pool of potential properties and may save you some money. Are you willing to update the home? If so, that may open the door to a better deal and allow you to get a better return on your investment when it’s time to sell. 
Timing – You need to decide how quickly you want to close. This time of year, most people want to be in the house by spring. If so, you need to start your search right away. Study the values of recent sales so you will know a good deal when you see it. Zillow has a list of recently sold homes though you’ll have to wade through both lake and non-lake transactions; or, you might try or other sites dedicated to lake homes. Either way, knowledge is power and you want to understand the market.
Use the checklist below to help define your priorities and prepare for a successful search. Keep in mind that if you want everything, it will be quite expensive. 
Take your time and decide what is most important, then prioritize the rest. You’ll be ready to act when the right house comes along.
Bev Knight is the lead agent for The Good Life Group, Lake Lanier specialists with Keller Williams Lanier Partners. Her team has sold over $100 million in homes over the past three years, mostly on the lake. For more articles, visit

Posted online 1/29/18

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