Waterfront property is lovely to have, but takes great consideration before buying. (Unsplash)

REAL ESTATE: Finding the perfect shoreline

Columnist Freddy Marks walks readers through what they need to consider when buying waterfront land

By Freddy Marks

Buying waterfront recreational property in B.C. is the dream of many homeowners. Luckily, B.C. has thousands of different waterfront landholdings, from seaside properties on the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island, to beachfront in the vibrant Okanagan, to cozy cabins and R.V. lots on lakes up north through the Cariboo.

Waterfront property is special for its shoreline access, and is always more expensive to purchase and maintain. But the benefits of waterfront views, the connection with nature, and years of family fun is worth the extra time and money for many. The waterfront lifestyle is an amazing one — finding the perfect shoreline for your needs and lifestyle is the key to fully enjoying your recreational property.

RELATED: REAL ESTATE: What type of recreational property user are you?

First, get specifics about the lake or river you want to purchase on, as water bodies can vary considerably. Some excellent questions include: is the bottom rocky, sandy or muddy for swimming? Is the lake stocked with fish, and are there any motorized restrictions for boaters? Are you allowed to have a launch site and dock right off of your own property shoreline, or do you travel around the lake to an access to launch? Does the lake freeze solid and offer winter activities like fishing, ice skating and snowmobiling?

Remember what type of recreational user you are, and find a water body that suits your recreational needs. If all the kids wakeboard, then you need a big enough lake that you can run a large ski boat and make that type of wake action safely away from other boaters and sensitive shorelines. Be very specific about your needs; it is important for your property success and happiness!

But don’t forget the less exciting questions too. For your own sake, you should examine the lake’s water levels and determine if it will flood in the spring. How close is the building to the flood line, and will you be required to carry flood insurance?

Purchasing waterfront property warrants a comprehensive examination of more than the property itself. You are buying into a community with additional responsibilities on your ownership, as waterfront owners must adhere to specific federal, provincial and local municipal regulations, as well as practice stewardship of the water body as adjacent landowners.

Find out if there is a homeowner’s association or other organization that controls the lake area where you plan to buy. The last thing you want as a buyer is to find out there are things you were counting on being able to do that are not allowed.

Having a lake association can be a good thing, as they are formed to protect the lake’s future and resolve any issues that potentially could threaten the lake’s health. They apply for grants to protect or improve the lake, as well as monitor the lake for invasive species. A great deal of waterfront land in the province is developed and privately owned, and having local associations can help owners upgrade boat launches and create swimming areas with trash collection that helps the lake ecosystem handle the increased recreational usage.

Waterfront property owners should be aware that all water in B.C. is owned by the Crown and strictly regulated, and the general public has a right of access to foreshore. As property lines extend to, but do not include the foreshore, the upland owner has no rights to use or “possess” the water, only a right to access. Waterfront boundaries can change as the Crown owns all property which exists below the high water mark — therefore if the high water mark changes, the property boundaries will change as well.

RELATED: Canadian millennials buy more recreational properties than boomers: survey

Due diligence should be carried out when purchasing any landholding. Vetting an existing recreational dwelling with older services takes even further careful critical examination.

In some lakefront communities the housing can be a mix of seasonal vacation-style cabins and cottages that have been turned into more permanent residences. If not kept in good repair with regular maintenance, the close proximity to the lake can lead to property damage. Some lakeside homes are built to be used only during the warmer months of the year and were constructed many years ago to questionable building codes.

If you want to use the home during winter months, make sure it was built for year-round use with insulated floors, walls, water pipes and heating options, as upgrading an existing seasonal residence for winter living can be very costly. Quite often, local zoning can vary on a lake. You may have grand visions of adding a large addition and discover it’s just not possible. Find out what you can and can’t do before purchasing.

Waterfront properties also have their own strict building codes for the age and condition of septic systems and waste water disposal, and this should be one of your main areas of concern. The age and condition of the septic and drainage field needs to be independently inspected and certified up to code. Upgrading the septic can run up to $20,000 depending on where the system is located in proximity to the waterline.

If you are purchasing for recreational use now and planning to eventually live there full-time when you retire, make sure you have given special consideration to things like proximity of the hospital, medical care, grocery stores and restaurants. Getting out of town into the middle of nowhere may be great for a few months at a time, but not everyone enjoys such isolation on a year-round basis. Winters in some parts of the province see temperatures below -25C and up to eight feet of accumulated snowfall; unless you enjoy keeping the fireplace full of wood, plowing the driveway and outdoor activities like ice skating, ice fishing, cross country skiing, downhill skiing and snowmobiling, you could end up with serious “cabin fever.”

I urge you to take the time to really investigate all the components of each unique property you are interested in. If possible, go talk to the neighbouring property owners. Talking to your potential neighbours can give you valuable information that a viewing with a realtor cannot. Ask what they like and dislike about owning property there, and you may find circumstances you might not have thought of — like the public lake access beside the property that gets busy on weekends. Firsthand information is very valuable and can help you avoid a purchase in a location that will not meet your expectations.

Locating property with the perfect shoreline is a very involved task. Always work with a qualified knowledgeable realtor, and research everything you can. The time and effort spent pay off, when you end up with a waterfront dream location that allows for many years of happy family memories.

Freddy Marks, together with his daughter Linda Marks, runs Agassiz’s 3A Group Sutton Showcase Realty. He has been a Realtor in Canada and Germany for more than 30 years, and currently lives in Harrison Hot Springs.



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