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Buying Waterfront Property – Finding that perfect shoreline.

Buying waterfront recreational property in BC is the dream of so many homeowners. Luckily, BC has thousands of different waterfront landholdings; from seaside properties on the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island, to owning beach front in the vibrant sunny Okanagan, to cozy cabins and R.V. lots on lakes all the way north up 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 swimming, kayaking, boating & fishing is worth the extra time and money spent for many people. The waterfront lifestyle is an amazing one! Finding the perfect shoreline for your needs and lifestyle is the key to fully enjoying your rec-property. 

Foremost, get specifics about the lake or river as water bodies can vary considerably. Some excellent questions to find answers to include; Is the bottom rocky, sandy or muddy for swimming? How busy is the lake during each season and what recreational opportunities are available on the lake?  Is the lake stocked with fish, are there any motorized restrictions for boaters, and what is mosquito season like? Does the lake freeze solid and offer winter activities like fishing and ice skating and snowmobiling? Remember what type of rec user you are, and find a water body that suits your recreational needs. If all the kids wake board, 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 the success of your ownership happiness!

Knowing all you can about the area surrounding the body of water is important, as the lake or river front community will become your own. Purchasing waterfront property warrants a comprehensive examination of more than the property itself, you are buying into a community and there are additional responsibilities to the ownership other than the higher property taxes. Waterfront owners must adhere to specific federal, provincial & local municipal regulations and practice stewardship of the water body as adjacent landowners. 

Secondly, 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 and 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 wells as monitor the lake for any invasive species.  A great deal of waterfront land in the province is developed and privately owned and having local associations upgrade boat launches and create access swimming areas with trash collection helps the lake ecosystem handle the increased recreational usage.

Furthermore, you should examine the lake’s water levels and determine if the lake floods in spring. How close is the cabin/cottage/RV to the flood line or is the property located in a flood plain. Will you be required to carry flood insurance?  It is important to assess how easy it is to access the shoreline and how easy is it to get your boat in and out of the lake. 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? 

Waterfront 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. 

Note the orientation of the property to the sun and any large treed areas, does it get morning or afternoon sun, and how it sets. How do the winds coming off the lake effect both your enjoyment of the property and the heating costs? Not all days on the lake have sunshine and blue skies and exposure to colder temperatures with higher winds means this will effect your comfort summer and winter. The closer you are to the water the less privacy you have and the easier it is for boaters to see your home, if you crave privacy seek a home site that is set back higher on the property.

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 lake front communities the housing can be a mix of seasonal vacation style cabins and cottages expanded upon and 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 lake side homes are built to be used only during the warmer months of the year and 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 living with insulated floors, walls, water pipes and heating options. Upgrading an existing seasonal residence for winter living can be very costly. Quite often, local zoning can vary quite a bit on a lake, sometimes the size of the lots are smaller than lot sizes in non water front location. 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 property has its 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 year-round 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 -25 and up to 8 feet of accumulated snowfall and unless you enjoy keeping the fireplace full of wood, plowing the driveway and outdoor activities like ice skating, ice fishing, cross country and downhill skiing and snowmobiling your could end up with serious “cabin fever”. 

In conclusion 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. Circumstances that you might not have thought of like, the public lake access beside the property gets very busy on weekends and you would constantly have to deal with many people and boats being launched in your direct vicinity. Ask what they like and dislike about owning property there? First hand 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 read 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.

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