Oceanfront property is always in demand, but for many buyers, lake properties are becoming an increasingly popular option. One indicator of the interest: according to Sotheby’s International Realty, searches for lakefront properties globally on its site increased nearly 90 percent from January to September 2021, compared with the same period in 2020.
Lake living has advantages, said Philip A. White Jr., Sotheby’s International’s president and chief executive. “Oceanfront properties can be more prone to flooding than lakefront homes, and insurance for flooding can be expensive,” he said. And oceanfront homes are pricier, he said. “An acre of ocean property versus an acre of (on a lake) can cost up to five times more.”
Rick Moeser, the executive director of Christie’s International Real Estate, added that oceanfront properties were also more susceptible to saltwater damage. “Your furniture, roof and even landscaping quickly deteriorates,” he said.
It’s much easier to have a dock on a lake than on the ocean, Moeser added, and owners can enjoy watersports right from their homes, including boating, paddle-boarding, kayaking and water-skiing. “You have so much entertainment in your own backyard,” Moeser said. “It’s like you’re always on vacation.”
Here are four up-and-coming destinations to consider for lake homes.
Lake Maggiore, Italy
About a 60-minute drive north of Milan, Lake Maggiore is the second largest lake in Italy. The region has an international community of home buyers who are becoming more diverse each year, according to Patrizia Canale, a real estate consultant with Barnes International Realty in Lake Como, which specializes in selling Lake Maggiore properties. Russians, Americans, Swiss and Germans are all part of the mix, she said.
Buying a property in Lake Maggiore is appealing for several reasons. For starters, it is less crowded and more affordable than nearby Lake Como, Canale said, and easy to access. “Geneva, Milan and Turin are all close by and have international airports with flights from all over the world.”
Also, diversions abound. The main towns of Stresa, Verbania, Arona and Baveno have attractive downtowns with boutiques, restaurants and markets. Three islands reachable by public or private boat — Bella, Madre and Dei Pescatori — are popular attractions, along with golf courses, parks and gardens.
Lake Maggiore is an elegant area where properties include apartments, both in town and on the lake, small homes and lakefront villas with gardens and swimming pools. Prices start at $500,000. “You can get a two-bedroom apartment for that much, but we have villas that cost more than $5 million,” Canale said.
Lake Maggiore has become so popular that Sotheby’s International Realty recently opened an office there, White said. “It’s a market that has been booming for us since the pandemic.”
Lake Geneva, France
The crescent-shaped Lake Geneva spans Switzerland and France and is the largest lake in both countries. For home buyers, France is a better bet, said Olga Mikheeva, a real estate agent and property consultant with Star Leman Immobilier in Lake Geneva.
“Switzerland has a lot of restrictions with regards to foreigners buying property, and it’s also a lot more expensive than the French side,” she said.
Residents can still experience Switzerland, however, as Geneva is a 45-minute drive and Lausanne is about 30 minutes by boat.
Lake Geneva has clear blue waters and is known for its cleanliness. The backdrop of the Alps adds to its beauty. Évian-les-Bains and Thonon-les-Bains are the largest towns, but the area is dotted with charming medieval villages such as Yvoire, known for its picturesque garden and historic buildings.
Lake life here revolves around boating, paddleboarding, swimming and climbing. Come winter, skiing takes over, and there are runs for every level, Mikheeva said.
Housing options include apartments, townhouses, single-family houses, mansions and even the odd castle. For $200,000 it is possible to buy a two-bedroom apartment near the lake with a balcony. Luxury villas, usually with water views, start at around $1.5 million, while lakefront properties start at $2 million. Low property taxes, compared with other countries, are a bonus.
Northern Lake Michigan
Referred to as the Gold Coast because of its scenic sunsets, the northern part of Lake Michigan stretches from Mackinac Island in the north to Traverse City in the south. Vacation home buyers gravitate to Harbor Springs, Petoskey, Bay Harbor and Charlevoix, said Jeff Wellman, the owner of North Harbor Christie’s International Real Estate in Petoskey.
The coastline there is dotted with villages that have marinas, sand dunes and large pine trees. Unlike many other lakes, ocean-size waves are not uncommon, Wellman said. Islands that are reachable by boat are another characteristic of this part of Lake Michigan and include Beaver and North and South Fox Islands.
Activities include fishing for lake trout and salmon, wake boarding, yachting and sailing and diving. There are multiple shipwrecks that date back to Michigan’s lumber era from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries, Wellman said. In the winter, ice boating is popular. Other attractions include golf courses, wineries and breweries and high-quality restaurants.
Lake Michigan might have its peak season in the summer, but it is lively in the fall and winter, too. “The fall colors are gorgeous, and in the winter, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are lots of fun,” Wellman said.
Most of the properties are single-family homes, although Bay Harbor and Charlevoix have some condominiums. Lakefront residences start at $1 million, Wellman said.
Buyers used to be predominantly Midwesterners, but the region has diversified significantly in the last few years, he said. “We see Californians, Texans, Canadians and Europeans from a variety of countries,” he said.
The Lake District, Chile
The Lake District in central Chile, about an hour’s flight from Santiago, has nine lakes, including the two largest: Villarrica and Llanquihue. Snow-capped volcanoes, including one named Villarrica, mountains, forests and rivers are all part of the landscape.
White, of Sotheby’s International, said the region was a favorite getaway spot for Chileans but was being discovered by an international audience.
“We’ve seen a significant increase in demand for properties here from Europeans and Americans who are seeking more contact with nature and want a vacation property in a destination where their money goes a long way,” he said.
Prices for a two-bedroom apartment start at $100,000, said Regina Pfeil, the owner of the Engel & Völkers franchise in Pucón, which is one of the Lake District’s main towns. Three-bedroom houses average $200,000, she said, while spacious lakefront homes cost upward of $500,000. It is also possible to buy ranches that cover hundreds, and even thousands, of acres.
Shopping and dining out are also inexpensive, compared with other countries, and Pucón is full of excellent restaurants and stores.
Pursuits include boating, hiking, kayaking and mountain biking. In the winter, it is even possible to ski the Villarrica volcano.
“Depending on the time of year, you can ski in the morning and boat on a lake in the afternoon,” White said.