Should I buy a Cabin by the Water or in the Forest?

Choosing where to buy a cabin or vacation home can be a lot like choosing a spouse.  You want to make sure you get it right so you can enjoy the bliss of cabin ownership for years and years to come.

But that leads to the big question.  Where do I want my cabin?  Should I buy or build one right one the lake or river?  Or should I get something farther from the water and away from other people?  It seems like a simple question, but there are a few important things to consider.  This article will help you think through those important considerations.  My goals is to help you make the best decision for your situation.

How Much Will it Cost to Buy and to Own?

This is a big one and it’s a factor across each of the other considerations in this article.

On average, waterfront properties cost more than those not on the water.  Waterfront properties have higher demand.  When people think of vacation home or cabins, being on the water is one of the must-have items on a lot of people’s lists.

That high demand means that buying a cabin on the lake could be pretty pricey.  Taking into account all of the other considerations, if you’re firmly in the “on the water” camp, then you need to consider how much it’s worth to you.  Would you be as happy if your cabin were 1 mile from water access?  Or what if you have to drive further to get to the cabin, but it’s affordable and on the water.

Waterfront properties also tend to be on the grid, which means you get a lot of amenities that off-grid cabins don’t have.  But it also means you have utility bills you have to pay.  When you’re looking at the cost of a property, make sure you consider not only the price, but the average cost to heat, cool, and power your cabin throughout the year.

Cost is one of those things that you can’t ignore.  Going into considerable debt for a cabin or rental home can be dangerous business.  Real estate as an investment can yield fantastic returns and diversify your portfolio, but it doesn’t come without risk.  Which leads my to my next point.

How hard would it be to rent out?

Take a look at other rentals in the area.  If there is one, contact a local property management company that manages the rental properties in the area.  Find out their vacancy rates.  You’ll want to find out how much they tend to rent for per room or square foot.  With an estimate of what your cabin might rent for and an estimate of how often it will be vacant, you can figure out how much you can expect to earn over the year.  With that, you can figure out if the rental income is enough to cover your cost of ownership—like a mortgage and utility bills.

So how does this impact your decision about waterfront vs remote cabin location?

Because waterfront location are in higher demand in most places.  A waterfront cabin less likely to sit vacant and more likely to rent for a higher rate.  Conversely, cabins away from the water tend to rent for less and sit vacant more often.  So again, before you make a decision purely based on price, consider whether or not you plan to rent out your cabin, and if so, do some research on how much income it’s likely to generate.

A good property management company such as Mossy Oak Properties can help you with this.  Especially if it could earn them your business.  But if you don’t have a company like that around, check out nearby cabins on AirBnb.  See what they rent for.  And check out their calendars to see how much vacancy they have.  It’s not going to be perfect but it can give you an idea of the market in the area.

Also remember that cabin rentals tend to be really seasonal.  You may be able to make great income in the summer months, but chances are you’ll need to cover the mortgage yourself in the winter.  And that’s what gets people into trouble financially.  If you can’t make the payments for a few months, you risk losing the property to foreclosure.

How Important are Water Sports to you?

If your main purpose in buying a cabin is to spend all day every day on the lake, then that probably settles it.  Having dock access to a lake right from your property is priceless to some people.  If that’s you and you can find a good property that you can afford, then go for it.  You won’t be satisfied with something away from the water.

That said, consider lots of options to make sure you get something you can afford.  Again, a lake farther from cities or one that’s a little more remote may get your more lake access for your money than one that’s nearby.  Likewise, if your goal is to be on the water, maybe you can live with a smaller lot or cabin.

How Remote of a Location do you Want?

When I go to the cabin, I like to unplug and get away.  If that’s your goal too, then maybe waterfront isn’t right for you.

I live in a place where I have great access to recreational water within about 40 minutes driving from my house.  If I want a day on the lake, I have options in multiple directions.  So for me, having water access at my cabin isn’t a priority.  In fact, it’s exactly what I don’t want.

Water access attracts people.  So even in some really beautiful and serene places, the area gets crowded when the weather’s nice.

So keep that in mind.  If you like water, that’s great.  What sort of access do you have close to home, or close to a more remote cabin site?  If it’s not far to get to and you’d rather have more peace and quiet most of the time, then something off the water may actually be a better choice.  Which can be great if your budget isn’t huge.

How Difficult will it be to Get to?

Because of high demand for a lot of waterfront properties, the roads to those properties are often nicer and better kept.  That’s just a rule of thumb and clearly not always true though.

If you want to have access to your cabin year round and you live somewhere that gets snow, then look at the conditions of the road.  Is it paved?  Does it get plowed in the winter?  Do people snowmobile on the road in the winter?  Is snowmobile access a viable option for you?

What about in the rainy season.  Do the roads wash out often?

Remote locations tend to have less road maintenance, which means less access in adverse weather conditions.  So keep that in mind as you look for a cabin that might fit your wants.

How much Freedom do you Want on your Property?

It comes as a surprise to a lot of people that just because you own property doesn’t mean you can do what you want with it.

Waterfront cabins, particularly if they’re in destination locations, tend to put a lot of rules on the property owners.  You have to get approval to do anything on your property if it might be visible from others on or around the lake.

Not only that, but most property ownership doesn’t include land use rights such as mineral and logging rights.  You can own a bunch of land in the woods but that doesn’t mean you can cut down a tree or pan for gold.  Most people buy property and don’t even know that the only rights they have are surface rights.

However, there are a lot of remote locations where you can buy mining claims.  This is land that was claimed for the purpose of mining and the property still holds that status.  If you buy an old mining claim it usually still comes with mineral and logging rights.

It’s tough to find property like that today on a lake.  You might find it along a river or stream, though.  And you can definitely find it if you’re willing to look somewhere more remote.

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