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The Ultimate Guide to Buying Waterfront Property at Lake Oconee

You're probably familiar with waterfront properties selling for sky-high prices. For example, the most expensive home in the United States -- Gordon Pointe -- went up for $295 million back in February 2024. 

Understandably, many of you might not want to pay quite that much for a waterfront home. Lake Oconee properties are in high demand, make great investments and prices reflect the current low inventory market.  But buying waterfront is more involved than price checking. 

One vital thing to remember is that Lake Oconee properties are lakeside homes. They aren't oceanfront like Gordon Pointe, which will make a difference regarding price and upkeep. 

Another thing to keep in mind is why you're browsing lakefront homes. What is your ultimate goal for this property? Never buy something if you're unsure that you need it. 

But these are just a few things to consider when buying luxury lakefront homes. Below we discuss these and further concerns and tips you should know when purchasing lakeside homes in Lake Oconee. 

What Does "Waterfront Property" Mean?

"Waterfront property" doesn't always mean what you think it does. House listings are generally self-explanatory. Let's say you're looking at a house with four bedrooms and three bathrooms. 

The listing will describe the residence like this. Now let's say the home is listed as a "waterfront," and suddenly you imagine a nice house nestled by a quiet lake. 

Except, that's not necessarily what the listing says. Waterfront is a catchall term that means "close enough to water."Your property doesn't have to be right beside a body of water to count as a waterfront. 

Being adjacent to the water with a direct connection to the lake is enough to qualify. Note that this doesn't mean you can access said body of water. 

Waterfront may mean shared admission to water, communal water privileges, or simply that you have a view of water. You may have noticed that we've used the terms "lake" and "body of water" interchangeably. 

This is because waterfront property can be defined as: 

  • Lakes
  • Oceans
  • Seas
  • Bays
  • Rivers
  • Streams
  • Rural properties with ponds 

We recognize that ponds may sound a bit like cheating. Many ponds are small and unfit for recreational purposes. Don't worry, we have a more technical definition to help you.

A property near a tidally influenced water body must extend to the "mean high-water mark or line." Tidally influenced waters include the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. 

Properties near non-tidally influenced waters must reach the "ordinary high-water mark or line." Lake Oconee is one of these water bodies. These water lines are boundaries on the shore established by water fluctuations.

Natural bank impressions, shelving, and distinct soil changes indicate these water lines. The grounds are true waterfront properties if they extend to these literal watermarks.

Waterfront Listings and How to Decipher Them

We briefly touched on the three types of waterfront listings: water view, shared admission, and communal access. We'll discuss the sneakiest sales description first -- water view. 

People often describe homes with a water view as waterfront properties, but they technically don't count. For starters, how much of a view you get depends on various factors. 

For example, you may not have a total water view from your front or back yard. It could be a sliver of the lake from your living room or bedroom window.

You could have a house on a seaside cliff overlooking the ocean. Remember -- if there is no direct access to the lake (or other water bodies), it isn't a true waterfront property. 

Shared Access

Shared access will often appear on listings as "water access." It's a community amenity that allows you to access the water through a homeowners' property or an easement. 

An easement is the right to cross someone else's property for a specified purpose. What does this have to do with you? Many surrounding properties may not have easy access to water, hence the shared access. 

Perhaps the best thing about shared access is that you can access the water without riparian rights. Riparian rights grant people reasonable use of water (and the land underneath) touching or flowing through their property.

Reasonable uses include boating, swimming, and fishing. Riparian owners can also use their water for domestic purposes, like bathing. They can also build docks, piers, and boatlifts. 

Riparian owners also have exclusive usage rights if the waterbody is non-navigable. A lack of riparian rights doesn't mean a person has no water rights.

It means they lack exclusive entry to the water's edge and the land underneath. Shared access bypasses riparian rights because everyone within the neighborhood can enter the water regardless of accessibility.

For example, let's say there's a nearby homeowner with a pier. Their neighbors don't have one.

But they can use the pier to access the water thanks to the neighborhood easement. You can own a waterfront property without direct access via pier sharing. 

Communal Water Privileges

Communal water privileges work much like shared access listings. Neighbors can access the water either through an easement or a community-owned property.

The difference between shared access and communal water privileges is that the former access point isn't neighborhood-owned. Said properties include:

  • Piers
  • Community boat ramps
  • Beaches

Oceanfront vs. Lakeside Homes: What's the Difference?

Oceanfront and lakeside homes are different, but why does it matter? They're both by water, but waterfront property on St. Simons Island isn't the same as on Lake Oconee.

Location is the biggest distinction and it's important because you'll pay more for an oceanfront view. Prices vary from state to state, but you can generally expect an oceanfront property to cost more.

Remember, the most expensive house in the U.S. as of February 2024 was on Florida's oceanfront. Of course, you might be curious why oceanfront homes run more than their lakeside counterparts.

Well, the price disparity depends on several things. There's a fair bit to cover, but first, we'll discuss amenities and use.

Amenities and Use

Oceanfront properties are often used as vacation homes. Some people choose to live near the ocean year-round. However, beaches are meccas of entertainment, fun, and fine dining.

They're designed to attract tourists who want to enjoy the nearby water. Oceanfront properties are great if you're looking for somewhere surrounded by excitement, yet homey enough to wind down. 

The lakeside lifestyle has its share of good restaurants and entertainment spots too, but is also more private and cozy. There's less traffic because many people prefer beach homes as opposed to lake houses.

The nearby beach area is mostly for fun while you'd have to travel further off for necessities, like grocery stores. Lakes are often closer to amenities, which is why lakeside properties often make better primary residences.


Waterfront property has inherent maintenance difficulties. As lovely as being near water is, it comes with unique challenges. Each type of waterfront property has its own upkeep complications. 

First, we'll begin with the shared complications. There's damage from natural disasters, but we'll go over that in more detail later.

For now, let's discuss wood rot -- which comes from moisture exposure and can cause structural failure. Wood rot, or wood decay, happens when airborne spores collect on surfaces. 

While tough, these spores aren't much trouble until they're exposed to enough moisture to germinate and permeate the wood. As more spores germinate, they form colonies that feed on cellulose and lignin in wood. 

Both oceanfront and lakeside homes also suffer from metal corrosion. Corrosion is when metal degrades through oxidation.

Oxidation is when metals lose electrons to oxygen via chemical or electrochemical means. As the metal loses more and more electrons, it forms a substance called rust oxide, a flaky power displacing strong metal.

How Does Salt Damage Oceanfront Homes?

The issue with beach homes is the amount of salt they're exposed to. Salt air corrosion is a huge problem with oceanfront houses. This is due to how easily it can penetrate many materials and doesn't dislodge. 

While wood and metal degradation is inevitable, salt makes it occur faster. It causes delignification, which is the process of extracting lignin from plants. 

Delignification in beach homes is when salt in the water or air reacts with and deteriorates the lignin inside the wood. We've brought up lignin, but haven't explained what it is. 

Lignin is a natural polymer inside wood that binds the fibers together. It's what makes wood cell walls strong and ridged.

Without this polymer, the wood fibers weaken and unbind from each other. Delignified wooden structures are more prone to weathering, rotting, and insect infections. 

Salt increases the rate of metal corrosion because it's a good electrical conductor (electrolyte) containing ions. These salt ions attract ions from other compounds. 

These other compounds contain electrons attracted to the metallic ions inside the metal structure. The attracted ions allow electrons to move faster across the metal, speeding up oxidation and rust formation. 

Homeowners must take special precautions to protect their beachfront homes from saltwater degradation. Rinsing salt build-up from hose siding and windows goes a long way toward protecting these properties. 

Water Complications With Lakeside Homes

As we said, wood rot and corrosion can happen in lakeside homes. However, it doesn't happen with the same rapidity and severity. One issue of the most prominent property features lakefront homes have is sloping yards. 

Sloping yards are more prone to erosion, though this can be mitigated by planting native plants and grasses. If you're a first-time Lakehouse buyer, odds are the former residents have taken care of this.

Slopping yards can be difficult to maintain and navigate. It's hard to mow or walk across an area tilting downward. You may have to deal with floodplain issues too.

The floodplain is at the bottom of your land nearest the lake. Some areas flood often during rainy weather, limiting how much of your yard is usable at specific times. 

Oceanfront homes are difficult to maintain unto themselves. Lakefront yards present more problems than oceanfront ones. What all this boils down to is that there are disparities between oceanfront and lakeside maintenance. 

Property Style

Beach properties and lakeside houses have similar aesthetics but are often made of different materials. As previously discussed, wood and metals degrade faster in seawater and salty air. 

For example, you may see granite incorporated into a beach home because it's durable. Hardwoods like ipe and cedar are popular because they're more impervious to degradation and damage. 

Lakefront homes can and often do use a wider variety of materials because fresh water won't degrade buildings as quickly. There's also a difference between beach and lakefront yards. 

Beach homes often have small yards or lack them altogether. Lake homes commonly have large yards with plenty of vegetation. However, both homes may have grasses planted to prevent erosion. 

Planned Activities

The final difference between lakeside homes and oceanfront properties is what activities you can do. The reason is because of how turbulent the ocean is compared to lakes. 

As such, beachfront homes are best suited for surfing or activities like volleyball. Lake water is less tumultuous and may work best for fishing and boating.

Oceanfront homes are more public and have more people passing through. You're technically sharing the space with others while living on a beach.

Lakeside homes are often more secluded. Your space is better segregated and you have better opportunities for private gatherings in your yard. 

Tips for Buying Lakefront Homes

We've defined what a waterfront property is and how lakefront properties differ from their oceanfront counterparts. Now you know how to identify waterfront property listings and what to expect from a lakefront home. 

Here's what you need to know before buying one. The first thing you should do is consider what you're using the home for. Why do you want a lakeside home -- will this be your primary residence? 

Do you see yourself retiring and living your golden years on Lake Oconee? Are you going to use this lakeside home as an investment property? Renting out luxury lakefront homes can be a great source of additional revenue but there are short term rental restrictions you will need to take into consideration.

Once you identify what the home is for, you'll have an easier time finding whether it's got the amenities you need. You can skip touring unfitting homes and stick to touring real prospects. 

Understand the HOA Rules First

There are around 365,000 homeowners associations in the United States. Many luxury waterfront homes are part of HOAs. As you might expect, there are many rules about things like yard care and renting your home. 

First, you should be absolutely sure you want to live in a neighborhood with an HOA. All HOAs aren't bad, but some people don't do well with restrictions, which is fair. 

If you are fine with living in an HOA, be sure you're fine with the particular one your potential house is in. Please know that aside from strict rules and regulations, you may need the HOAs' permission to renovate. 

Research the Community and Talk to Neighbors

Checking into the HOA is good, but researching the area is even better. A comfortable home is important, but it may not mean much if the local culture isn't a good fit for you. 

For example, you might not want a loud, bustling neighborhood if you enjoy quiet and solitude. Research will also help you find out whether the community has the amenities you want. 

You have two means to find information on your chosen neighborhood. You can use the internet or ask community members. The latter choice will give you a more personal insight into the neighborhood. 

Check Insurance Rates

High insurance rates are a less glamorous part of the lakeside lifestyle. Insurance often costs more for lake homes because of proximity to water. 

Another less glamorous fact about waterfront properties is that they're prone to damage from natural disasters and the elements. Salt exacerbates beach home damage, but lake homes aren't free from impairment. 

You hear about hurricanes affecting beach homes, but lake houses suffer from hurricane winds and tropical storms. You may have to buy insurance for different parts of your home, like the boating dock.

Flood insurance is usually a separate policy from typical home insurance. Lakeside homes often flood, and homeowners near water should strongly consider purchasing flood insurance. 

Consider speaking to an insurance agent so they can tell you about local insurance rates. They'll also help you choose the best policies for your property. 

Make Necessary Updates When You Buy

Waterfront homes suffer plenty of damage over their lifetimes. Many of these homes aren't made of hurricane-proof materials. You may have to replace old windows with hurricane-proof, shatter-proof ones. 

If you keep the same windows, you'll have to invest in impact-proof shutters. Homes may need roof repairs if they're older than two decades -- that's how long the average roof lasts. 

Older lakehouses may require dock repairs. Existing docks should have permits on file for major repairs and all work must be up to code.

Prepare for Regular Maintenance

Here's the final thing we'll say about maintaining waterfront properties -- you should prepare for plenty of upkeep. As alluded to, the damage is often weather-related. 

Heat, humidity, flooding, storms, and other natural disasters. Lakeside homes with large docks will need regular maintenance. Even freshwater exposure can prematurely age things. 

You have to keep your home in good condition so it's safe and you keep your homeowner's insurance. Companies do inspections when new policies are written. 

Your insurer may cancel your policy if they find structural issues or damages. Potential homeowners should think about the scale of maintenance issues before buying a home. 

It'll help to have several maintenance professionals on hand for repair and upkeep. You can ask the home sellers and neighbors for trustworthy contractors. 

Keep Privacy in Mind

We've mentioned that lakefront homes are more private and cozy than beach houses. That's true, but that doesn't mean they're the most private residences on the market. 

You may not have much privacy unless the home is secluded or a fence is part of its property features. Lakes are often packed during tourist season. Perhaps not as much as the beach, but there's still plenty of traffic. 

Georgia is a popular tourist attraction and Lake Oconee is a favored destination among travelers. If you're interested in privacy, you should invest in property features like privacy hedges or window treatments. 

Get the Home Inspected

You should never skip an inspection when buying a house, especially a waterfront property. Lake homes are vulnerable to weather-related and elemental damage so you should check if the home is in good condition.

Many waterfront homes have mildew, potential foundation issues, and roof leaks. Homebuyers should know how bad any disrepair in their would-be homes is and if the property is worth the necessary repairs. 

Make sure you find a reputable inspector when choosing your new house. You should also be present when the inspection is performed. 

Act Quickly

Sitting around and waiting in any housing market is a terrible idea. People with the means will snatch properties quickly. It's worse with lakefront homes because there's a smaller supply. 

It's best to have everything pre-arranged when house hunting. Find a realtor, research the area, make your budget, and get preapproval for a mortgage. 

On the Prowl for Luxury Lakefront Homes?

Buying a home is never easy. Buying lakeside homes is more difficult due to the various considerations. First, you have to understand what a lakeside property is because there are many interpretations. 

Secondly, you should understand the difference between living on the beach and the lakeside lifestyle. The location does matter, if you want a relatively calmer life, choose a lake house. 

Thirdly, don't go into buying a lakehouse blind. Of course, there's one other way to find the best home on Lake Oconee.

Jennifer Vaughan Realtor with Ansley Real Estate Christie's International helps find homebuyers their ideal lakehouses throughout Lake Oconee. Jennifer and her team possess in-depth knowledge about the local market and properties. 

You can trust the firm's combined 60+ years of experience to help you find your ideal home. Don't wait -- be one of our many satisfied clients. Contact us to start navigating your real estate needs. 

Work With Us

Jennifer Vaughan Real Estate Group dedicates resources, time and talent to organizations that make Lake Oconee such an amazing place to call home! Whether you are a buyer, a seller, or an investor, they can help with all of your real estate needs.


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