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Purchase Checklist: Things to Consider When Buying Waterfront Property

August 8, 2017

It is always a good idea to seek the advice of experienced counsel before purchasing any real estate. In addition to issues raised in connection with any purchase of real estate, the following are particularly relevant if you are considering the purchase of waterfront property:

  1. Does the land extend to the water’s edge? Review the legal description to determine if the lot extends to the water’s edge. Platted or surveyed lot lines frequently stop short of the water. If there is a “gap” between the lot line and the water has anyone retained an interest in that land? Is there a platted and dedicated promenade, roadway, walkway or similar designation of that land? An attorney with experience in waterfront real estate can provide counsel regarding whether your land is riparian and the possible rights of others to use the land between your legal lot line and the water’s edge.
  2. Review the plat map. If the land has been platted it is critical to review the plat map. In Michigan, plat maps may be reviewed on-line at  Plats frequently contained dedicated roads, alleys and other areas that may not be visible when you inspect the property. Even if those maps have not been publicly accepted other plat owners, or other parties, may have the right to use those areas for the dedicated purposes.
  3. Inspect the property to determine whether others may be using any portion of the land. Is there a path across the lot, particularly that extends to the lake? Does someone other than the lot owner maintain a dock or moor boats on or adjacent to the lot? If so, further investigation is required to determine the uses being made, by whom, and under what claim of right.
  4. Obtain a survey. Apparent lines of occupation may not be consistent with the legal description of the land you purchase. An adjacent owner may have acquired the right to use a portion of the land within the legal description of the land you intend to purchase. Perhaps worse, a portion of your home or yard may extend beyond the legal description of the land you intend to purchase.
  5. Talk to the lake or homeowner’s association. Many waterfront areas have homeowner’s associations or lake associations that may have valuable information regarding issues that have confronted riparian owners. Are there current disputes, past issues, that may remain unresolved or understandings regarding rights to use waterfront areas? Owners of adjacent lots may have similarly valuable information.
  6. Review documents identified in the title search or commitment. If there are covenants, restrictions, declarations or similar encumbrances to which the land is subject, review them.
  7. Learn about the lake. If you inspect the property in the winter, you may not know that the bottomlands are mucky and shallow, which may make swimming unpleasant and present a challenge for docking boats. How deep is the lake? Are there any water quality issues? In addition to local knowledge, much of this information is accessible on-line.
  8. Are there any local ordinances that restrict or otherwise control the use of the waterfront? Some municipalities have enacted ordinances to regulate docks and the mooring of boats on privately owned waterfront property.

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