Steve Arnberg Inspiration Home with bow composite 1220 Lake .jpg

Christmas through February is the best time of year to purchase a lake home or lot

Merry Christmas! This is that time of year when everyone makes a Christmas list in hopes that the personal elf delivers. If a place on Lake Martin is at the top of your wish list, I wanted to share some tips for your personal elf as he or she starts Christmas shopping.

If your first choice is to find a lake home already built, new or pre-loved, you need to know that finding a lake home is like finding the new baby doll or video game at the toy store. The shelves and choices are nearly bare. Available lake homes and condos on the market number only 50, according to the local MLS on Nov. 11. That is only one for every 17 miles of shoreline.

Your next choice, and probably the best for all of your future Christmases, would be to find a waterfront homesite and have a lake home built just for you. WAIT! Don’t put down the article and run. Building a lake home is not as difficult as you might think. With a little bit of planning and a helpful task list, you might find that this is your best option, especially when you are in this for the long run.


Where to start

I have seen lots of people go through the building process. Some people think that you find a lake home design; and then, you find a waterfront lot, pick a builder and start building. While that might work, usually the best way is to start with the land; and then, look for a design that fits the land. Views and topography of the lot are primary influencers on design and cannot be changed in most cases.  

In the sidebar at left, I have provided a task list that I think will help you move from wishing for to building the perfect lake home. I have given some elaboration on some of the points below.  If I dug deeper into all the topics, I might end up with a novel rather than an article. 


When to start your search

This might not make sense if you are trying to find a summer lake home, but the best time to select a waterfront homesite on Lake Martin is now through mid-February. The reason to look at land now is because you can “look under the hood,” so to speak. The annual drawdown of the lake’s water level started in the fall, and the lake reaches the lowest level by mid-December.  

Since the maximum length of a pier with a floating platform for the lake is 62 feet, you should be able to judge the year-round water depth at this time of the year. If there is water 62 feet beyond the shoreline and the lake is down 7 feet from full pool, judging summer water level is simple math. You should also be able to walk the lake bed to determine the need for and the cost of a seawall or other waterfront improvement.  

Another good reason to start this time of year is that you will be able to judge the views of the lake, topography of the lot and driveway location more easily without tree leaves blocking the views.  

Builders and architects tend to have more free time at this time of year to look at building sites and could offer valuable input that could save you lots of time and money.

The list is meant to be a step-by-step approach. Each item also has additional points to consider. For instance, next to neighborhood, I added average value of neighboring homes. If the neighborhood is a perfect location for you but all the existing homes sell for 20 percent below your overall budget, you might be over-improving the property, making a return on your investment in a future sale more difficult.

Task List

Lot Selection

• Location – proximity to amenities, marinas and stores, plus drive time for family and friends

• Lot – size, topography, view, water depth and available utilities

• Shoreline – pier location, seawall, extra features and neighboring encroachments

• Neighborhood – attractiveness of available properties, conformity of design, average value of neighboring homes and community standards 

Getting under way

• Home design – custom to lot, predesigned by developer, predesigned by builder or a plan modified for you and the land

• Home builder – reputation, references, experience, services provided, insurance carried and work load

• Décor – decorator, suppliers, allowances and availability

• Approval process – building permits, ADEM permits, architectural control and Alabama Power Company shoreline permits

• Budgeting – land, house, shoreline, landscape, furnishings and water toys

• Financing – Construction, permanent, one closing or two and insurance

• Documentation – Plans, specs, budgets, contracts and change orders

The above list is not meant to intimidate you but to serve as a guide to ensure the project moves smoothly. If is seems a bit over-powering, you might use a Realtor®, builder or architect to help you through the process. After all, even Santa employs expert elves to help him deliver the goods. If you start now, you could have a Merry Christmas in 2021 in your new Lake Martin home.

~ Steve Arnberg is vice president real estate sales for Russell Lands On Lake Martin.