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Tell your Realtor if a lakeside barbecue area or a big dock are among your must-haves.

Are you good at negotiating?  Do you always get exactly what you want?

Unless you are an extremely loud and motivated toddler or the IRS, chances are that you don’t always get what you want when you negotiate. Hey, that’s OK. Me, too. The very word “negotiate” presupposes some give and take. There will be some minor wins and losses en route to large goals.

I think this concept applies to people who are looking for Lake Martin waterfront homes. There is bound to be some aspect of the process in which everyone is going to have to settle. I do think it is wise, though, to determine up front the non-negotiables in the search. These are the issues or aspects of the home that cannot be forsaken.

As un-cool and un-dreamy as it may sound, I think the first non-negotiable should be the price range. 

Why? Because the price range will determine just about everything else on the list. It will probably cause you to prioritize even your non-negotiables. I know that sometimes it is not fun to think about money, but it is a crucial first step.

Occasionally, I talk to buyers that are a tad coy about their price ranges. It’s as if they don’t want to tip their cards or something. I have even had a few that have told me, “We don’t have a budget.”

When I have responded with, “Cool! Here’s a home for $3 million. How about it?” they have said, “Whoa! No! That’s way too much!”

OK, I think, then you do have a budget. And that is more than all right, but let’s talk about it.

Once the price range issue is settled, then comes the fun part. I encourage buyers to envision themselves at their Lake Martin homes and imagine how they will use them. How will they spend their time? With whom will they spend it? I have said it many times in these pages, but I think those buyers that know themselves fare best.

I ask my buyers to try to fill in the blanks on sentences like, “If nothing else, when I am at my lake house I want to be able to ________ (fill in the blank).

I don’t think a buyer should say something like have three bedrooms or have 7 feet of water depth at the dock. Those are just data points. I think they should talk in terms of experiences to help clarify what they want.

For instance, when someone says to me, “If nothing else, I want to be able to drink my morning coffee at sunrise and watch the water,” I know that a private, calm setting would be ideal for them. It tells me that I need to help them look for homes that are away from the hubbub of boat traffic and also have great spots for some personal space.

Likewise, if a potential homebuyer were to say, “If nothing else, I want to be able to host my entire family for our annual Fourth of July cookout,” that is extremely valuable information. I know that this person’s non-negotiable is the ability to be the center of social activity. This buyer will likely need lots of parking for guests at the street and possibly at the dock. The home should be set up for entertaining. A large, open kitchen and lots of room lakeside will allow them to pack in the people. 

Still other buyers have said, “If nothing else, I just want a place to sleep at night after we have spent our days on the boat.” This tells me that they see their Lake Martin experience as ideal when they are out on the water. They probably will not prioritize a lot of square footage in the home. Dock access and water level will probably be important to them because it allows them to be on the boat the absolute most.

Searching for homes can still be a challenge. Most agents won’t come out and say in an advertisement that a home has rude neighbors or a tiny amount of parking; however, Lake Martin homebuyers that have spent some time thinking about their non-negotiables will have far easier searches. They have spent the time clarifying what they think would be their perfect lake experiences.


John Coley is a broker and owner of Lake Martin Voice Realty. Contact him at