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?
When considering purchasing waterfront property, you should review the legal property description to determine if the lot extends to the water's edge. An attorney experienced in waterfront real estate will be able to provide counsel regarding whether your land is riparian and what possible rights others might have to use the land between your legal lot line and the water's edge.
2. Review the plat map.
It is critical to review the plat map if the land has been platted. Michigan plat maps can be reviewed online. Frequently, plats contain dedicated roads, alleys and other areas that might not be visible when you inspect the property. Other plat owners or other parties may have the right to use those areas for the dedicated purposes, even if the maps have not been publicly accepted.
3. Inspect the property to determine whether others may be using any portion of the land.
If someone other than the lot owner maintains a dock or moors boats on or adjacent to the lot, or if there's a path across that lot, particularly one that extends to the lake, further investigation is required to determine the uses being made, by whom and under what claim of right.
4. Obtain a survey.
A survey is necessary because the apparent lines of occupation might not be consistent with the legal description of the land you purchase. A survey should identify if an adjacent owner has acquired the right to use a portion of the land within the legal description of the land you intend to purchase, or worse, if a portion of your home or yard extends beyond the legal description of the land you intend to purchase.
5. Talk to the lake or homeowner's association.
If there is a homeowner's or lake association for the property you intend to purchase, you may wish to contact them. Such associations may have valuable information regarding issues that have faced riparian owners – are there current disputes, past issues that may remain unresolved or understandings regarding rights to use waterfront areas? Similarly, owners of adjacent lots may have information as well.
6. Review documents identified in the title search or commitment.
Review any covenants, restrictions, declarations or similar encumbrances to which the land is subject.
7. Learn about the lake.
Are the bottomlands mucky and shallow? If you inspect the property in the winter, you may not be able to tell, and could later find swimming to be unpleasant and docking boats to be a challenge. How deep is the lake? Are there issues with water quality? Most of this information is accessible online.
8. Are there any local ordinances that restrict or otherwise control the use of the waterfront?
Take the time to investigate if municipalities have enacted any ordinances which would regulate docks and the mooring of boats on privately owned waterfront property.