Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Part 2 of Series..."What to Think About When Buying Lakeshore"

Part 2: Remodeling Old Cabins

So, you've made the decision to buy a lake cabin. However, you don't just want any lake cabin...you really want to have some of that charm from yesteryear, and you figure you can always add on or remodel if things aren't quite right for you. You very well may be able to, but make sure you understand not only the integrity of the foundation and structure itself - but also the required setbacks and codes that you will have to meet in order to do the work legally. Things may not be as easy as they once were!

A lot of us still have memories of hanging out at the grandparents' cabin when we were young. It seemed like Grandpa would just tack another bedroom on when they needed a little more space. He did! And there were a lot of other grandpas who did the same thing.

Back in the 40s, or 50s - or even the 60s - there weren't a lot of people paying much attention to building codes at the lake. You could pretty much build wherever you wanted to on your lot, even out over the water in some cases. The cabin was a place to get away from all the rules, and the lakes weren't that heavily developed anyway, so what was the difference?

But all of a sudden, people started to like the idea of living at the lake instead of just visiting. Developers began to buy up larger tracts of shoreline and cut them up into the smallest lots possible to make the most on their investments. Sand beaches on empty lots - once easy to obtain - became a thing of the past as buyers sought out any type of lakeshore that was affordable to build on, putting environmental pressure on delicate areas of the lake.

It was about this time - during the 70s - that a lot of governmental agencies began to get involved in what could and couldn't be done on lakeshore property. Setbacks from the lake, and from neighboring properties, were put in place or broadened. Septic tanks that were sometimes nothing more than a barrel in the ground became much larger, and setbacks were also put in place on how close you could build to them. Some lots became "unbuildable," because the setbacks would actually cross each other, leaving no room to build.

Well, Grandpa (you know the Grandpa I'm talking about) already had three or four extra rooms tacked onto his cabin, along with two or three garages, a boathouse, an outhouse, a lean-to for the boats on shore, and a few other sheds to adorn the property. But Grandpa was "grandfathered in," so he could just keep all that extra stuff on the property - even though new codes would never allow it these days.

Now, you are in the market for a great place on the lake, and you realize that this place that Grandpa built is a beautiful piece of property, with west facing views over an excellent sand beach, towering white pines, and a little bit of that "old lake cabin" charm that is hard to reproduce only 27 feet back from the water's edge. There might be an extra shed or two on the property, but overall it is exactly what you want...if you can tear off a couple of these small bedrooms with low ceiling height and add a nice bright bedroom facing the lake. After all, Grandpa built whatever he wanted, wherever he wanted...why can't you?

This story could obviously go on and on about what you can and can't do with old lake cabins. But if you are thinking about making any changes to any place you are thinking about buying on the water, just make sure you check into your options thoroughly before purchasing. Otherwise, you may be stuck with Grandpa's design!

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