The Most Important Things To Consider When Buying Waterfront Property

Are you considering the purchase of waterfront property in Montana? It’s imperative you partner with a seasoned Real Estate Agent who has logged extensive time and overseen numerous waterfront transactions. In addition, below is a list of important considerations when buying waterfront (so read on!), but before we dive in, allow me to tell you a quick story…

I grew up in the small, vibrant mountain resort town of Bigfork, Montana. Nestled on the northwest shores of Flathead Lake, I was surrounded by endless outdoor activities, beauty and good-natured people whose priorities were driven by the lifestyle they committed to. It was, in essence, a community grounded in a strong and vibrant fabric.

My childhood was spent traveling, playing sports, camping, fishing, hiking, rafting, climbing mountains, and skipping (probably way too much!) school to ski every time a storm cycle hit the nearby resort. While it all was fun and adventurous, I can easily say the most exciting thing that happened to me as a child was my family buying a lot on a small lake when I was 8 years old. I spent my young adulthood living on that lake – Swan Lake, a 9-mile pristine piece of water with the Swan Range edging its waters. I still believe it to be one of the most remarkable places in the world.

I can easily say the most exciting thing that happened to me as a child was my family buying a lot on a small lake when I was 8 years old.

Years later, at 41 years old, now a husband and father of two young daughters, I was able to buy a cabin on that same lake. Without a doubt, it was easily one of the best decisions our family has ever made. During our time there, we feel more connected as a family, more present and less stressed. Our long summer days are filled with friends and family, waterskiing, wake surfing, grilling on the deck, fishing, catching frogs, paddle boarding, walking the beach, cruising the shoreline, jumping off the dock, swimming in the bay and campfires on the beach. Starting each day with coffee on the deck and finishing the day with an old fashioned on the deck, gazing out at the lake, truly, cannot be beat.

Do you find yourself daydreaming about owning waterfront property; a place to recreate, host friends and family or just relax and unplug? Whether you have owned numerous waterfront properties in the past or you’re in the market for the first time, the first step is identifying a seasoned broker with a history of waterfront transactions and a deep knowledge in your area of interest. Here’s why:

The Nuances of Waterfront Properties

Any real estate transaction warrants a knowledgeable agent, but waterfront adds additional complexities. The due diligence involved in waterfront properties can cover a wide range of questions and issues rarely addressed in everyday residential transactions. Many of these nuances strictly affect the enjoyment and usability of the property itself.  Some of these include:

  • Water Depth
  • Access to the Waterfront
  • Access to the Property from Navigable Water
  • Seasonal Restrictions
  • Watercraft Restrictions
  • Quality of Beach
  • Water Quality
  • Health and Species of Fishery
  • Fishing Regulations
  • and many others

The list of important items to considers goes on: the buyer’s sole intent for the property, potential regulations and restrictions, such as shoreline protection and the different agencies governing them, and regulations and permits pertaining to docks, piers, bridges, seawalls, culverts, setbacks, boathouses, dredging, water rights and usages, easements, riparian rights, wetlands and flood insurance, amongst others.

This list might seem daunting. But to the seasoned, knowledgeable Real Estate Agent, it’s the fun stuff. Bottom line? This important asset in your portfolio deserves the best advisor to help you cross the finish line.

To dive in further, here are two pieces that I feel are the most common and nuanced in a waterfront real estate transaction:


Docks can be one of the most important and pivotable pieces to your waterfront and the activities provided. They are also highly regulated. Depending on the body of water, you may be required to have either a floating removable dock (which may have a date that they are required to be removed from the lake) or a concrete or crib dock. Docks are often restricted by size (total surface area), length, and configuration, and sometimes, based upon your frontage feet of waterfront owned. Depending on the water depths or access needed, your land may not possess the necessary components to allow what you desire.

Water Rights

All water in Montana is owned by the State for the benefit of its people. Individuals have the right to use waters of the State with a valid water right. A water right is a property right to use – but not own (in Montana) – and can be sold, leased and/or severed from the property of which it’s being used. They are defined by the following elements:

  • Source
  • Point of Diversion
  • Purpose
  • Place of Use
  • Flow and Volume
  • Period of Use
  • Period of Diversion
  • Priority Date

Everyday applications may include sources such as well, stream, or body of water for the beneficial use of domestic, stock, irrigation, fish, and wildlife but others do exist.

This important asset in your portfolio deserves the best advisor to help you cross the finish line.

Most would agree that no other attribute will provide greater future value and recreational components than water; it appeals to many and creates a deep emotional value. Whether a summer lake cabin, fishing retreat along a stretch of productive river or a residential estate property, the perfect waterfront property will be as different as those who are searching for them.

In your quest to find your perfect waterfront property, give yourself the biggest possible competitive advantage: engage a knowledgeable agent with deep connection to the local market. Our Revel agents understand the nuances of waterfront property, market value, local trends and have strong connections. Oftentimes, we rely on unlisted and off market opportunities. 

If you have questions about waterfront properties or are interested in buying or selling, contact us. Oh…and remember that we will be toasting with an old fashioned upon the close of your waterfront property. Cheers!

Picture of Kelly Laabs

Kelly Laabs

A native Montanan, Kelly Laabs is in the top 1% in volume for Montana’s real estate producers, closing more than $80MM worth of business in 2021. As an eternal connector and true Montanan, Kelly Laabs believes in finding the perfect property for his buyers and representing his sellers with creativity, passion, and transparency.
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