With all due respect to ocean lovers, there’s something unique and mysteriously seductive about lakeside living. The serenity. The fresh water. Those amazing docks! The buoyant boating and tipsy tubing. The pronounced lack of great whites and squishy jellyfish. And—get ready for it—the relative affordability.
Because you don’t need to be a gazillionaire to afford a home in a bona fide lake town—you just need to know where to look. And that’s why the data team at realtor.com® set out on its annual warm-weather crusade to find the best affordable lake towns in America. These are the places with plenty of well-priced homes, and plenty of cool stuff to do on and off the water.
Choices, choices. Do you shell out more for a home on a bigger body of water, maybe even one of the Great Lakes, for the ne plus ultra in fishing and water sports? Do you search out those tourist destinations jampacked with seafood joints and family-friendly entertainment to optimize rental income? Or do you opt for a quieter, lower-profile, cheaper vibe?
“Buyers should consider how will they personally use the house,” says eXp Realty broker and vacation home expert Holly Mabery, based in Sedona, AZ. “Is it for their family or rental income? How will they use the lake? What kinds of activities do they enjoy? Is the property and lake accessible year-round?
“Second homes and vacation homes are extremely personal. What do they love to do?”
To come up with our ranking,* we looked at realtor.com listings that mentioned phrases such as “lake view” and “lake house” in more than 900 U.S. metropolitan and micropolitan areas. Each had to have at least 50 listings over a 12-month period; each had 150,000 households or less and median home prices under $450,000. Finally, we measured the percentage of vacation homes and of dining, drinking, and outdoor activity establishments. Because at some point you need to get out of the water. Right?
So where can you score an affordable waterfront oasis you can call your own? Let’s dive in!
Top affordable lake towns of 2019
Median home list price: $205,900**
A six-bedroom home on Table Rock lake in Branson, MO
News flash: Branson is more than just Silver Dollar City theme park, the Dolly Parton’s Stampede (um, Goggle it), and live country music. No this Midwestern vacation mecca also has lots and lots of lakes.
There’s popular Table Rock Lake and all of its 43,000 acres practically begging for boaters, paddleboarders, and water skiers. And Lake Taneycomo is a top pick for trout fishers thanks to its clean, cool waters.
Vacationers can pick up single-family homes right on Table Rock Lake for anywhere from about $350,000 to more than $600,000, says local real estate agent Lacey Sanders of Keller Williams Tri-Lakes.
This log-style, six-bedroom, three-bathroom home on the lake with a wrap-around deck is going for $345,500.
Buyers on a budget can get a fixer-upper on the water for about $175,000, she says. Or they can look at one-bedroom condos on Lake Taneycomo, a quieter, less-traveled locale, that run around $120,000.
Many of Sanders’ clients are boomers purchasing summer homes that will turn into their future retirement homes.
“A lot [of buyers here] are people gearing toward retirement,” she adds.
Median home list price: $187,000
Lakefront home in Pocono Pines, PA
East Stroudsburg is nestled in the Poconos, long a popular vacation destination for folks hoping to escape New York City and Philadelphia. The region, in Eastern Pennsylvania between the struggling Rust Belt cities of Allentown and Scranton, is treasured for its many lakes, ski resorts, quaint, historic towns, and water parks, as well as its chill “Dirty Dancing” vibe (even if that movie classic actually took place in the Catskills).
The area’s real estate market got a boost in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New York City and the Jersey shore. More folks felt safer buying a vacation home on a lake in the Poconos than on the ocean, says local real estate agent Jennifer Ace of Re/Max of the Poconos.
Many buyers are purchasing homes they can both vacation in and rent out on sites such as Airbnb when they’re not using the property.
“They can make a good profit here,” says Ace.
Despite the area’s low price tag, the best locations aren’t exactly cheap. Lakefront homes typically run between $900,000 and $1.4 million, says Ace. But buyers can get a smaller, single-family home in a lake community like Lake Naomi or Timber Trails in the town of Pocono Pines starting at around $120,000. There are also plenty of condos and townhomes on Pinecrest Lake, best known for its campgrounds.
Median home list price: $259,900
Lake houses near Port Clinton, OH
Northern Ohio probably isn’t on most vacationers’ bucket lists. But maybe Port Clinton should be. Situated on a peninsula jutting into the western edge of Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes, Port Clinton is a charming, small town filled with quiet bays, lovely beaches, and nearby islands just begging to be explored.
The town, between Cleveland and Toledo, is aimed at tourists with a plethora of entertainment. There’s the African Safari Wildlife Park, a 100-acre, drive-through park with bison, giraffes, and zebras (oh my). Townies and vacationers alike dig browsing the locally owned antiques stores or cracking open a 2-pound lobster at one of the many waterfront eateries.
Unlike many of the other towns on our list, there are plenty of affordably priced condos, some right on the lake. This furnished, one-bedroom, one-bathroom condo with a community pool is on the market for $149,995. Those looking for three-bedroom, three-bathroom, single-family houses can snag them right on the water starting in the low $300,000s.
There’s no shortage of true showstoppers, too, like this four-bedroom, 4.5-bathroom beauty with both lake and bay views and a two-story fireplace for $1,495,000.
Median home list price: $59,900
Home on the Chadakoin River in Jamestown, NY
Jamestown, an upstate town about an hour and a half southwest of Buffalo, near Lake Erie, is known for its beautiful lakes, its too-good-to-be-true low home prices—and its comedy. Wait, what? True enough. This hometown of grande dame Lucille Ball hosts the National Comedy Center, an interactive humor museum, and throws the annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival each August. Past big-name performers include Jerry Seinfeld, Amy Schumer, and Jay Leno.
OK, back to the lakes. Jamestown sits on the tip of the 17-mile Lake Chautauqua; it’s also close to Lake Eerie, one of the Finger Lakes, and several smaller bodies of water. All are quite beautiful.
“The lakes are the largest tourism draws to the region,” says Megan Arnone, spokeswoman for the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau. They’re “recognized destinations for fishing, boating, and great swimming beaches.”
Those who’d like to stay year-round can score great real estate bargains with the area’s many older, single-family homes. This two-bedroom, two-bathroom house may not look like much from the outside—but it comes with 110 feet of private shoreline, all for $290,000. There are also plenty of homes on Chadakoin River, such as this two-bedroom, one-bathroom house for $219,000.
Median home list price: $288,900
Small lakefront home in Alexandria, MN
It wouldn’t be a lake town list without Minnesota—aka the Land of 10,000 Lakes, even though that number is actually closer to 12,000. There are about 300 lakes alone in Douglas County, where the summer resort town of Alexandria is located. The town itself is flanked on several sides by water—meaning there’s no shortage of lakefront homes for sale.
The town is also big on personality. At the end of Broadway stands a 28-foot-tall Viking emblazoned with “Alexandria, Birthplace of America.” It’s referring to the (hotly contested) state legend that Vikings came to the area in 1362—more than a century before explorer Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas.
The historic downtown, done up in old Western style, is filled with antiques stores and cafes. There’s good hiking in nearby Lake Carlos State Park, and even a local NASCAR track, the Viking Speedway.
While the waterfront housing stock is predominantly single-family homes, there’s also an assortment of townhomes and condos available for reasonable prices. Bargain hunters who don’t mind cramped quarters can pick up this 440-square-foot house on Lake Andrew for $111,900.
Median home list price: $219,900
Barbara Rich/Getty Images
Surprised to see exorbitantly expensive California make it onto our list? Well, the town of Clearlake has had its struggles, which have driven prices way down. But it seems to be finally rebounding.
About an hour and a half north of the Napa Valley, Clearlake was once a popular San Francisco Bay Area waterfront getaway. And while there are still wineries as well as a lakefront casino and resort, the area was smacked hard by the foreclosure crisis of a decade ago and then ravaged by wildfires over the past few years.
“When we say ‘Clearlake,’ people around here remember childhood experiences camping and vacationing on the lake,” says real estate broker Yvette Sloan of NextHome Yvette Sloan, in nearby Middletown. Now, as more folks are priced out of the Bay Area, they’re taking another look at the place—some even as a primary home option. And that’s helping to turn the area around.
“It’s coming back,” Sloan says.
The average price in Clearwater is a fraction of the $899,400 median metro price in Napa and $950,000 in San Francisco, according to realtor.com data.
Signs of revival aren’t hard to find.The Konocti Harbor Resort, which closed in 2009, has plans to reopen. But the freshwater Clear Lake—which some believe is the oldest in North America—is still the big draw.
Median home list price: $315,000
Home with a boat garage in Spirit Lake, IA
It’s a lake lover’s paradise. The tourist towns of Spirit Lake and neighboring Okoboji come alive when summer hits. There are gorgeous lakes just about as far as the eye can see—and all of the attractions that come along with them.
“We call this the Iowa Great Lakes,” says local real estate broker Amy Maris of Okoboji Realty. Her clients come from cities across the greater Midwest. “In the middle of all these cornfields, we have these beautiful lakes.”
West Okoboji Lake is where you’ll find multimillion-dollar, three- and four-bedroom homes and grand estates and plenty of things going on. This four-bedroom brick house with a convenient boat garage with steps leading down to the water is listed at $1,950,000. But there are plenty of bargains to be had, especially near East Okoboji Lake. (Newer, three-bedroom, two-bathroom condos with all of the amenities, are going for under $300,000.)
Those looking for a more peaceful home can opt for Spirit Lake or one of the other nearby, smaller lakes. Older, waterfront, single-family homes start at a measly $100,000 here, the lowest on our list.
Median home list price: $174,900
Clear night in Mountain Home, AR
Looking for some true lakeside serenity—not a NASCAR track in sight? This town in the Ozarks near the Missouri border offers it up in abundance. Quiet, that is.
“Mountain Home doesn’t have all the entertainment, shows, and theme parks,” says local real estate broker Joey Peglar, of the Peglar Real Estate Group. “It’s a very peaceful, tranquil area.”
The real excitement here is found on the water, especially the bass fishing, swimming, boating, and scuba diving in Lake Norfolk and Bull Shoals Lake, two vast, human-made bodies of water. There’s plenty of camping, too.
Those who appreciate the slower pace can find roughly 1,700-square-feet, two-bedroom cabins overlooking a lake or river from a wall of windows for about $200,000, says Peglar. Larger, waterfront houses can be had for under $300,000.
Median home list price: $189,900
A grand estate on Lake Wisconsin
The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus may have shut down for good in 2017, but those with fond memories of clown cars and strange elephant tricks can still head to Baraboo. The Ringling brothers grew up in the town, and their name is still very much a part of the south-central Wisconsin town’s lifeblood, emblazoned on street signs and murals. Those who really need to get their big top fix can make a pilgrimage to Circus World, a museum devoted to carnival history.
What’s that you say? You’re terrified of clown noses? Ditch the museum and head to the 9,000-acre Devil’s Lake State Park just outside of town. It boasts a lake formed by glaciers and stunning, natural rock formations—a magnet for rock climbers at all skill levels.
But folks seeking a waterfront property may have to settle for a river instead. While Lake Wisconsin stretches about 720 acres, the city derives its name from the Baraboo River, and there are good deals to be had near its banks.
Single-family homes by Lake Wisconsin and the Wisconsin River run from $200,000 for a modest, two-bedroom, one-bath cottage to $3.6 million for a grand, seven-bedroom, 5.5-bathroom estate with spectacular water views.
Median home list price: $429,00
Let’s just get this out of the way: Sandpoint is the most expensive town on our list. But it’s as much of a destination spot in winter as it is in warmer months. The artsy community framed by mountains (about 90 minutes southwest of Spokane, WA) is catnip for skiers, who can who head to the Schweitzer Mountain Resort when the powder starts to pile up.
In the summer, though, crystal-clear Lake Pend Oreille and its white, sandy beaches are the main attraction. There are wineries, breweries, restaurants, and a music festival every August. And yet it’s not a bustling place to be.
“It is a small town,” says local real estate Chris Chambers of Tomlinson Sotheby’s International Realty. About two-thirds of his clients are second-home buyers from Seattle and Northern California. “You go to one of the two grocery stores in town, and you’ll bump into someone you know.”
Because much of the 111 miles of lake shoreline are taken up by national forests, there aren’t a huge number of lakefront homes, which pushes up prices.
Those looking to save a few bucks can head west of town, toward the Washington state border, and get a house on the Priest River for about $600,000—or significantly less. Or they can settle for a nice home on 5 acres with lakefront views for $600,000 to $700,000.
* Data is from realtor.com, U.S. Census Bureau, and Yelp.
** Prices are as of June 1.
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