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At the Lake: Weekend Waterfront Homes in Chicagoland

When it comes to getting a second home in Chicagoland, many potential buyers are looking to spend their weekends on the water.

From the obvious (Lake Michigan) to the fancy (Lake Geneva) to the quaint (any of dozens of other lakes in far northern Illinois or southeastern Wisconsin), second-home buyers in the Chicago area know where they want to be, and it’s “at the lake.”

“Lake Geneva is the most well-known, of course, and I think that’s why it gets everyone’s attention,” says Tom Keefe of Keefe Real Estate [1], which has offices spread throughout southeastern Wisconsin. “But people come looking and realize there are dozens of other beautiful options up here, depending on their particular interests and what they want to get out of being on the lake.”

Waterfront Homes: Keefe [1]

Sweeping views of Lake Geneva from four-bedroom home; listed by Keefe Real Estate for $1,999,900. (Photo courtesy of Keefe Real Estate.)

It’s all about location. Not everyone can afford a home on Lake Michigan or Lake Geneva — in fact, most people have to look elsewhere when considering a second-home purchase.

“Lake Geneva demands higher prices,” says Gina Nocek, an agent with @properties [2] in Lake Geneva. “There are so many other lakes in the area where you can have a lakefront property for a much more reasonable price.”

On average, Nocek sells homes on Lake Geneva for between $2-3 million. The least expensive listing right now is about $1 million, for a “teardown property,” and the most expensive is more than $14 million.

And price isn’t the only reason to consider buying a home on one of the other lakes in the area. In fact, Keith Keating of Keating Real Estate [3] in Twin Lakes says he would urge people to go for another nearby lake — for example, Powers Lake — simply because those lakes tend to be more family-friendly and less busy.

“A lot of my clients come from Lake Geneva. They’ve been there, done that for the prestige, but when it comes down to having quality family time, they’re looking for something else,” Keating says. The trick, Nocek says, is to buy a place that’s within two hours’ drive of your primary residence. That allows the family to spend full days together on the lake while still being able to get back for kids’ sporting events, or to spend Sunday nights at the lake house and drive home in time for work on Monday morning.

Waterfront Homes: Keefe Real Estate [1]

Five-bedroom home on Lake Geneva with 128 feet of water frontage; listed by Keefe Real Estate for $7,995,000. (Photo courtesy of Keefe Real Estate.)

“You can spend more time in your lake home that way and get more use out of it,” Keating says.

According to Keefe, the best way to meet that two-hour time limit — and get everything else the buyer might want out of a second home on the lake — is to work directly with a lakefront expert. An agent will help the buyer determine not only where to buy, but what kind of property to buy.

Some people want high-end appliances in a large home, while others want quaint, cottage-style homes similar to ones people build on the land for sale in FL [4], Nocek says. Some buyers are looking for a home on a large piece of land, while others don’t mind close neighbors, as long as there are trees and a great view.

Keating says he advises people to pay more attention to the property itself than to the house: “We can always remodel the house, but you can’t change the property — they’re not building any more lakes,” he says.

Buying a second home isn’t like buying a primary home, Keefe says, because the buyer usually doesn’t absolutely need the second home. That means buyers can take their time to find exactly what they’re looking for.

“Because it’s a second home, I think it’s something you have to fall in love with,” he says. “But I think it all comes down to the lake. The draw is always going to be getting near the water and having access to it.”